The PSA celebrates membership growth – but public services are expanding too

The State Services Commission declares on its website it is part of the Open Government Partnership, a forum of countries working to be more open, accountable and responsive to citizens.

The State Services Commission is leading this in New Zealand, it says, so at Point of Order we figured we would have no problem getting hold of the latest data to give a measure of the pace of growth in state sector employment numbers.

Our appetite for fresh figures was fuelled by the PSA’s celebrating growth in its membership.  Terrific –  but maybe this growth is an inevitable consequence of growth in public-sector worker numbers.

We found data to the end of June 2017 on the SSC website but wanted to ensure there was no more recent stuff.

Contact information for media inquiries is readily available on the website –

Please contact Grahame Armstrong by:
Phone at +64 21 940 457
Email at

Bob Edlin duly despatched an email with a simple request:

Can you steer me to a set of comparative statistics giving me a measure of state service employment numbers in all state-sector departments, agencies, boards and what-have-you now and – let’s say – five years ago.

 The rebuff was instant:

Your message to couldn’t be delivered.

The group ssc-media only accepts messages from people in its organization or on its allowed senders list, and your email address isn’t on the list.

Too bad.

True, we could have tried phoning but experience of phoning state-sector PR people tells us we would have had to leave a message and only on a good day would we get a call back before lunch time.

So we settled for the latest available material we could find.

The SSC explains that the New Zealand public sector in June 2017 consists of 2,900 agencies, separated into central government (known as the State sector) and local government.

The central government includes a wide range of agencies – 29 Public Service departments, 6 non-Public Service departments, 3 Offices of Parliament, the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, 20 District Health Boards, 27 tertiary education institutions, 2,416 school boards of trustees, 70 other Crown entities and around 150 Crown  entity subsidiaries, 56 organisations under the Public Finance Act, and 16 state-owned enterprises and mixed ownership companies.

Then there’s local government comprising 67 Territorial Local Authorities and 16 Regional Councils.

The New Zealand public sector employed around 348,000 people (known as public servants) as at 30 June 2017, about 13.8% of the country’s total workforce.

The State sector employed around 295,800 people and local government had around 52,200 employees.

Over the period from 2013 to 2017 the public sector workforce is estimated to have grown by 1.5%. Over the same period, employment across the overall New Zealand employed workforce increased by 14.9% (as measured by Statistics NZ’s Household Labour Force Survey).

State-sector union membership seems to be climbing at a faster clip and yesterday we were steered to a press statement headed PSA celebrates a major membership milestone: 70,000 and growing – 

This week the Public Service Association (PSA) is celebrating the total number of union members reaching the 70,000 mark – just three years on from hitting 60,000 in 2015.

PSA president Janet Quigley said the member who helped her trade union across the line to 70,000 members is Eli Smith, a community engagement adviser who works for the Northland District Health Board in Kaikohe.

Eli might find herself engaging even more with her community in the wake of the Government’s decision to launch a targeted vaccination programme in Northland to control an outbreak of meningococcal disease.

The PSA went on to say it is now into its 106th year of contributing to New Zealand society and:

“This has been a big year for all of the sectors we cover – being the core public sector, state sector, District Health Boards, local government and community public services.

“It has been a year of hard-won victories on issues that the PSA has been advocating for across many years – like pay equity and the settlements reached this year for DHB mental health and addiction support workers and for statutory social workers at Oranga Tamariki, and more.”

It also has been a year in which the number of government departments has climbed to 32 (according to our count of the ones listed here).

We knew from the information here – of course – that Public Service staff are employed in a wide range of activities including policy advice and customer services for social welfare, health, education, employment, market regulation, economic growth, security, taxation, administration of the law, transport infrastructure, immigration, citizenship, public records, natural resources management and much more.

Their work spreads across 248 different occupations that are aggregated into ten broad occupation groups.

The two largest groups of FTEs are ‘Inspectors and Regulatory Officers’ and ‘Social, Health and Education Workers’ that account for more than 40% of the Public Service workforce.

But this Stuff report dated March 8 is enlightening:

On Thursday the State Services Commission released what could be the final version of what is called “capping data”, set up by National to monitor the growth of the public sector.

As well as a continuing rise in the number of overall public servants, the report revealed the number of PR and communications staff, hired to help control the message of their employers, rose by almost 15 per cent in 12 months.

Across the public service there were 311.4 full time equivalent equivalents at the end of June 2017, up from 271.9 a year earlier. The number is still slightly below the level of 2008.

The Department of Internal Affairs was responsible for more than a quarter of the increase, with its public relations team now numbering 55.7, up 11.5 in a year.

We may suppose the media management team at the SSC are included in those data.


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