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The truth behind the Shawn Tan affair

Written By: - Date published: 1:27 pm, September 10th, 2008 - 43 comments
Categories: act, election 2008 - Tags: ,

For the last several weeks the EPMU has had to weather an extraordinary series of attacks from ACT, ACT candidate and EPMU employee Shawn Tan, and right-wing activist/Herald journalist Lincoln Tan. The union has been accused of breaching Tan’s human rights and racism but it has had to respond to these attacks with one hand tied behind its back because, unlike ACT and the two Tans, the EPMU has a commitment to sticking to due process in dealing with employment issues.

Now, that process is complete. Tan has been dismissed from the EPMU for irrevocably damaging the employment relationship by attacking the union in the media following his suspension (on full pay) for refusing to seek approval for political candidacy. Now, the EPMU has issued a press release revealing the full story, as well as a timeline and more than 200 pages of documentation.

Tan was fully aware of the terms of his contract: “The requirement to seek approval for candidacy was agreed to by Shawn at the time of his employment and reiterated at the meeting on July 18. Shawn’s agreement to seek approval was made in the context of his disclosure at the beginning of his employment that he intended at some point to become a Green Party MP.” (what does that say about this guy’s politics and the depth of ACT that he could go from wannabe Green MP to 10 on the ACT list? Or was he only selected to what is, after all, an unwinnable position by ACT to create a media story?)

The requirement to seek approval to be a candidate is enforced, regardless of the political party (contrary to the Herald’s allegations): “candidacy would have required significant time off work to campaign. Shawn had no annual leave entitlement available to him and had already taken ten days of paid leave during his five months of employment. Two other EPMU employees have sought approval to stand for public office this year. One was declined entirely due to operational requirements; the other was approved on the basis that her campaigning time commitments are met out of her annual leave.”

Tan and ACT tried to blackmail the EPMU: “the first confirmation we had of Shawn’s candidacy occurred when Shawn and his advocate, ACT Party activist Max Whitehead, insisted the candidacy would go ahead in spite of a requirement to seek approval and then suggested the union pay four months wages to avoid a ‘media storm'”

Tan was conducting ACT Party activities on work time (see this attachment that came with the release, Tan was working on a secret agreement between the Asian Anti-Crime Group and ACT for the Chinese vote in exchange for places on the ACT list): “The requirement for Shawn to remain focused on union work was expressly part of the probationary arrangement. Candidacy for political office would likely have breached that commitment, and his outside political activities were already beginning to interfere with his work”

In summary: “Shawn had a good faith obligation to consult with the union over his candidacy and the implications this would undoubtedly have had on his work. Shawn failed to do this. When he was suspended on full pay pending an investigation he chose to attack the union’s reputation in the media. A week ago he demanded a $50,000 tax free payout to settle the issue. The union has explored alternatives to dismissal but in the circumstances we believe Shawn’s actions have harmed the employment relationship beyond repair. In light of this his employment has been terminated.”

The EPMU has acted in a scrupulously fair manner throughout this, even as Tan and ACT have had their disgusting attacks lapped up uncritically by the media. I trust we will now see the EPMU’s side of things given equal coverage.

[press release, timeline, attachments 1, 2, 3]

43 comments on “The truth behind the Shawn Tan affair ”

  1. Why did you leave out;

    “It should also be noted that Shawn was employed on a probationary basis for six months because of unsatisfactory references from previous employers.”

    before the paragraph “The requirement for Shawn to remain focused on union work was expressly part of the probationary arrangement.”

    Is it because the EPMU has campaigned about probationary periods and having that public knowledge would make a mocekry of the stand of teh EPMU?

    [Moron. You’re banned but we’ll let this one through. The EPMU and other unions do not oppose the current probationary periods in the ERA, which require a fair process and natural justice. They oppose the National Party’s plan to do away with the need for fair process and allow employers to fire workers at will.]

  2. I didn’t include the entire text of the press release but it’s linked at the bottom.

    probationary periods are already legal, National wants to make it so workers have no rights during probationary periods.

