Education Ministry breached collective agreement in job cuts process – PSA

A union lawyer has told the Employment Relations Authority the Education Ministry has grossly underestimated its obligations to staff as it seeks to cut jobs to save money.

More than 700 roles are on the chopping block, some already vacant, as part of a government directive for savings.

But the ministry has hit the pause button on the process, saying a legal challenge could force it to start all over again.

The Public Service Association has been setting out its case to the authority in a hearing in Wellington today.

The union said the job cut process was inhumane and in breach of the collective agreement.

Lawyer Peter Cranney said the the ministry has not done enough to meet its obligations to staff.

He said the process of mass dismissals has failed to explore alternative positions and retraining options for employees.

There had been no attempt to reach agreement with the union over the extent of the cuts.

In her testimony PSA assistant secretary Fleur Fitzsimons savaged the ministry’s handling of the job losses.

Its attempts to persuade the union to work on a basis of accepting the government’s goal of slashing staff numbers was “deeply problematic”.

“We don’t want [the government’s goals] to be achieved. They’ll be damaging to the workers, their families and the government departments that [they are] working for,” Fitzsimons said.

Council of Trade Unions analysis of the sector showed it was already making greater savings than the government was asking for.

She said there was a “high degree of anger and upset” at the changes and how they were being delivered.

The ministry’s communication with the union failed to acknowledge the “deep hurt” the changes were inflicting on hundreds of people and their families.

“The whole approach and attitude of the ministry does not seem to take seriously the hurt and harm that is being caused by this and that is really concerning.

“The ministry almost seems affronted that we are advocating for people to stay in employment,” Fitzsimons said.

She said the ministry’s chief executive Iona Holsted’s comments that the collective agreement was irrelevant were “astonishing”.

Fitzsimons had been dealing with crying workers and people who have been deeply upset.

The ministry had proposed timeframes for consultation that failed to take into account the large scale of the impact of the changes.

“No government agency has tried to impose a consultation less than the ministry. It has to be proportionate with the scale of the change. There’s a lot of grief. It’s hard for people to focus on the substance of the change when they’re worried about their lives,” Fitzsimons said.

The ministry was pressuring the union to agree with its understanding of the collective agreement and objecting to its members being kept informed on communications and developments between the two parties, she said.

Ministry hopeful of ‘speedy resolution’

The ministry said in a statement it understood how difficult the change process had been.

It said it wanted certainty for impacted staff, their families and whānau.

“Today is the first day of this hearing before the Employment Relations Authority. We look forward to a speedy resolution of this matter, so staff can have certainty.”

Earlier this week in an email to staff the ministry said if the authority found in favour of the union it would re-enter talks with the union on specific changes.

However, savings would still be required and at a level that would likely mean there would still be job losses.

The ministry would continue with voluntary redundancies, but had paused expressions of interest in newly created roles from staff losing their jobs.

It said the ministry hoped to “find agreement with the PSA and avoid protracted legal action and uncertainty for our people”.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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