It’s easy to attack the extra remuneration that diplomats get while on posting as ‘perks’ that can be cut. But they serve an important purpose. Diplomats and their families have to up-root their whole lives to go on posting. For diplomats’ partners, that usually means giving up their work and income. If there’s no compensation for that, then diplomats won’t be able to go.
Belatedly, the government seems to be waking up to the fact that it has gotten the Mfat cuts badly wrong – helped by a seemingly endless stream of leaks, including the leaking of an order to stop writing critical cables that could be leaked.
Over at Red Alert, Grant Robertson has written on the issue of diplomats’ families and their ‘perks’:
In the midst of the train wreck that has been the changes to MFAT, the treatment of partners of MFAT staff has been disrespectful, if not downright disgraceful. Remarkably, early on after the release of the change document the MFAT partners group were told that they were excluded from contributing to the so-called consultation process. They were reduced to asking for information under the Official Information Act. This is a huge slap in the face for people who put their lives on hold to accompany partners overseas, and often play an essential and unpaid role in advancing New Zealand’s interests overseas.
Tonight they have released an open letter to CEO John Allen. Just how significant an impact going on a posting has on couples is in some of the statistics in the letter
– 100% of responding partners (83) were or had been in full time employment in NZ or their country of origin.
– Of these, only 1 had not had to resign from their employment to join their partner on posting.
– Only 14 partners had been able to find comparable employment – either on posting or return to NZ (i.e. 83% had not).
– 55% of partners had been in a NZ superannuation scheme, of which 61% had had to leave or suspend the scheme to accompany their MFAT partner on posting.
– 83% of partners felt they were in a worse position in terms of their current employment status compared to what they could have expected had they not been an MFAT partner.
What comes through the most in the partners submission is just how hurt they are that they have been excluded. MFAT has struggled over the years to get its family friendly policies right, but this is a whole other level. The conclusion of the letter is worth quoting in full
Through the restructuring proposals you are putting at issue the question of how New Zealand can best achieve its foreign policy objectives and provides services to New Zealanders abroad. This includes securing vital objectives such as obtaining a seat on the Security Council and the securing of trade and economic agreements on which the country critically depends. We do not for a moment question that there are aspects of MFAT that are in need of change. However our only possible conclusion, from the changes you have proposed, is that you have not understood the impact your proposals will have on the Ministry’s ability to attract and retain partnered staff. Refusal to properly consider and understand the impact of your proposals on the commitment of staff and their partners and families to the Ministry would be deeply irresponsible.
There is some hint that the government might be about to back down on aspects of its proposals. Good. How about relenting and getting the partners view included as part of the process as well?