  3. Duncan 3

    Christ! What a prat. That material’s devastating. Blackmail, false allegations, media manipulation, it’s all there. This Tan character can’t be all that smart if he ran all that stuff through his work email address.

    I mean the employment stuff’s bad enough but the AAG is just the icing on the cake. You reckon there are any investigative journalists out there who might be interested in Rodney’s dodgy dealings with the AAG?

  4. insider 4

    Of course this could be seen as setting a benchmark for sacking. Employees break contracts in a range of ways and don’t get suspended let alone sacked.

    And you can’t tell me unions don;t ask for financial compensation for members to resign and make issues go away. Employment awyers do it all the time. Nice to know that you agree such tactics are blackmail.

  5. Daveo 5

    Read the press release. Tan was sacked for attacking the union’s reputation in the media through lies and slander, not for his candidacy. His behaviour around the candidacy (lies and blackmail) was why he was suspended on full pay.

    The issue about candidacy could have been resolved, but the public attacks on the union by Tan and his representatives created more issues to deal with. Even though a return to work was explored as late as last night, this option simply became untenable.

    “It would have been possible to resolve the issue of candidacy if Shawn had acted in good faith,” says Little, “but actions such as holding a press conference outside our office and calling us racist in the middle of the first proper meeting on the issue significantly changed the relationship with Shawn and the issues got harder.

    Have a read through the documents, they’re pretty damning. You can’t defend Tan’s behaviour or Rodney Hide’s. Their behaviour has been an utter disgrace.

  6. Jasper 6

    I love how he compares himself to C. Ronaldo about the decision to stand for ACT must not be taken lightly.

    However, this media bollocks will only serve in the Asian community to futher, and continue to foster, a hatred of the white man treating asians like tutaekuri.

    So, the asian votes now been wrapped up thanks to the ongoing media focus “look how the Asian man has been wronged by his white employers” as the Chinese News states. The CN goes on to further say that “By giving your votes to the asian candidate(S), Peter Lows AAG will be effective voice in government giving more right to asian minority. Triad is good idea as New Zealand Government Police do not support Asian”

    Christ. They really do want to have their own band to play in don’t they. More rights? Specifically for asians? What do they want.

    Im not normally a fan of playing the race card, but this whole issue has taken a big stick and drawn a clear line in the sand that says “Asian vs the Rest”

  7. toms 7

    ACT clearly sees it’s survival in driving a racist wedge between Asians and the rest of the New Zealand population which it can then exploit.

    Rodney Hide and ilk are small, shallow, desperate, people unfit to run for public office.

  8. Duncan 8

    Jasper the AAG don’t represent Asians and I don’t see how your comments in that regard help anyone.

    This is stunning:

    August 7: Tan emails recruitment agency seeking alternative employment.

    Tan and Whitehead confer by email on the legal standing of an employee publicly criticising or disparaging his or her employer.

    August 8: Emails ACT party activist and employment lawyer, Max Whitehead, to ask for employment and states: “My career path lies outside of the union movement”

    18 August: Brings Max Whitehead to meeting with Bill Newson and declares Act candidacy. Whitehead says he does not believe Tan has to seek union’s approval for candidacy despite Tan’s previous undertakings. Whitehead says Tan loves his job and wants to stay and then asks for three months pay tax free plus an extra month’s pay to solve the problem. Prior to this meeting Tan had contacted Whitehead by email to provide a strategy including a “media storm” option.

    You’ve got Tan and his advocate investigating the legalities of an employee ‘criticising or disparaging’ his employer eleven days before Tan has even confirmed to his manager that he will stand.

    This has been a setup from the start.

  9. Draco TB 9

    Holy shite!
    The EPMU released the entire friggen investigation fully disclosing the duplicity of Tan and ACT in their attempt at a premeditated media beat up of the union.

  10. Pascal's bookie 10

    There used to be an awful lot of righties begging someone at the Standard to post about Shawn Tan.

    Where dey all at?

  11. Vanilla Eis 11

    Jebus. Anyone read the Heralds take?


    EPMU sack Act candidate
    4:00AM Wednesday September 10, 2008
    By Alanah May Eriksen
    The man suspended by his union bosses because he was standing as an Act candidate has been sacked.

