The men and women employed by New Zealand’s Members of Parliament work under uniquely precarious contracts, but a new collective agreement signed today delivers significant improvements to the working conditions of about four hundred Parliamentary Service staff.
The Public Service Association represents most unionised staff, and says this new employment agreement builds on the bravery of workers who have in recent years challenged Parliament’s sometimes toxic culture.
“Many people would be surprised or even appalled by the employment conditions of Parliamentary Service staff. Not only have they endured bullying and harassment as painstakingly detailed in the Francis Report, but their MP was until today able to dismiss them at will by alleging a breakdown in relationship,” says PSA Assistant National Secretary Basil Prestidge.
“You shouldn’t have to put up with antiquated employment clauses to work in politics. We thank Parliamentary Service for their commitment to implementing the Francis Report’s recommendations, and we applaud our PSA members for their bravery and dedication to making Parliament a decent workplace.”
The term ‘events-based contract’ may conjure up images of casual catering staff contracted to work a concert or wedding, but in fact it applies to the staff who write speeches for our MPs, organise their public events and support constituents with local issues.
Their employment is directly tied to the MP they work for, and if that MP resigns or dies in office the staffer automatically becomes unemployed.
Every ‘events-based’ Parliamentary Service worker has their employment terminated every three years, when a general election takes place. This is still the case this year.
“It makes sense that staffers hired to work with a Labour electorate MP might not continue in their role if a National MP takes the seat. What doesn’t make sense is cementing this precarity in place as an unavoidable clause of the employment contract,” says Mr Prestidge.
“There is no need for an extreme power imbalance to exist between MPs and the staff who work in their office. If someone doesn’t have enough rights at work, it makes them vulnerable to abuse and bullying.”
The new collective employment agreement signed between Parliamentary Service, the PSA and E tū redefines ‘event’ to no longer mean staff lose their jobs every election, and removes the Breakdown in Relationship clause that gives MPs the ability to sack at will. These changes will take effect with the arrival of the 53rd Parliament.
New systems have been introduced to help organise for staff to take time off, and MPs have lost their ability to directly nominate candidates into vacant roles without a full recruitment process.
Roles and pay scales have been amended to properly compensate experienced staff for their skills and length of service, and a triangular relationship agreement will be signed between Parliamentary Service, the MP and the staff member.
“The inappropriate behaviour of some MPs has become widely known, but we should never allow it to become normalised,” says Mr Prestidge.
“The PSA will always fight to ensure our members have the respect, dignity and compensation they deserve. We were proud to today sign a collective agreement that delivers massive progress on all those fronts for our members who work at Parliament.”