Rodney Hide, in his role of Minister for Local Government, has made himself the petty dictator of Auckland’s future. Therefore he is ultimately responsible in that role for a curious request through his minions. Phil Twyford reports at Red Alert..
Council water staff in Auckland have been given a case of the jitters after Councils received a letter from the new integrated water company asking for lists of staff with their age, sex, CVs, salary levels and whether they are union members.
It is an odd approach to employment relations and certainly not one designed to give confidence and security to staff.
Integration of bulk water supplier Watercare with the councils’ water retail operations is one of the big planks of the whole super city scheme. It is likely the merger will generate some efficiencies which over time may lead to job losses. But asking for age, sex and whether people are in the union? Crikey. You can only wonder that they are drawing up lists of staff and working out who might get the chop.
Apparently Watercare (previously run by the head of the Transition Authority) who have asked this don’t see anything sinister in this request. I’d differ with that opinion – the request is ludicrous, probably illegal, and raises some major privacy issues.
There are a number of obvious questions. Starting with who gave Watercare the authority to ask for this information? There is a press release by the dictator that Watercare will be given the role of running the Auckland water and waste water systems. However I cannot see any official gazetting of that, including the transition dates. The Transitional Authority should be informing the citizens of Auckland of changes like this as the DIA says in Keeping people informed. This looks like an end-run around the select committee process which would be looking at this as part of the legislation. I’d suggest that the dictator of Auckland, if he wants to keep the dwindling support for the Auckland super-city should learn to follow official, public and transparent procedures.
I also fail to see what union membership or gender or even age have to do with any legitimate staff query. Neither does current employment or anti-discrimination law. Merely asking for this information without specifying the purpose for which it is being used appears to me to provide a prima facie case on discrimination grounds about any subsequent actions taken by Watercare about employment decisions.
Asking for CV’s by a organisation who hasn’t been confirmed as being the ultimate employer is simply an invasion of privacy of the employees. I’d suggest that the councils should clarify or even bring a case to establish if Watercare are able to ask for this information. Otherwise they are leaving themselves wide open to litigation. It is a just as dangerous for Watercare and shows a poor standard of management skills to ask for it without establishing their rights to do so. I’d love to see the letter that the request came with to see if they even bothered. I suspect that they just tried to use the dictatorial fiat of the Transitional Authority.
But then Watercare have never impressed me as a service provider. In the late 90’s they effectively doubled my apartment block’s water rates without bothering to inform us that there would be an massive increase in waste water costs. After a high pressure street waterline burst, we had to convince them that the flooding in our underground car park was real by posting the pictures of our flooding on the net and drawing their attention to it. Many in Auckland who move under their aegis will find the experience frustrating and expensive.
As Standard and Poors points out in a recent credit assessment of Watercare
Upward movement in the ratings on Watercare is likely to occur if the company’s proposed absorption of the Auckland region’s water retailers is executed without a more aggressive capital structure and without a weakening in the company’s price setting framework, currently calibrated to achieve a metric target of 2.5x FFO interest cover.
In other words the easiest way for them to maintain their credit rating is to charge Auckland city water and waste water rates elsewhere in Auckland.