    Shawn Tan is considering taking legal action against the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union.

    His fate was decided at a meeting last night after mediation on Friday failed to resolve issues.

    Mr Tan, who worked as an organiser at the Labour-affiliated call centre, was suspended on August 18 when it was revealed that he would be standing as a candidate for Act, which the union says has a different philosophical persuasion.

    The EPMU said Mr Tan had not sought permission to stand and accused him of using a work computer to send Act emails during work time.

    “We tried to mitigate the outcome,” Mr Tan told the Herald last night.

    “I would be prepared to go back if the conditions were right, for example if the EPMU could guarantee my safety, that I wouldn’t go back and face barrage or ridicule or the disparity of treatment. They couldn’t guarantee that and said I was asking too much. I was pretty disgusted by that actually.”

    AdvertisementEPMU national secretary Andrew Little said Mr Tan was fired over contractual reasons.

    “The decision is about his employment obligations, it’s not about his political affiliations … he has employment obligations to the union and he has chosen not to abide by those.

    “Added to that he has chosen to attack the union publicly.”

    Mr Tan said he would liaise with his lawyer today about legal action.

  12. Tim Ellis 12

    I have to admit to a slightly sordid fascination when reading the timeline. I haven’t bothered to read the supporting documents, but I have a few thoughts.

    I’m a bit disturbed by the idea of the EPMU releasing all this material on Shawn Tan. I understand their motives: Tan was attacking the EPMU constantly in the media. I am especially troubled by the EPMU making public references to communications between Tan and his legal adviser, which I would have thought would be privileged communications in the first instance, and downright dirty to release them publicly.

    Having said that, it does look as though Shawn Tan has been a naughty boy, and has used some pretty manipulative techniques to smear the EPMU. It does look as if he hasn’t acted in good faith. I understand the EPMU’s motives for releasing all this: they have effectively gone nuclear on Tan, and it looks like overkill. The material released is pretty devastating against Tan, and I think the EPMU could have got its message out clearly enough without referring to privileged communications, for one. Disclosure of confidential employment references were, in my view, also unnecessary, and potentially breach Tan’s privacy.

    I don’t doubt that the EPMU, from this material, was justified in dismissing Tan, and he did behave pretty shoddily. Maybe I’m getting old and soft, though, because something says to me that a 22 year old kid is sometimes going to do some silly things and cause a few problems, and still has a lot to learn, without having people go nuclear at him.

  13. I don’t doubt that the EPMU, from this material, was justified in dismissing Tan, and he did behave pretty shoddily. Maybe I’m getting old and soft, though, because something says to me that a 22 year old kid is sometimes going to do some silly things and cause a few problems, and still has a lot to learn, without having people go nuclear at him.

    Tim – I don’t buy the 22 year old kid line. Tan is a lawyer and a grown man and should have had some idea of what he was getting into. At first glance it seems clear the ACT party was using him but that doesn’t absolve him from personal responsibility.

    I share your fascination with the time-line though and the other documents are astounding – how often do you get to look inside a political debacle like this so closely and so soon?

    I give the novel that is the Tan saga two thumbs up and would highly recommend it to any political junky with a taste for intrigue…

  14. Draco TB 14

    I understand the EPMU’s motives for releasing all this: they have effectively gone nuclear on Tan, and it looks like overkill.

    It may look like overkill but after reading the NZ Heralds article above where Tan is still painted as the David vs Goliath battler I really don’t think it is. It’s a pity that the NZ Herald will never link to the EPMUs information because if they did it would show up the article as the cover up it is.

  15. Matthew Pilott 15

    Tim, if you look at the Herald’s story as posted above, you’d have to conceed that to get their story across would take something pretty strong.

    At least we don’t have to rely on them and their virtual collusion with one of the actors for information.

    And maybe you are getting soft – but I notice you’re not feeling soft towards a Union that was set up for all this. For a 22 year old to take the course of action chosen, well, he can expect no less. Not that many people actively try and screw over their employer using the media – the union’s response is justified by Tan’s action.

