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Is Human Resource Management in New Zealand Ethical?

Written By: - Date published: 2:21 pm, March 4th, 2015 - 63 comments
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Director, Transition and Transformation Rachel Walker

Director, Transition and Transformation Rachel Walker

The “divide and rule” strategy has been used to impose and maintain control over human beings for countless years. Capitalists are past masters at applying it to their workforce via the “management vs worker” cleaver but, no matter the resulting tension, it was always people getting along – or not – with other people. Not so in recent decades, especially in large corporations, which have seen the introduction of a systematic dehumanisation process. It began the day the “Personnel Department” became “Human Resources”.

The reduction of humans down to the status of “resources”, no more important to the functioning of a business than a bag of cement at a concrete factory, has resulted in an unconscious shift in thinking. Just as it causes less emotional angst for American soldiers to kill “rag-heads” rather than kill other soldiers, so too it is easier for senior executives to impose ever increasingly dire conditions upon “resources”. The only buffer which now exists between the ruthless corporate worship of Mammon and the workers in many businesses is a flimsy scattering of scant laws and the day-to-day level of ethical behaviour applied in this brand new field of “Human Resource Management”.

The day “Personnel” officially became “Human Resources” in New Zealand was 1 April 1999 when  the Human Resources Institute of New Zealand was incorporated. A voluntary membership industry organisation, the HRINZ today has around 3800 members which is about half of all those believed to be working in the field.

The current President of HRINZ is Rachel Walker who, as well as her presidential duties, works full-on as a human resources professional.  Her official job title is, “Director, Transition and Transformation”, (yes, really) and Rachel’s duties are many and varied. For example, she recently oversaw the “transformation” of the Ministry of Civil Defence and Emergency Management from a public service under the Department of Internal Affairs into a “business unit” operating alongside the spy agencies being run out of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Next task for Rachel is the winding up of CERA by “transitioning” it from Christchurch and plopping it into the increasingly busy Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. Hers is both a tough and intricately complicated job, involving multiple work-streams, no end of strategic engagement with surplus resources, dispensing treasure to throngs of private sector partners, keeping secret sensitive information, soothing sensitive political egos, and all the rest of it that goes with toiling in John Key’s Beehive boiler room.

Obviously, then, ethics plays a vital role in the performance of Rachel’s job and is something she obviously takes seriously. In fact, for her full time employment and in her role as President of HRINZ, Rachel, along with all the Institute’s members, is bound by a Code of Professional Conduct. This Code . . .

. . . plays an important part in ensuring membership of the Institute remains the respected and credible benchmark of HR professionalism . . . [T]hrough this Code, the Institute acts as monitor of the highest standards of behaviour and practice in the HR profession. Your membership commits you to upholding and maintaining these standards, and is dependent on your agreement to comply with all reasonable requests the Institute might make to investigate alleged breaches of the principles or spirit of the Code . . .

. . . and comes complete with a complaints and disciplinary procedure. Sure, okay, the wording creates enough “outs” for a cricket tournament but there is one provision which Rachel might like to take a look at. It affords the President the ability to make a complaint against a member on behalf of HRINZ and, if ever there was a need to do so to protect the blossoming human resource field surely it was revealed on Monday’s decision by the Human Rights Tribunal.

The Tribunal’s findings regarding the treatment of a “human resource” by NZCU Baywide’s Human Resources Manager  Louise Alexandra – IMHO and layperson’s reading of the documents – make it abundantly apparent that there has been a significant breach of all four tenets upon which the HRINZ’s Code of Professional Conduct (Codes of Practice) is based. Specifically, I suggest that Louise Alexandra has been found to be unable to sustain the Professional Competence and Behaviour, Ethical Standards and Integrity required of a Representative of the Profession providing Stewardship of people operating within her sphere of influence.

