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.

Remembering Helen Kelly


On Friday New Zealand workers lost a friend, an advocate and one to make their number truly proud.

Helen Kelly came from a background strong on politics. Her Dad was President of the Wellington Council of Trade Unions and her mother organized anti-Vietnam War protests. It is not that she did not consider politics as a means to advancing her cause. She was offered a spot on the Labour Party list when she considered standing in 2014, but as it had so many other times, worker causes got in the way.

Whether one is a unionist or not, one has to respect the work Ms Kelly did over the years, tirelessly standing up to businesses and notable New Zealanders on behalf of workers rights. Ms Kelly went after Federated Farmers, the management of Pike River miners, forestry operations among others. Some of the campaigns were not universally supported, whilst others resulted in significant drops in work place accidents, changes in what were understood to be best practices

When Ms Kelly was diagnosed with terminal cancer in 2015 the fighter who stood up for vulnerable and hard done by workers and their families began a new and much more personal fight. She became a voice for the legalization of medical marijuana and in the months up to yesterday morning, she graciously gave up time she could have spent privately, allowing the media to interview her. She was interviewed showing how she prepared a marijuana brew illegally and talking about how it mitigated the physical pain she was on. I have long thought medical marijuana should be legalized, and if evidence was needed to swing the public opinion, this had to be it.

Helen Kelly is gone now, but the fight she rightfully involved herself so heavily in representing the interests of the worker goes on. The many issues still to be resolved and and vulnerable and hard done by workers needing a voice still need an advocate – still need another Helen Kelly.

Ms Kelly’s efforts on behalf of workers won her respect from both sides of Parliament. Prime Minister John Key called her a tenacious fighter. And at her C.T.U. leaving function Opposition Leader Andrew Little called her fearless.

Thank you Helen. Thank you very much.

Rest In Peace.