Public servants are leaving Auckland in droves, but nobody dares speak the real reason

One of the many unfortunate consequences of Auckland’s grossly over-priced housing is the barrier it presents to people moving to the city.

New Zealanders in other parts of the country have to lower their sights considerably to sell their house and buy one in Auckland.

Conversely, Aucklanders will be wary of moving to another centre unless they can afford to keep their Auckland property.

There is logic, therefore, in a proposal from Auckland school principals, which we reported last Sunday, to pay teachers a premium to work in the city.

A survey of 157 principals found a third were confident they could make appropriate appointments to vacancies in their schools.

The reason was not just the difficulty of finding enough teachers willing to move to Auckland but of keeping those who were here.

Those saving for a house could buy one much sooner if they moved out of Auckland.

If they owned a modest house in Auckland it was tempting to sell up and buy something better in a smaller town for the same price. In three of the surveyed primary schools, there were no less than 28 vacancies at the start of this month to replace teachers who had resigned.

The highest turnover is in schools in Auckland’s areas of highest wealth and half those who resigned had left the city.

The problem is not, of course, confined to education. All sorts of employers will be finding Auckland house prices a deterrent to recruitment. But many probably already pay a premium to attract staff they need.

In the state sector it is not so easy. Pay scales are set nationally in negotiations with unions that prefer to raise all rates across the country. And it bargains with the Education Ministry, which is not convinced an Auckland margin is needed.

But teachers have a starting salary of $48,000 and the top of the scale is $78,000. They are hard put to save for a house in a city where the average valuation is now $918,000. Hospital staff and many other public employees must be in a similar bind.

Private enterprise has solved this problem.  People in Nelson are paid “sunshine wages”.  They are underpaid because companies know that people want to live there badly enough they’ll take less money.  On the other side, Auckland pays more because people wouldn’t choose to live there if it wasn’t for the extra money they make.

The single reason that nurses, police and teachers in Auckland are essentially $10,000-$15,000 a year worse off is because their unions believe in equality.  Everyone gets paid the same for the same job.  And it doesn’t take into account that to live in Auckland is a totally different proposition to living in Whangarei, Cambridge or Alexandra.

If unions were truly concerned about their members, they would be fighting hard to ensure that those in Auckland and other expensive areas are suitably compensated for the additional costs they have to meet by performing the exact same job in a different location.  Instead, their deep roots in egalitarianism, socialism and communism is keeping them from acting in the best interest of their members.

It is time unions start considering local contracts to address these problems.


– Herald on Sunday

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