The behaviour at NZCU Baywide presents HRINZ with a rare opportunity to demonstrate that it is, as it claims to be, a body made up of professionals who are serious about their work, concerned about the maintenance of standards, and intent on ensuring as far as possible the safety of others in the realm within which they operate.

Just saying.

63 comments on “Is Human Resource Management in New Zealand Ethical? ”

  1. shorts 1

    at the end of the day they’re just people

    High level of loathing from me aimed at HR “professionals” in New Zealand – they could teach the PM some tricks on how to lie

  2. saveNZ 2

    HR are the people you don’t go to if you have a problem.
    Likewise recruitment agencies, too much power not enough brain power.
    Yes there are possibly a few good HR’s out there, but in general the standard is dire, which makes it even more ironic they are in recruitment and such a position of power within a company.

    • GregJ 2.1

      As I’ve said before – known to me for a long time as “Hinderance Resources”. And don’t even get me started on Recruitment Agencies and HR consultants!

    • Colonial Rawshark 2.2

      That’s why Dogbert is ultimate evil when he is in his HR role.

    • Trisha 2.3

      Absolutely agree with your comment. The Peter Principle is alive and well when people without critical thinking skills, the source of empathy and fairness, are elevated to positions way beyond their level of intellect. They perceive it as a ‘power’ role. Certainly, they must make some tough decisions from time to time, but they do it from a very myopic perspective – that is the danger. In many ways Key himself is myopic but he has street smarts which enabled him to be successful as a trader. It seems so many crucial government affiliated roles have gone to vacuous, self important women. As a woman who would love to see more women in such important roles, I find that appalling.

  3. alwyn 3

    You suggest that
    ” Capitalists are past masters at applying it to their workforce via the “management vs worker” cleaver”.

    Do you really think that calling this organisation which is, as they say on their website, a credit union and therefore essentially a co-operative which is, again in their own words “Customer-Owned Banking” a “capitalist organisation” is fair to real capitalists?

    The staff might have been a great deal better of if they had been working for a genuine capitalist organisation. The woman concerned certainly couldn’t have been worse off.

    • mickysavage 3.1

      Agreed that a credit union is a collective organisation and is based on a great philosophy. It is a shame this philosophy was not understood by senior management.

      • Colonial Rawshark 3.1.1

        And if it isn’t understood by their senior management it is very likely they run the whole damn place as their own private fiefdom.

        Complete with honour lynchings, it would seem.

    • framu 3.2

      hmm – does who owns it change the nature of its capitalism?

      or is it more a case of “for profit / not for profit” that determines whether its capitalistic or not?

      (genuine question there – not taking the piss)

      • alwyn 3.2.1

        It is probably debatable, but I personally wouldn’t call an organisation like this an example of Capitalism.
        Here is one definition, from Wikipedia.
        “Capitalism is an economic system where things (property, for example) are owned by people or an individual, not by a government or communities”.
        I would lean to saying that an organisation that is supposedly owned by its customers would come under the definition of being owned by the “community”. of depositors.
        The managers certainly count as ratbags though.

        • tricledrown 3.2.1.1

          Alwhynger The Capitalists have Unions galore the Nactional Party is the political front.
          The News Media their propaganda front.
          An Octapus would be a good description with many tentacles.
          Alwhinger you are one of the suckers on the end of one of the tentacles

    • vto 3.3

      Alwyn, capitalism makes full use of socialist collectivism. The right wing hypocrisy over this highlights their own failings in general ……. i.e. they are thick bastards who don’t even understand what they do.

      Let me give you some examples;

      1. the limited liability company is typically a collectivist organisation.
      2. our largest business Fonterra is a cooperative
      3. our second largest business Foodstuffs is a cooperative.
      4. pretty much all farmers belong to some coop or another, such as Ravendown

      all of the above are rabid capitalists and full blown collectivists

      your question is ill-defined, but like the right wings lack of understanding about their daily left wing activities it is hardly surprising. No wonder the country never gets anywhere when such a large portion of the population is so ignorant about their own activities.

