A clean out needed at Russell McVeagh?


A report came out yesterday about Russell McVeagh’s toxic work culture. And it was a damning one at that.

The firm, which has handled legal duties for a range of Government departments, will be doing some considerable soul searching over the next several days as it comes to grips with the news that sexual harassment is a major problem in its offices.

So will the chair of Russell McVeagh, Marttin Crotty now apologize to the staff, to the legal profession in full? if he does, will he also step aside or follow as directed any recommendations made by the report of Dame Margaret Bazley who was assigned responsibility for investigating the claims?

That remains to be seen.

Action is inevitable if New Zealand’s legal profession wishes to avoid significant damage to its overall reputation. It is not acceptable to be enabling or giving the appearance of enabling the culture of behaviour that Russell McVeagh stand accused of. From groping junior female staff, to making sexually suggestive comments and gestures; from turning a blind eye to complaints of such inappropriate behaviour to suggesting that its the way to advance a career in law, clearly a major problem exists at R.M.

There might well be a culture of excessive drinking which needs to be curved, but that is not an explanation or justification for the abuse that has been alleged to have gone on. Drunk or not, it is not okay ever to grope or otherwise feel up someone in a sexual manner without their permission. It is not okay to make lewd remarks about a persons body in a professional environment.

And this is 2018. It is not the middle of the 20th Century. It is not a time when such behaviour was simply ignored, or a time when a whole profession should be able to behave as if sexual harassment is not an issue.  It is a time when #MeToo is making people in nations big and small, rich and poor, wake up and realize that sexual harassment is a major and ongoing problem in the film industry. Will it be fully resolved in my lifetime to everyone’s satisfaction? Unlikely, but do nothing is not an option. It is a time that is long overdue.

No doubt the last few days have been hugely embarrassing for Mr Crotty as he takes stock of the cutting criticism. Sitting in a room telling the media with hand over his heart that there is not a sexual harassment problem, as Mr McVeagh first did in 2017, only to be found otherwise is hugely damaging. I sincerely doubt Mr Crotty did not know at least some of what was going on.

I will wait to see what happens, but my guess is that he will be made to walk.

But simply making the Chair walk might not be enough. What about the senior partners who supposedly knew better than to harass those female workers? None of them should survive this. What about the people who knew stuff was happening but failed to report it? Should they go as well?

But even if all of these resignations/sackings happen, will that clear out the toxic elements of the work environment? If not, then Russell McVeagh might be in bigger trouble than we thought.

Major employment law overhaul coming


The Government promised that it would substantially overhaul New Zealand’s employment laws in its first couple of years in office.

During the years of the National-led Government of former Prime Minister John Key and later former Prime Minister Bill English, significant concerns were raised about New Zealand workplace relations. Concerns existed about:

  • How migrant workers were treated and their understanding (or lack of)of their rights as employees in New Zealand
  • The youth wage, which was reintroduced during the Ministerial tenure of Simon Bridges
  • Occupational Safety and Health, especially in fisheries, farming and other high risk industries where a number of high profile cases occurred

The concerns were not restricted to just the ones mentioned above. These were just the more frequent  ones. They were also the issues that tended to provoke the strongest public reaction.

When an attempt was made to amend the rules around when employees could have breaks, whilst at work, concerns were raised about the potential for exploitation. In some professions having regular breaks unless one is in an office environment, might not be always possible, in which case the employer has to reach an agreement with the affected employee/s about some sort of compensatory measure to cover. The new provisions in the incoming legislation require that the employer permit a 10 minute break in work lasting 2 hours but less than 4 hours; a 10 minute break + a 30 minute break if it exceeds 4 hours but is less than 6; 2x 10 minute breaks + a 30 minute break if exceeding 6 but is less than 8.

Trueto form, The Employment Relations Amendment Bill 2018 is before Parliament now and currently open for public submissions. The closing date for submissions is Friday 30 March 2018.

New Zealand immigration needs to do due diligence on tradies


Over a six month period, an Immigration New Zealand/Police operation stopped 190 potential tradies whose immigration visas were found to be suspect. Some were stopped at the border and sent home before they could enter New Zealand. Some were caught on work sites and deported. Many more are most likely still here in some capacity.

The tradies commonly told the officials that “a man in a black Audi” would come around and pay them every Thursday. He would pay them $20 or $40/hr. Operation Spectrum as it was known also uncovered a weakness in New Zealand border security, that enables people who have left or been deported to return under new identities.

One of these non-compliant people is Adam Gan Bin Abdullah, from Malaysia. He was one of two who went on to get permanent residency. Last week he went to Manukau District Court to plead guilty to immigration fraud. Somehow though, Mr Abdullah found the gall to intone that he thought he could get away with it.

This is not an acceptable attitude for anyone hiring in New Zealand to have. One could go on about “when in Rome” and subsequent expectations, but the simple fact of the matter is New Zealand is supposed to have standards to promote and uphold and undermining them with such an attitude is clearly not going to achieve that task.

When an employer pays out in cash, it is time to pay attention. How do we know if he has paid A.C.C., deducted income tax and so forth from the money? If he has how do we know that it is accurate? And where are the paper records that he would be expected to keep when approached by Inland Revenue Department, that compliant New Zealand employers would keep?