  16. Tim Ellis 16

    Robinsod, Draco, Matthew, I tend to agree that the EPMU was justified, and if we assume the EPMU’s version is correct, and it looks pretty robust, they were set up. It does look to me though as if he was egged on by other forces, and he was manipulated into being put into this position.

    I’ve got mixed feelings about it. The way I see it, Shawn Tan took a knife along to a gunfight. The EPMU pulled out a bazooka. Yes, he was stupid to enter into the gunfight, but the people advising him should have warned him what he was up against.

  17. but the people advising him should have warned him what he was up against.

    By the looks of it the people advising him were the ACT party’s campaign team. They are known to have some pretty big guns themselves…

  18. Tim 18

    Max Whitehead isn’t a lawyer, he’s an advocate. Communications between him and his clients aren’t protected by legal professional privilege. I doubt whether litigation privilege applies either.

    Can’t say I feel too sorry for Shawn given his boasting in some of those emails about getting other people sacked in his previous roles. It was him who invited the ‘media storm’ as well.

    It seems he’s burned his bridges pretty nicely too. He’ll never get a job in a union again and he’ll find it pretty difficult being an HR manager if he has a poor relationship with unions.

  19. his boasting in some of those emails about getting other people sacked???

    Where’s that??? Near the end? I haven’t got onto part two yet…

    No – don’t spoil it!

  20. Jasper 20

    The emails were sent using EPMU servers, and as such remain the property of EPMU.
    EPMU then have full responsibility over what they choose to release, and when, Tim Ellis.

    There’s nothing wrong with EPMU releasing this smoking gun. In fact I think they acted pretty in accordance with what any other employer worth their salt, being slandered in public, would do.

  21. Jasper 21

    And I can’t believe he shamelessly prostituted his act party speech to the recruitment agent.

    What a party whore.

  22. You’d have to wonder if he was going to quit anyway. I mean 9th or 10th place on the list? you’d have to be pushing it really. It’s almost like this is his way of going out with a bang and\or payout.

    But yeah, those ACT supporters, they can run around the blogosphere shouting thier “interesting” interpretations of laws from thier soapblogs’ all they like, this I guess is what happens when you try and put those twisted misinterpretations into practice, another sucker for the ideology I guess.

  23. James 23

    Wow, that’s devastating. Shawn Tan will never work in this country again. The duplicity of his actions are right there for all to see, and the ACT Party’s fingers are all over it. It’s just tragic our media took it at face value.

  24. weka 24

    How much time and money will the EPMU have had to spend on this?

  25. Hopefully less than what he wanted as a payout!

    Imainge the headline: “EPMU Donates 50K to ACT Campagin”

  26. Tan doesnt stand a chance getting into parliament,at no 10. and is unlikely to get employed by a law firm, given his lack of understanding of employment law (despite his academic achievements). Further his, now publically known indiscretions, disloyalty and self interest will ensure that even his fellow act member and advocate Max Whitehead wont employ him. He got too full of himself and has lost the job he professed he loved and which provided very reasonable package. I have no sympathy what so ever for him…the guys a flea.

  27. Billy 27

    The EPMU has someone with the title “Director of Organising”?

  28. Gooner 28

    Doesn’t the EPMU have a duty to Tan even though his employment relationship is over? And wouldn’t such a duty extend to not publicly releasing evidence that may be used in a Court hearing?

    The EPMU have an argument that his criticism of his employer gave them grounds to dismiss. But I believe that becuase the duty of trust and confidence extends beyond the termination of the employment relationship then Tan has an argument that the employer’s public criticism and opprobrium of him post termination is an actionable breach too.

    Captcha: especially trial. Ha!

  29. Daveo 29

    Gooner fair point but as I understand it Tan’s disclosure of his version of events to the media means he has waived his right to privacy. Looking at the nature of his disclosure (high profile accusations of racism and a premeditated media smear campaign) I doubt he’s got a leg to stand on.

  30. Billy. a union is organised labour. it has organisers who are employed by the workers to help the workers organise, and there’s a leader of those organisers ‘the director of organising’

  31. Swampy 31

    The union conducted a campaign against Tan during the disciplinary process. They emailed all their members with information during that process.

