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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol. 38 No. 22. September 11, 1975

The backroom boy .

The backroom boy . .

After the announcement of the new wage rates for student vacation workers, 'Salient' interviewed NZUSA's Research Officer, Peter Franks, about the implications of the State Services Commission's recent decisions.

What do you see as the major benefits of the State Services Commission's new policy?

Apart from the increases in wage rates, which are welcome although very belated, it now appears that the Public Service Association will be able to negotiate on behalf of vacation workers, and that will mean a big improvement in their conditions.

In the past vacation workers have received very low rates of pay compared to the private sector, and it has been difficult for NZUSA or the Public Service Association to do much about it. Vacation workers usually work for about 10 weeks during the long holidays, and few of them have joined the PSA or sought its assistance in improving their conditions. By the time they get back to varsity, most of these students have decided that working for the government is a dead loss and so they resolve the problem by making up their minds not to work for the government again rather than making a fuss.

At the beginning of this year, however, NZUSA made an attempt to contact students who'd worked in government departments. The letters we got back from these students contained some very interesting information.

For example, one student wrote "... I was never told what my wage was on starting, nor was I given a pay slip . .." Another student told us: "When I started, my pay rate was $7 76 a day, but after some hassling I found out it had been changed, effective from the first of January 1975, and backdated to the first of July. My new rate was $10.56 a day, i.e. for a male or female over 20." Another student said that she and other students employed by a government department in Christchurch took 3 months to do a filing job that was expected to take 2 years, and their boss told them he would have paid them higher wages if he could!

Even if the PSA does now have the right to negotiate for vacation workers, how much difficulty will they have in organising these people?

At the moment NZUSA is having discussions with the Public Service Association about ways of recruiting student vacation workers into their membership. One of the things we've talked about is the possibility of getting a special membership rate for vacation workers. And NZUSA Will co-operate with the PSA in attempting to recruit students into the PSA before they start work.

Now that the State Services Commission has decided to pay student vacation workers more realistic wages, I think a greater number of students will be attracted to these holiday jobs (about 480 students worked for the government during the 1974/75 vacation). The only effective way they can protect their conditions and the conditions of students who work there in the future is by joining the PSA and making sure it takes an active interest in their problems.

Do you see any areas of the Commission's new policy that should be improved?

Yes, The first is that I hope the State Services Commission will come out of its ivory tower and start talking to NZUSA and the PSA before it makes decisions that affect the people we represent. While we welcome the Commission's new policy, its worth pointing out that the Commission did not negotiate with either organisation before the announcement was made. But it is interesting that the Commission started moving on improving vacation workers' wages not too long after NZUSA had let it know that we were investigating these workers' conditions in co-operation with the PSA.

The second thing is that the rates for secondary school students and school leavers are still far too low. While university student vacation workers' rates were increased by about 80%, the rates for secondary students only went up by 88c a day or an increase of between 13% and 20%. One student recently wrote to me on this point as follows:

"I and other students I worked with are very concerned about the large differences in pay between different age groups, for example last year when I turned 20 years old my rate of pay almost doubled. Also school students who are employed with us doing exactly the same work as varsity students are getting about half the pay. In many cases they do a better job than some of the varsity students and we feel that something should be done about it."

The top rate for secondary school leavers is only $7. 38 a day, while first year varsity students get more than $4 a day above that. I don't really think that that sort of differential can be justified.

That leads me on to my final point.

Public service rates are now much more in line with the wages students can earn in the private sector, and one result of the new policy could be to improve the position of women students.

In the past women students have been forced into lower paying holiday jobs (like working for government departments) because the higher paying jobs (around $2.00 to $2.50 an hour) have been offered almost exclusively to men.

The State Services Commission's new policy may also mean that the Public Service Association, the major state service trade union, can now negotiate on behalf of student vacation workers.

Previously the Commission maintained that vacation workers were 'Temporary Salaried Employees' under section 48 of the 1962 State Services Act. This section of the Act gives the Commission absolute authority to determine the salaries and conditions of employment of 'temporary salaried employees'.

The PSA, on the other hand, has claimed that vacation workers are employed as Wage Workers' under section 49 of the Act. This section of the Act requires the Commission to issue a Determination (the equivalent of an award) setting out the wage rates and conditions of employment of 'wage workers', which would be the basis for negotiation between the PSA and the Commission and could be the subject of an appeal to the State Services Tribunal.

What all this means is that the Commission will negotiate with the PSA on the conditions of workers employed under section 49 of the Act, whereas it refuses to negotiate about workers employed under section 48. In one of its answers to NZUSA's questions about the conditions of vacation workers, the Commission stated that "in future all university students will be paid as Public Service wage workers at Manual Workers or Office and General Assistants rates" — a statement which apparently makes it clear that vacation workers are employed under section 49 of the Act. So it seems that student vacation workers will at last be able to get trade union protection.

The valuable thing about the letters NZUSA has received from student vacation workers is that they tell us what these jobs are really like, which is somewhat different from the official policy as laid down by the Commission. Vacation workers should be paid for whatever skills and experience they bring to their jobs, as well as their age and qualifications. A student who worked for the National Library Service told us that he spent several weeks relieving full-time staff as he'd worked there before and knew how the place ran. A postgraduate student at Canterbury wrote to us complaining about the wages he'd received at the Geological Survey, and he was clearly a useful employee not only because of his considerable academic background but because he'd worked on the job before.