Union backing worried council staff
The Public Service Association says it has raised concerns about workplace culture at the Nelson City Council for some time, and deals with a disproportionate number of people who have employment issues there compared to other organisations.
The results of an internal Kenexa Best Workplace Survey of council staff has revealed an unhappy workplace for many. A copy of the survey comments, obtained by the Nelson Mail, reveal a culture of fear, calls to stop bullying, and criticism of the council's leadership.
The PSA says it is aware of all of the issues contained in the survey, and has raised concerns regularly in the course of representing and supporting council staff.
PSA national secretary Brenda Pilott said the union had represented about a dozen staff over the past 12 to 18 months over disciplinary and performance matters. This was a high number when compared to similar organisations.
"That suggests that there is something wrong in management's approach to its staff, and underlines some of the findings in the staff survey."
The PSA has raised serious concerns around the council's move earlier this year to change its code of conduct and disciplinary procedures.
"Our members feel that the council has adopted a more negative and punitive approach, and has blurred the lines between misconduct and serious misconduct, so that there is an increased potential for dismissal at the end of any such process," Ms Pilott said.
The PSA had been aware of the problems at the council for some time but the recent restructuring had heightened them, she said.
The union had offered to work more closely with the council to try to find alternative ways of promoting fairer processes and a better workplace culture, but so far it had received little response from council management.
"The staff survey should be sending the council a strong message that things need to change and it's time for it to listen to its staff and take those messages on board," Ms Pilott said.
Council chief executive Clare Hadley, who took up the job last December, has now reorganised the council's structure. This will come into effect on Monday.
About 30 per cent of the council's employees were PSA members, she said.
When she joined, the council had already developed an increasing focus on performance and accountability, and this had continued, she said. "We know our staff want more attention paid to poor performance."
The council was looking for an organisation with a strong sense of performance, which responded well to ratepayers and customers, and the code of conduct sat alongside that, she said. The code was a review of the house rules, and the definitions of misconduct had become broader over the years as employment law had evolved.
Former councillor Ali Boswijk said that in a workplace the size of the council, there would always be some staff who were unhappy. "Whenever there is change, it promotes disquiet." While staff had told her that the change was unnerving them, she did not have staff coming to her concerned about the workplace culture.
Ms Boswijk was on a five-member panel that shortlisted two applicants for the chief executive's job, who were then interviewed by the full council. It was the decision of the full council to appoint Mrs Hadley, she said.
"I like her. I think she is incredibly straight and direct; you know where you stand. That's an important attribute. I don't think we experienced that before.
"I don't believe you can second-guess or misinterpret what she is saying. There's clear communication at all times."
Veteran councillor Gail Collingwood, who is also not seeking reelection, said she had been approached by various people outside the council who felt concerned about its workplace culture. "I have discussed those with the CEO, and her comments were reassuring."
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