Employers' group sacks Alasdair Thompson

Last updated 15:04 06/07/2011
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The Employers and Manufacturers Association has to do more than just sack chief executive Alasdair Thompson over his controversial comments about women's productivity, a union leader says.

EMA President Graham Mountfort announced today that the board believed Thompson was no longer able to continue in his job.

"We regret that Alasdair's role with the EMA is ending in this manner, especially considering the contribution he has made over the past 12 years. However under the circumstances the board has had to make this difficult decision."

"As this is an employment matter, we do not believe is it appropriate for the EMA to be making further comment at this time," said Mountfort.

Thompson has been on sick leave since he sparked a furore over his comments about women's ''monthly sick problems'', made during a radio debate with Helen Kelly of the Council of Trade Unions.
 
He told Newstalk ZB some women needed sick days every month, along with extra time off to care for children.

"Let me get down to tin tacks. The fact is women have babies. They take time out of their careers," he said.

"Look at who takes the most sick leave. Women do, in general, why? Because once a month they have sick problems. Not all women, but some do they have children they have to take time off to go home and take leave of...

"I don't like saying this because it sounds like I'm sexist but it's a fact of life."

This afternoon Helen Kelly said the sacking wasn't enough.

She wanted to see the business lobby group say what it's planning to do to help address the issue of pay equity and to end  discriminatory practices against women.

"They've put in new leadership but they have not put in any positive steps to address these issues,'' Kelly said.

"Thousands of woman have protested not just about Thompson's comments but also about pay equity and employment equity.''

She said the only way for the EMA to improve its tarnished reputation would be to take action, rather than issue press releases stating its support for equal pay for equal work.

Prime Minister John Key said ''the situation that he (Thompson) got himself into didn't look sustainable.''

Asked if Thompson's dismissal was inevitable, Key said it ''had that feel about.''

But said it was a matter for the EMA. All his ''interactions'' with Thompson were ''positive'', he added.

Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson said she was ''pleased it's resolved.''

Social development minister Paula Bennett said it was ''probably a good thing.'' But she said it wasn't surprising Thompson was sacked.

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''From the perspective of the organisations that associate themselves with that association..I don't think he really had that credibility any more.''

Business Roundtable executive director Roger Kerr said Thompson's comments were ''very injudicious'' but it is a sad end to a ''fine career''. Thompson did a lot of good work while at EMA, Kerr said.

CREDIBILITY GONE

National Council of Women executive officer Nicky Steel said it was "inevitable" that Thompson would have to go either by dismissal or resignation.

"He was not a credible leader of an organisation representing the country's major businesses," she said.

The group's president Elizabeth Bang said one of the heartening aspects about the Thompson affair was the depth of feeling in society about the pay difference between male and female employees who are doing the same work.

"Gender pay equity is a huge issue in this country. And there are others - for example the gross under-representation of women on company boards.

There were calls for Thompson to be fired immediately after the radio interview and a subsequent television interview, but the board of EMA said it had to conduct a proper process.

On Friday Air New Zealand said it was ending its association with the EMA over Thompson's comments, with chief executive Rob Fyfe making the announcement in a weekly newsletter.

"I have received a number of questions asking whether Air New Zealand is a member of the EMA following outrage at the CEO's public comments suggesting women are less productive and take more sick leave because of their monthly periods.

Air New Zealand said today it had no plans to rejoin the EMA.

Women's Affairs Minister Hekia Parata said the remarks were unhelpful, untrue and inappropriate so people would be helpful there'd been a resolution.

"I think that its been pretty clear from the response that the remarks made were unacceptable to a wide range or people."

Asked if it would be acceptable for Thompson to get a golden handshake pay out, she said it was a matter for the EMA and Thompson.

Green Party MP Catherine Delahunty, whose member's bill sparked the comments by Thompson, said it was time for him to lead a private life or to upgrade his ideas on the modern workplace.

It seemed to take the EMA a long time to "do the right thing" and dismiss Thompson considering the "outcry from the women of this country as a whole", she said.

"We're pleased they have. Otherwise their credibly as a modern organisation was really on the line."

The EMA lobbied Government all the time so it was important they could represent women, she said. A woman should now lead the organisation.

Bruce Goldsworthy has been appointed acting CEO for the EMA.

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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