Public servants on edge over nerve-racking wait for final decisions on jobs

This story has been updated to reflect the nature of redundancies at the Ministry of Social Development.

Destroyed, distressed, and disappointed – public servants are reeling as government departments continue to bring down the axe on jobs to save cash.

The Ministry of Health has proposed to cut 134 jobs and close the Suicide Prevention Office, and the Ministry of Social Development has called for voluntary redundancies.

These are just the latest in a series of harsh calls made to meet the coalition’s orders to cut costs.

A public servant at the Ministry of Primary Industries said he was shocked his role was on the chopping block when he worked for a priority project.

Druv said he felt distressed and destroyed by the redundancy process.

“When my project is still a priority, my programme is still a priority and my team still there. What was the rationale of selection of my role to get disestablished. That’s why I was in a big shock because I had no idea what’s going on.”

MPI is consulting on its proposal to cut more than 200 staff with final decisions expected in May.

Druv said he felt stuck waiting for the hammer to fall and his work environment had become toxic with people fighting to cling on to their jobs.

“Everyone who was impacted their first reaction is: ‘I’m in a firefighting mode. I need to save myself because I’ve got mortgages, I’ve got kids, I’ve got responsibilities. So what do I do?'”

Druv said terminating staff was not the right way to save money and improve efficiencies in the public sector.

He said there was a lot of time and resource wasted because decisions were made slowly and were siloed.

“We lose many days, weeks, months, just sitting on something… if you cut the people and you don’t improve your existing processes, what’s going to happen? You will not be able to deliver and then you will hire people again.”

Finding a new job not easy

A worker at the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment who RNZ agreed not to name said thinking about her future was nerve-racking.

The ministry has accepted more than 100 voluntary redundancies and has extended the offer to more people but it is also proposing to disestablish some roles.

The staffer said her fixed term contract was shortened by three months and she will soon be out of work.

“It was like roughly, I guess, enough time to give me a month’s notice.”

But she said the job hunt was not easy.

“It’s definitely made me kind of consider maybe could I get into retail or hospo or do I just apply for a receptionist role, which was something I did straight out of high school but I’m having to maybe accept that might be all I can kind of get at the moment.”

On Thursday morning the Ministry of Social Development contacted staff calling for voluntary redundancies.

Those workers affected are the service delivery and the Māori communities and partnerships teams, as well as those in human resources, policy, strategy and communications.

The Public Service Association said the voluntary redundancies could see hundreds of people would leave the department.

National secretary Duane Leo said it would also not be enough for the ministry to save the cash demanded by the coalition.

He said morale would be nearing rock bottom for staff.

“The stress and the pressure and the uncertainty that they’re under, the anxiety that members are going through. So there may be people highly educated, highly skilled people that New Zealand needs and to be treated like this it’s just another way of saying ‘okay well maybe I’ll look for another job somewhere else, potentially offshore’.”

Suicide Prevention Office closure ‘cold-hearted’

At the Ministry of Health, leaders met with staff on Thursday afternoon to discuss its proposal to cut 134 jobs.

The PSA said the changes would see the closure of the Suicide Prevention Office.

“The government should be investing more in suicide prevention, so we stop more families from suffering the tragedy of suicide, not making these cold-hearted and dangerous cuts.

“This was an office that was set up for a good reason, it developed the first national Suicide Prevention Action Plan and was working closely with communities experiencing high rates of suicide,” Leo said.

However, Minister for Mental Health Matt Doocey said closing the office was never discussed with him and he had spoken with the Director-General of Health to make it clear he expected it to stay open.

Health Minister Shane Reti declined to say much about the cuts.

“That’s an operational issue for the Ministry of Health. They’re working through that and they’re having discussions with their staff. They started yesterday and they’re having them [talks] further today and I’ve been reassured that it’s being done with great dignity and respect.”

Meanwhile, new figures show the public service grew to almost 67,000 people by the end of last year – up from about 63,000 six months earlier.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon said it was disappointing some departments continued to expand but he was confident they have got the message now.

“It is disappointing that that’s happened by some of those agencies, not all of them but some of them. But what I’d say now it’s crystal clear. We’ve had multiple conversations with every agency across the country and the expectation is very clear.”

Luxon acknowledged it was tough for people to lose their jobs, but placed the blame on the former government for allowing the public service to grow so big.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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