TVNZ fails in bid to appeal Employment Court decision

The Employment Court has dismissed TVNZ’s appeal to its earlier ruling in a case brought by E tū Union.

The broadcaster appeared in the Employment Court in Auckland on Wednesday to appeal a ruling that it failed to consult with staff before cancelling programmes, including Sunday and Fair Go, and making about 70 employees redundant.

E tū said a clause in its contract with TVNZ specified employees needed to be involved in workplace changing decisions.

TVNZ lawyer Paul Wicks KC said the broadcaster’s dire financial situation required labour savings of $10 million.

TVNZ chief operating officer Brent McAnulty told the court a downturn in revenue began at the start of 2023, and by November, all cost savings had been “exhausted”, apart from cutting jobs.

Staff were not made aware of the proposal until March 2024, McAnulty said, because they believed telling staff before the Christmas break would have had a “catastrophic impact on morale”.

The Employment Court ruling, released on Friday, said TVNZ breached its collective agreement by not letting staff know about its plans.

Chief Judge Christina Inglis said TVNZ must comply with the clause within 20 working days.

She noted that only one witness for the broadcaster who gave evidence in court seemed to be aware of the clause. Those involved at the executive and decision-making level, including McAnulty, “candidly accepted that they were not”, Judge Inglis said.

TVNZ had argued that a compliance order would make no difference to the employment outcome and it did not have the resources to deal with it.

“This concern was said to be based on financial impact, namely the costs associated with retaining staff on the payroll; the engagement process and any costs associated with re-commencing the cancelled shows,” the judge said.

“I accept that there would be a financial impact on TVNZ if compliance orders were made and it is clear that it is in a very difficult financial position.

“The impact should not, however, be overstated. The labour costs involved (in respect of the affected employees) is only a small percentage of the total annual spend on salaries, as Mr McAnulty confirmed in cross-examination.”

However, the judge said it would undermine the Employment Act if factors such as cost and inconvenience were prioritised over holding parties to the agreements they had struck.

The company’s opposition to re-engaging with its staff also seemed to “minimise the potential benefits that may flow” to TVNZ if it did, Judge Inglis said.

By properly consulting with them, it could draw on “the depth of experience, specialist knowledge and expertise that its staff undoubtedly have”.

There were about 46 union members affected by the redundancies, many of whom have already left TVNZ.

In a statement, TVNZ said it would work through the compliance order with the union.

What it means for staff

E tū negotiation specialist Michael Wood said the ruling was an “embarrassing outcome” for the broadcaster and a clear victory for the workers.

“TVNZ completely failed to follow its own agreement with staff. It completely failed to involve them in planning for this change at the organisation,” he said.

“It withheld critical information from them which it had as early as November.”

The Employment Court compliance order was a “very strong legal tool which forces the company to follow the agreement under pain of penalties if they don’t”, Wood said.

It meant TVNZ must now “sit down properly with their staff” and consult them on the change.

The staff who had already left TVNZ could now seek to take action against the broadcaster through the Employment Relations Authority, Wood said.

They would have a “very strong claim” for either reinstatement or compensation.

For the workers still at TVNZ who had been issued with redundancy notices, “those redundancy notices cannot proceed”, he said.

The broadcaster would now also have to work through the proper process regarding the cancelled programmes, like Fair Go.

Wood said he did not want to predetermine the outcome of those talks, but said he thought the cancellations were a mistake.

“Obviously it is very challenging to bring back shows which have already been cancelled, but we’ll go into discussions with TVNZ trying to seek the best possible outcomes and we’ll see where we get to.”

The broadcaster had “completely botched” the consultation process and should have drawn on its staff’s knowledge and ideas before cancelling the shows, as set out in the collective agreement, he said.

“They’ve destroyed the morale of many of the staff at the organisation and I think their board and the minister must be scratching their heads and wondering what’s going on here.”

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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