The Northern Territory government’s plan to save millions by freezing the pay of public service executives might be delayed, but Chief Minister Michael Gunner is confident it won’t be denied.
Gunner has been adamant that nobody will get out of the cut to real wages, which also applies to Members of the Legislative Assembly. Until now, it was not clear what he planned to do if public servants simply refused to agree to the government’s request to vary their employment contracts.
In June on Sky News he said “a separate conversation” would ensue in that case but declined to explain further. Now it appears there will be consequences when the contracts end if they don’t sign the variation now.
This week, the Chief Minister said “a bit over half” of the group of over 600 executives had agreed, and explained a new ultimatum in an interview with Darwin radio host Katie Woolf.
“You have an opportunity to sign a three-year pay freeze now, or at the end of your contract you can sign a four-year pay freeze, or this is your last contract with the territory government.”
Gunner said the comment about it being their “last contract” referred to the fact some staff would be retiring at the end of their current term of employment and acknowledged it would affect their superannuation if they agreed to a pay freeze shortly before they are due for a pay rise.
Staff were generally asked to make their choice by the end of July, before the pay rises take effect in August. Gunner said it was not a matter of negotiation; public servants earning between $200,000 and $400,000 per year were expected to share the “heavy lifting” with politicians.
“There’s going to be a three-year pay freeze; we’re just working through whether it’s a three-year pay freeze now or if someone takes a four-year pay freeze later,” he told Woolf.
The Chief Minister pointed out the commitment was part of the plan for budget repair which was based on the recommendations of independent reviewers. This was accompanied by a 10% cut to executive ranks.
“And I can understand that some people out there were cold when I said that but there’s not really a neater way to break to someone that you’re going to do a three-year pay freeze,” he added.
From senior police officers to school principals, Gunner said the deal applied to all and claimed the process was going smoothly in his view. “I’m very relaxed.”
In May the former NT Commissioner for Public Employment Craig Allen decided it was time to move on and tendered his resignation.
Correction: an earlier version of this article mistakenly referred to NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner as the Premier, a role that does not exist.
Top image: Dinah Dinamyte