    The fact that the full information has been published online appears to be an unprecedented breach of Mr Tan’s privacy regardless of his situation as it is now being ensured that the information will go all around the Internet forever. It’s hard to see how this publication can be justified given that it’s likely Tan could appeal to the ERA and that he could therefore argue that this publication has prejudiced his right to a fair hearing.

  32. Swampy 32

    “There’s nothing wrong with EPMU releasing this smoking gun. In fact I think they acted pretty in accordance with what any other employer worth their salt, being slandered in public, would do.”

    I know of no reputable employer that would conduct such a campaign in public. However, I know of quite a number of politically focused organisations which issue their own press releases and consider it quite normal to publish in this way, for political reasons.

    You will be aware that in the private sector it is quite common to pay out an employee to leave rather than engage in a destructive bitter public campaign with the person, even to court cases etc. The public tit for tat campaign is not a common private sector situation.

  33. Draco TB 33

    The union conducted a campaign against Tan during the disciplinary process. They emailed all their members with information during that process.

    That’s one hell of an accusation – got proof?

  34. Swampy 34

    “Read the press release. Tan was sacked for attacking the union’s reputation in the media through lies and slander, not for his candidacy. His behaviour around the candidacy (lies and blackmail) was why he was suspended on full pay.”

    OK let’s summarise. Regardless of what you believe on the above.

    Andrew Little has commented at some point during this process that has been reported “publicly” but I can’t remember where I read those comments, they went something like “this guy was advocating against everything we believe in”.

    I have worked for a few different outfits and I am not aware of any situation in which any of them would have gone to the media to put their side of the story during an employment dispute – but none of them had the desire to make political mileage out of the matter.

    The majority of employment dispute processes are conducted privately, even where the ERA becomes involved, and this is the norm for such processes.

    Other posters in this thread have defended the union response on the basis of the political situation. As I see it, the union appears to be responding in a political way to get a political advantage. The public release by the union of privileged information reinforces this suggestion.

    As it is almost inevitable that Mr Tan will file a personal grievance and that this negative publicity and release of material could be considered detrimental to natural justice, regardless of the circumstances, the wisdom of the way in which this case has been carried out by the union is, in my view, questionable.

    Employment law is there for the protection of employees. I believe it would be very hard for the union to successfully defend its stance and handling of this matter in the way it has been carried out. The law is absolute and does not change just because the person concerned is involved with a political party despised by his employer.

    In this situation it is hard for me to see how the handling of this situation represents anything other than a political response to the involvement of the Act party and the imminency of the election campaign in which the EPMU is presumed to be acting in support of the party to whom they are affiliated.

  35. Swampy 35

    The union conducted a campaign against Tan during the disciplinary process. They emailed all their members with information during that process.

    That’s one hell of an accusation – got proof?

    Actually I can’t remember where I read that so I’ll withdraw that and replace it with the public statements by Andrew Little which have been made.
    The examples being from the NZ Herald
    (this article contains a statement that the union has been in contact with its members)

    Do you accept that public statements by an employer are the norm during an employment dispute? It shouldn’t make any difference whether they are engaged in political activism or not.

  36. monkey boy 36

    I have to share my own misgivings about how these documents have been put into the public domain – what about the Privacy Act? Is the EPMU not guided by this?

  37. I have worked for a few different outfits and I am not aware of any situation in which any of them would have gone to the media to put their side of the story during an employment dispute

    Swampy – don’t be absurd. Plenty of companies go to the media over employment disputes – especially if they are attacked in the media first. It’s basic brand management.

  38. Daveo 38

    Swampy – the union’s message to members you’re talking about was incredibly bland and basically just said “you may have seen this in the media, it’s not the full story, but we accept Shawn’s right to a fair process during this investigation.”

    Given the union was being called racist in the media I think that was the least they could do, and they did no more. Now the full facts are out and Shawn is exposed as a fraud. Do you think the EPMU should hide the facts so Shawn can continue to slander them with baseless accusations?

    My advice to you is to simply read the documents. They’re damning.

  39. Wayne 39

    Question: is Swampy actually Shawn Tan or is he an Act activist who’s pissed off his scam has been exposed?

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