  4. mickysavage 4

    Yep I had a quick read of the judgment. The barbarism on the treatment of that poor woman was breath taking …

    • Colonial Rawshark 4.1

      It was an honour lynching. In another society they would have necklaced their former employee/colleague.

      It’s very likely they would still not accept that they did anything wrong.

      • marty mars 4.1.1

        “honour lynching” “necklaced”

        wtf – I’m starting to worry about your rhetoric

        • Colonial Rawshark 4.1.1.1

          The mostly male senior managers in the firm decided to destroy her reputation, her privacy, her financial future, her job and her job prospects in a small community. They used work resources and work time to do so. Over a fucking ***cake***. They felt what had been besmirched was their own (gutless concept of) honour. In other words, the men didn’t like feeling disrespected. And they felt nil remorse for what they did.

          So I call it an “honour lynching” because that is what I perceived happened. Was it physical? No. But it was designed to cruely and unjustifiably attack her on every other plane, from reputational to financial to career. I think that in a less “tolerant” and “moderate” society than NZ (lol) they might have vindictively organised for actual physical harm to have come to her.

          And another thing for the feminists who don’t think that I tow the line. I recognise full well that the patriarchal scum probably would not have done this if the former employee had been a man, and not a woman.

          • marty mars 4.1.1.1.1

            Your first paragraph sums up well – ‘honour lynching’ mashes up two disgusting crimes in an unnecessary way imo

            Good on you for your ‘road to Damascus’ moment – I’m sure all the feminists are already celebrating. 🙂

          • Stephanie Rodgers 4.1.1.1.2

            “the feminists who don’t think that I tow the line.”

            Defensive much?

  5. Once was Tim 5

    You mean ‘ethical’ as in
    – advertising jobs that don’t exist or have already been filled (probably just to get prospective candidates on their books, and make themselves look good)?
    [It makes all those newspaper stats one used to see totally crap as well when multiple HR companies are advertising the same job]
    – charging an employer (a govt department) $x per hour for a contractor and taking nearly twice what the contractor gets in the hand (SysAdmin role x 2) as their cut – on TOP of the fee finders fee
    – completely misunderstanding an employer’s requirements because their template matching system is completely inappropriate
    – Christ, the list is actually endless the more I think about it.
    Any employer that uses Corporate HR Companies (especially gubbamint) are doing themselves a disservice.
    They seem to change names quicker than they change their underwear as well. I’ve only ever struck ONE company that was half-way decent.
    Thank God I don’t have to deal with them anymore

    • gsays 5.1

      you could add former tim; telling someone that we will contact you if another position comes up. then advertising said position and not contacting said person.

      but i am not bitter. depite having to urinate with a woman in the room, all for a minimum wage factory job..

  6. just saying 8

    In most of the research about workplace bullying (and it is rife in NZ) the advice is do NOT go to human resources.
    Like you say, bl1p, there is a huge hint about why in the title.
    There are many structural reasons for the rise in workplace bullying, but the kinds of individuals involved have existed since the beginning of time. The only difference is that the current workplace facilitates the behaviour and in some cases bullies are deliberately chosen for key strategic roles because the current socio-economic climate makes them very useful.

  7. One Anonymous Bloke 9

    I think myself lucky to have escaped such dire straits.

    And then I remind myself that I haven’t: my peers are subject to this iniquity.

    I am forcibly reminded of the circumstances of the GFC, where the bankers who baulked would be ‘moved sideways’, and those who acquiesced, promoted, cf: Steve Eisman’s remarks on meeting bankers.

    Mitt der dummheit kampfen, etc etc.

    The solution, as always, is regulation: without constraints, creativity is worse than useless.

    • One Anonymous Bloke 10.1

      I hope she’s ok.

      Too many people brainwashed by Objectivist dogma. This is the inevitable result.

