Female nurse with face mask and PPE equipment
Photo by Bermix Studio on Unsplash

Dr Parmjeet Parmar: How is it fair for the Government to take our public sector essential workers for granted?

Opinion 30/08/2021

Level 4 Lockdown. A time again where we are heavily reliant on our public sector essential workers like our police, doctors and nurses in the frontline and many others operational behind the scenes. 

What would we do without our Police Officers ensuring general law and order is maintained and lockdown rules are followed including guarding MIQ facilities so that people aren’t putting others at risk?

What would we do without our nurses collecting hundreds and thousands of nasopharyngeal swabs on a daily basis and laboratory technicians and scientists processing all those samples to meet our expectation of getting the results back from the laboratories within hours of collection of samples? 

Just like our previous lockdowns, they are again putting their lives on the line for all of us and this time they are facing the risk of the Delta variant.

The emotional scars and long-term health implications that can come along by getting infected is a day-to-day risk for these workers. Their sacrifice is one that many of us can take for granted when we are at home in our own bubbles during this lockdown. 

Imagine the stress of everything that I have mentioned, how hard these public sector essential workers are working for our country. 

Now imagine the pain they feel when they see how they are being treated by our government. 

What were the Finance Minister Grant Robertson and the Minister for the Public Service Chris Hipkins thinking when they announced pay freeze for the public sector workers in May this year?  It was announced that public sector workers earning more than $100,000 will not get any increase and those who are earning more than $60,000 will have to be in some exceptional circumstances to get any increase to their pay – a directive which will be reviewed at the end of 2022.  

As at 30 June in 2020 the median public sector salary was $72,600 which means a majority of public sector workers are in the group that have their pay frozen.  

Now imagine yourself in this group, being out day after day dealing with people that could be infectious and then being told that you will not have a pay increase this and the next year and we will only think about changing that the following year.  

Instead of showing special gratitude towards these workers in public sector for carrying us through the previous lockdowns, the government when announcing the pay freeze said that it was being done to keep a lid on the debt taken on during the pandemic. 

Really, by punishing the ones that are out there doing more than everyone else to keep us safe?

Lockdowns are hard for everyone. I am not diminishing the hardship many have faced in the past lockdowns or are facing with the current one through lost incomes and opportunities and the difficulty of isolating at home. Working from home is not a vacation. Balancing home and work life can often be more stressful than a day in the office. 

But we can all agree, that our public sector frontline essential workers have had it tough. 

People take up different professions based on their desire to serve in that role. No doctor, nurse, police officer or any others that have had their pay frozen by the current government would turn down the call to duty in these tough times. 

This is a ‘once in a generation’ risk that we are dealing with and all our frontline public sector workers deserve better treatment from the Government.   

These people stood with the whole nation previously when we were in lockdowns and are standing again during this lockdown against the Delta variant.  

A “thank you” is not enough. These workers are our strength in these tough times. The decision needs to be made now to reverse the pay freeze for these workers. We can’t take them for granted and wait for the end of 2022. 

This oped is written by Dr Parmjeet Parmar, a former Families Commissioner and Former National MP.