When New Zealand Immigration goes over the visa applications for people such as the tradespeople that Mr Abdullah hired, whose role is it to check that they are actually qualified and not cowboys? Whose role is it to check that their visa applicants are true and correct?

Immigration New Zealand has improved its detection systems, with improved biometric data handling processes. It says that with these improvements New Zealand has a better chance of picking up frauds like Mr Abdullah at the border before they are let in.

Whilst that is good to hear, any person not born in New Zealand who knowingly violates New Zealand immigration law once should have a minimum non-entry period, with a warning that next time it is permanent.

Questions raised about Chinese tradies building Auckland hotel


It has come to my attention that a Chinese company wants nearly 200 visas for short term tradespeople to come to New Zealand and finish a hotel project in Auckland.

Questions should be asked nevertheless. Anyone handling such a major construction project should know that it will have substantial and complex labour requirements.

I have concerns about this. Will Chinese labourers and the company they work for:

  1. Adhere to New Zealand labour law
  2. Not take dangerous short cuts in building the hotel that might compromise the physical structure
  3. Pay them New Zealand wages instead of whatever they might get in China

My concerns stem from a complex set of interacting issues that have arisen in New Zealand’s building sector over the last few years. They include shoddy earthquake repairs in Christchurch and Kaikoura, overworking of labourers by some companies, the importation of questionable steel from China and comments by a few non-New Zealand employers suggesting that they do not care or respect New Zealand laws and the custom of this country.

That is not okay. And New Zealand criminal law should reflect this in its sentencing regime.

New Zealand immigration need to be careful handling this. 175 individual visas need to be processed, but I also assume at some point the eventual holders of those visas will be screened to determine their suitability for the job. How will we know the credibility of the applicant in terms of whether they have a criminal record, their qualifications? Will they have some sort of insurance cover in case of an accident at work, elsewhere, ill health or being a victim of crime?

I accept that it might not be possible to find that many trades people in New Zealand to do the work without slowing down other projects, such as those related to the earthquake recovery in Christchurch.

I expect that somehow the trades people that come will have to demonstrate knowledge of New Zealand building practices, occupational safety and health before they can start work on the site. I expect that this will be done in New Zealand under the supervision of Department of Labour staff and the expectations made clear. In making this expectation, it is appropriate that New Zealand Immigration, Department of Labour and appropriate agencies have oversight of such a large application for visas.

 

 

Job creation: my view


Every election we hear about promises to get the economy moving again. New Zealanders hear the parties talking about how they will how get people off welfare and into jobs or training that can potentially lead to jobs. Both major parties are guilty of over promising and under delivering, which is something they know well, but admitting so would be to admit their last stint in office was a failure.

We need more people in the trades. Of that there is no doubt – drain layers and plumbers, electricians and carpenters. Without them, New Zealand cannot have the quality homes they need and the assurance that the basic services in the house that they hope to grow old in . I do not think that there will ever be an over supply of trades people in New Zealand without completely choking academia and telling academics to retrain. Perhaps the biggest problem is the chequered records of many with a run in with the cops here, a bit of drug dealing there – and maybe a bit of a side habit to boot – seemingly unaware or ignorant of the curtailment effect this may have on future plans to travel

New Zealand also needs academic researchers at universities. Contrary to the ill informed view for example that Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has never held a real job down and is called “just an academic”, is to ignore the fact that she used to work in the office of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

With potential for developing hemp based building materials, I think a whole industry potentially awaits for companies wanting to revolutionize their products and not just think about concrete and steel. I am not sure what the Building Code says about hemp products, but if there is no provision made for it, then – assuming a certified testing regime could be developed – perhaps the Building Code is in need of an overhaul.

Another example where I think New Zealanders could significantly improve job opportunities is through investigating the use of waste material as potential fuel sources. Biofuel is one that particularly fascinates me. It follows from research done sometime ago where a south Canterbury couple with a fish and chip shop were able to develop a blend of biofuel suitable for their vehicle. They used the waste oil and cooking fat from their deep frying unit. Given New Zealanders propensity for fish and chips and so forth on some nights, the economics of a nation wide – or at least an our bigger cities – biofuel programme might be worth investigating.

Doing the research into all of this and certifying the results will create desk based jobs of various sorts – data entry, administrator, project manager, accountant – as the reporting requirements develop in complexity.

It is not just scientists and tradespeople that New Zealand needs though. Police, doctors, teachers and care givers all have hugely important roles to play. I have dealt with these in other articles at some point or another.

But there is one group that New Zealanders say that they care much for, yet employers and individuals seem hugely judgemental towards. That is the disabled, unwell and intellectually impaired. Yes they might not cope with a full time job, but many of them are able to do lesser jobs.

I therefore propose that:

  • Funding for the sciences increase from 1% of G.D.P. to 2%
  • Narrow funding to a few main streams, such as renewables development and medicine
  • Have a touring science expo go to every high school in New Zealand as a joint project between the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment
  • A job programme for disabled and unwell people,  such as mowing the lawns and weeding gardens and do administrative tasks.
  • A rate of financial compensation for special needs jobs would need to be negotiated and it should supplement their social welfare support rather than be a part of it
  • Remove the discriminatory wages that were introduced by National for those in training