    • sabine 10.2

      will she be the only one? Can we expect to see any of the manager boys to be gone within the day?

  8. SHG 11

    It amazes me when people who are experiencing difficulties with the company they work for say shit like “I’m going to tell HR” as if HR is some white knight waiting to charge in and save the day. HR won’t protect you from the company; HR *IS* the company.

  9. Sanctuary 12

    To paraphrase Edward S. Herman:

    “…What is really important in the world of… (HR) …is the ability to lie, whether knowingly or unconsciously, and to get away with it; and the ability to use lies and choose and shape facts selectively, blocking out those that don’t fit an agenda or program…”

    HR is the quintessential middle class “profession”, the ideological enforcers of corporate doublespeak, where language is used to soothe the disposable whilst it is being disposed of in order to prevent that ultimate middle class horror – an emotional outburst that reveals the corporate process for it is.

    I have dealt with a lot of HR types. The idealistic ones don’t last long. And sadists and sociopaths would, I would hazard to suggest, be much more highly represented in HR than the population in general.

  10. Joanne 13

    Workers on dairy farms are now referred to as ‘labour units’ – as opposed to stock units of course.

    • Ergo Robertina 13.1

      Yeah, it’s depressing. Dairy farm workers are horribly exploited for the hard work and incredibly early hours they keep, and they’re increasingly working on corporate-owned farms, so the corporate-speak does not surprise me. Apart from the significant human cost it’s artificially keeping overheads in the industry low, which further inflates the debt bubble.
      I grew up on a farm in the 80s, and there is now a divide between the rural haves and have nots that was not nearly as stark 30 years ago.
      The language change reminds me of something I once read about the industrial revolution, during which one of the things that disturbed some people was referring to people as ‘hands’, as in the number of hands you have on the job. It’s interesting how we become inured to things that represent quite fundamental shifts in how we view other people.

  11. sabine 14

    I once was told by a blond HR bimbo and her boss in the pink shirt that “Company” does not do redundencies and that i should just try to work with my manager who considered meetings with him as equal as meeting with the gestapo. Fuckwit he was.

    after laying a complaint, and more bullying i went to my managers boss and told him in no uncertain terms that I wont be bullied and above all i won’t be bullied out of my job.

    As they could never find a thing to complain about my performance, and I always came to meetings lawered up eventually i was offered a redundancy. I gracefully accepted and opened my own business. never looked back.

    Fact is when dealing with HR, do not show up without a Union representative or a Lawyer. Best money ever spend.

    • SHG 14.1

      Fact is when dealing with HR, do not show up without a Union representative or a Lawyer.

      +1, Insightful

  12. capn insano 15

    I started my first job for a large nation-wide IT firm at the end of ’97. One of things they did was have a number of on-site guys for various printer, PC and Networking tasks. I do remember at least once one of the team leaders discussing a situation regarding one of the clients and said something along the lines of “can we get a resource out there”. I remember this struck me as odd at the time but I didn’t comment being just an assistant storesperson at the time.

    • GregJ 15.1

      “Corporate speak” is now so embedded we have to all take it on board and work out what the learnings are so going forward we can move the needle and leverage our outcomes with our core competencies to procure the best outcomes for our Corporate values. 😈

      BTW – love your handle! 🙂

      • Murray Rawshark 15.1.1

        You forgot the stakeholders. Dracula is grateful.

        • Capn Insano 15.1.1.1

          As long as we all synergise to our maximum potential and leverage the full extent of the IT ecosystem we can exploit economies of scale across departments and empower our equity acquisition entities.

          Man that hurt my head and cheers.

  13. Colonial Rawshark 16

    Capitalism always seeks to commodify labour, so it can be traded, sold and disposed of like any other commodity.

    Marx got this spot on.

    • marty mars 16.1

      + 1

      I’m of a mind to think that the commodification of everything is the purpose of capitalism – you can’t get profit if it is not commodified and without profit it is worthless to those bastards.

