Ministry of Education staff ‘constantly in tears’ during ‘unfair’ job loss process

Ministry of Education staffers were “constantly in tears” during an “unfair” job loss process, the Employment Relations Authority has heard.

More than 700 roles – including some that were already vacant – are on the chopping block at the ministry as part of a government directive to make savings.

But the ministry has hit the pause button on the process after a legal challenge from the Public Service Association about the way it is being handled.

The ministry has said the legal challenge could force the process to start all over again.

The Public Service Association set out its case to the authority in a hearing in Wellington on Friday.

It said the job cut process was in breach of the workers’ collective agreement and the ministry had not done enough to meet its obligations on rehiring and retraining staff.

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.

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Staff member Aleeta Hau said across years of working in change management for the ministry, only a handful of projects “had treated our people with dignity”.

Seeing the way the changes were being put in place had left her distraught.

“I broke down, I was embarrassed, I was angry and in denial. I was constantly in tears.”

Others spoke of confusion and inconsistency as news of the the changes was broken.

Tania Kelly Roxborogh said she went into a meeting with her manager – after previously learning her role was being disestablished – only to be told the decision had been reversed.

Her manager was unable to tell her what changes were being made to her position other than “it now has an ‘advisor’ in the title”, she said.

“I have no idea what my position is. I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing.”

She said her partner had already taken on an extra 80 hours’ work to help meet their financial commitments.

She was told she could not talk to anyone in her organisation about the flip-flop, she said.

“Seeing the people around me affected and crying and yet there’s a part of me that had to keep doing my job. It [felt as if] my husband came to me and said ‘I don’t love you’ and then changes his mind because he realises he’s going to be worse off.”

Hayley Whitaker said attending meetings to discuss the changes made it obvious there was “no wiggle room” in the decision making process.

“It was like I’d woken up in a different universe. It seemed like a fait accompli and there has been very little change from that until now,” Whitaker said.

She said the process had been “an emotional rollercoaster” for many people around her.

“It feels like it (was) restructure by restructure rather than looking at the collective good as a whole. It seemed very messy, inequitable and unfair.”

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

“This may lead to new or amended proposals that may require further consultation before decisions are made and actioned.”

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 had 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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