TVNZ did not follow ‘proper process’ of sharing information with employees, union argues

No mention of job cuts or programme cancellations were ever made in meetings focused on transforming TVNZ, a Fair Go staff member says.

TVNZ executives and the staff member were among those giving evidence in an investigation meeting at the Employment Relations Authority in Auckland on Monday, relating to the state broadcasters’ alleged breaches in its redundancy process.

E tū union has taken the case against TVNZ, arguing the company did not follow the consultation requirements under its collective agreement with their members.

The hearing comes about two months after TVNZ’s announcement to cut 68 roles.

Last month, the company confirmed the axing of Fair Go and Sunday, along with its midday and late night news bulletins.

E tū said that while union membership was about 25 percent across TVNZ, the membership rate was much higher in the news operations and among positions affected.

Daisy McWedge, a digital producer for Fair Go who had volunteered for TVNZ’s transformation project Te Paerangi, said “idea week” meetings in 2023 where staff were invited to brainstorm about the company’s transition from broadcast to digital did not mention anything about job cuts or the cancellation of programmes.

She said there were broad discussions about the “broadcast ending itself” in the future, the challenges of the media landscape, cost saving, and cultural change.

However, McWedge told the hearing she felt that broad discussions did not equate with engaging employees in developing changes for the organisation.

She said she also had the impression that staff were not told whether the ideas they put forward at the meeting would be actioned.

E tū negotiation specialist Michael Wood, who also gave evidence, said that TVNZ executives had been discussing the $10 million in savings it needed to make in late 2023, but highlighted that employees were not made aware until the announcement on 8 March about the proposed cuts.

Wood argued that engagement with staff over 2022 and 2023 was “highly general”, conveying financial challenges, asking for ideas, but did not involve staff in the developmental stage of decision making.

“In respect of sharing relevant information … a proper process of sharing information about estimates, projections and impact, could be an important part of the exercise, and that didn’t happen,” he said.

In the evidence of TVNZ’s manager leading the organisations’ transformation project Te Paerangi, Jo Copeland argued they had engaged staff in the lead up to the job cuts announced in March.

Copeland said she thought they communicated regularly about the company’s financial performance with staff, and that they had made a call for volunteers for Te Paerangi in August 2023.

Miriama Kamo

She said they had received more than 2000 ideas from staff put forward in the “idea week” sessions, and that five of those related to cutting the midday and late night news bulletins.

Under cross-examination by E tū’s lawyer Simon Mitchell KC, Copeland confirmed the union was not involved in this process, and that the filtering down of the ideas to 75 key initiatives was done by business leaders.

She also confirmed that the axing of Fair Go and Sunday was not looked at in these sessions.

Copeland said she became aware of the need for a $10m cost saving at a meeting about labour cost modelling in November 2023.

Meanwhile, TVNZ executive editor of news Phil O’Sullivan said that he had been considering axing Fair Go and Sunday in December last year, but did not think it was appropriate to talk to staff at the time.

O’Sullivan said he had realised with the broadcaster’s need to cut $10m, that the long-form shows needed to be sacrificed in order to keep covering the news.

But he said no decisions were made then and that there were “options on the table”, with the hope that revenues would turn after Christmas.

O’Sullivan said it would’ve been “unprofessional” to involve staff at that point, about potential cuts.

When asked by authority member Peter Fuiava what he thought of union organiser Michael Gilchrist’s criticism that TVNZ had only approached staff and the union after a proposal had been developed, O’Sullivan said: “I think that’s his opinion.”

He said the proposals came at the end of a difficult time for TVNZ, and the company had been updating staff on the financials and revenue situation, and through the transformation project.

O’Sullivan said there were many restructures at TVNZ in 2023 – in its executive team, and digital team – involving many decisions at an executive level, and that he was not sure about the practicality of involving everyone at every step.

He said revenues had become worse since December, and that any decision by the authority for TVNZ to restart the redundancy process would be expensive for the company that was already faced with cost-cutting pressures.

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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