      • Colonial Rawshark 16.1.1

        Pretty much. I would say the combination of totalitarian commodification and totalitarian externalisation of costs (the latter I got from Dmitry Orlov’s blog) would explain our current incarnation of capitalism pretty well.

        I use the term totalitarian because they seek to commodify and dump costs on not just our persons and our bodies, but also our communications, our relationships, our thoughts (eg predictive ad tracking on google or by FaceBook), in fact every single aspect of a normal human’s being.

        edit – also of course on our homes our food our environment our transactions, etc.

        • Colonial Rawshark 16.1.1.1

          Dang it, or was it from the Archdruid’s blog…not Orlov’s

          • marty mars 16.1.1.1.1

            hmm the externalisation of costs rings a JMG bell – not sure about the totalitarian bit though – I don’t read Orlov but JMG I religiously follow 🙂

  14. adam 17

    Did not the labour party elect as president – a lecture in H.R….

    Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

  15. Macro 18

    “Human Resource Management” says it all. Humans are regarded as a resource – not as people. It is a term that is specifically chosen to dehumanise and to diminish the individual from a person to a resource – something that can be discarded at a whim. The sooner humanity discards this obscene term, and returns to a term the incorporates more fully the concept of people, the better.

    • Sable 18.1

      Won’t happen while pro US neo con toss pots are running the country.

    • Rodel 18.2

      Relative of mind was a senior in HR and they wanted to encourage the use of the term ‘human capital’ to better describe the relationship between a corporation and its employees. They were happy to be regarded as human capital themselves.

      I was expecting them to rename their HR department as ‘human capital management’ but the capital word seems to have been dropped lately.

      Personnel is a better term I think.

      • Coffee Connoisseur 18.2.1

        Perhaps they should just cut the BS and go straight to Human Cattle Management Department

  16. If the NZCU HR manager is not a HRINZ member the the code of ethics do not apply

  17. Sable 20

    The good old “Human Remains” department as I’ve heard it called. In my experience no one likes them and its not without some justification.

  18. Coffee Connoisseur 21

    The reduction of humans down to the status of “resources”, no more important to the functioning of a business than a bag of cement at a concrete factory, has resulted in an unconscious shift in thinking.

    Very telling in fact.
    If we have a system that we are all subject to…
    and in that system there are Companies and Corportions….
    And in those companies, humans are resources, to the point where they have a Human Resources department for managing that resource….

    Then who is the system for if we are simply a resource in the current one?

  19. Chaz 22

    It is important to note in all this that the issues were not just with the HR manager, they were throughout the executive.

    Secondly I was going to comment that the OP in her excoriation of capitalism did not seem to notice that this incident occurred in a social collective, but I see that point has already been picked up on.

    There are some disparaging comments made by management in this report to the effect that the board “just does what they are told.” Other posters have pointed out the lack of governance typified by management acting as if they were running a “fiefdom.”

    It raises a question on whether this was a governance issue with this single credit union or whether it is an inherent failing in a model which does not include shareholders protecting their own vested interest through the exercise of governance.

    The management have definitely come out of this with their names muddied, but what about the board that was meant to be governing this organisation?

    If the members had any sense of their own interests they would fire the bang lot of them.

  20. Chaz 23

    PS if you folks are going to be sensitive about the term “resource” you are going to die when you learn that in IT departments you are all generally referred to as “Users.”

    Do you think you are reading too much into a label?

    Years ago we were not allowed to call low intelligence people halfwits anymore, that was rude, so they had to be called retarded, then retarded got to be rude so they had to be called handicapped, then handicapped got too pejorative so they had to be called challenged, then challenged got bad so they get called special, and now being special is bad and they get called different, but different is bad so…what comes next IFIIK.

    I get it we shouldn’t call people halfwits, excepting political debate of course in time honoured tradition, but at some point doesn’t it get a little precious?

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