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HomeNew ZealandVulnerable people re-traumatised by court staff taking industrial action, victim advocate says

Vulnerable people re-traumatised by court staff taking industrial action, victim advocate says

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Since 11 November, Public Service Association (PSA) union members employed at courts have been working to rule (file image).
Photo: RNZ / Simon Rogers

An independent victims’ advocate says industrial action by court staff is re-traumatising vulnerable people whose cases are being held up.

Since 11 November, Public Service Association (PSA) union members have been working to rule by taking a 10-minute break at 10.30am, an hour for lunch at 12.30pm and a 10-minute break at 3pm.

Most courts have had to be cleared half an hour before breaks, leaving about two and a half hours of sitting time per day for some.

Victim advocate Ruth Money said while she was very supportive of the worker’s cause, it was adding significant distress to victims.

“It’s the stop-starting [that’s most difficult], particularly when a victim is giving witness evidence. Victims are talking about some really terrible things, some very traumatic things that have happened to them. And then they have to pack up and leave,” she said

“And then they have to get back to that place and start again in an hour or whenever the break finishes.”

Courts could be scary places for people who are unfamiliar with them, Money said.

It did not help that a vulnerable person then had to go through security four times a day or have their case stretch out into additional days.

“I was involved in a case last week that’s had to reconvene this week [because of the industrial action]. Next week, I have a very vulnerable survivor in a sexual violence case that may well go over again,” Money said

“That has flow on effects … victim support needs to organise logistics, where there’s no accommodation left in a city … and rebook taxis.”

She believed the industrial action was targeting the wrong people.

“I absolutely understand that it’s maximum impact. This is what they’re going for, it’s the disruption. I would just like them to disrupt the decision makers rather than the vulnerable people,” Money said.

PSA Organiser Willie Cochrane said justice staff were passionate about serving the country’s most vulnerable communities and getting outcomes for victims in the system.

“However, in order to deliver these services, our members need to be able to provide the necessities of life to take care of themselves and their whānau,” he said

“The Ministry of Justice remains the lowest-paid public sector employer. Staff are struggling to make ends meet – some are not even paid the living wage.”

Cochrane believed the ministry was reaching a crisis point, with too many unfilled positions because of the low pay.

“This only adds more work to the remaining staff, who are committed to delivering a safe and supportive environment for clients of the service,” he said.

The sooner we can see significant progress in our negotiations with the Ministry, the sooner we can get back to delivering the quality services people have a right to expect.”

The ministry’s chief operating officer, Carl Crafar, said it acknowledged the industrial action and was working to minimise disruptions where possible.

Crafar noted courts across the motu would be affected differently based on the scale and volume of people attending.

“Scheduling is also being managed day to day, court by court, on the basis that industrial action may end at any time. The Ministry is actively engaging with the PSA and Te Kawa Mataaho Public Service Commission with a view to gaining agreement for industrial action to be withdrawn,” he said.

The action is reported to continue until Monday 19 December unless an agreement is worked out prior.

Story Credit: rnz.co.nz

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