Nikki Preston

Nikki Preston is a Herald reporter based in Hamilton.

Council staff brace for more cuts after 13 workers made redundant

Disgruntled Ex Hamilton City Council employee Bob Brown. Photo / Christine Cornege
Disgruntled Ex Hamilton City Council employee Bob Brown. Photo / Christine Cornege

A Hamilton City Council review has resulted in 13 redundancies and staff are bracing themselves for further cuts as the axe hovers with over three-quarters of the organisation yet to be looked at.

Six of the city council's 25 units have been reviewed, a further five reviews are either planned or in progress and the remaining 14 will be completed before the end of the year.

A manager in the community unit was made redundant this month and last year 12 jobs, including three management roles were axed.

The library and property units are being reviewed, but the council has said the focus was on reshaping roles and no redundancies in these areas were expected.

However reviews of the democratic support, organisational development and property units are still in the early stages.

The job losses are on top of the 27.6 full-time equivalent positions which will be culled at the end of June if the council's service reductions proposed in its draft long term plan go ahead.

Hamilton City Council organisational development general manager Olly Te Ua said the reviews were aimed at reducing costs but could also include improvements to service, technology or efficiency.

The first review started in May last year.

"Council has made clear the need to live within its financial means, so these reviews are driven by the need to deliver more efficient services to the city and its residents," she said.

But the ongoing cost-cutting initiatives are making staff anxious.

Public Service Association national secretary Brenda Pilott said staff represented by the union were finding the atmosphere at the council destabilising because of the on-going reviews and redundancies.

"Morale is very low ... people are very concerned where the axe is going to fall next."

She expected staff would be looking for jobs elsewhere and said it was likely the council would have trouble recruiting staff.

One staff member told the Herald the reviews were "ad-hoc" and focused at getting rid of staff, rather than how on the business could be run more efficiently.

"Staff are really concerned that senior management numbers are being increased while frontline and core roles are being cut," the worker said.

"The council's ability to provide basic services will be detrimentally affected."

The council initially refused to reveal how many staff had been made redundant, , but eventually provided the information to the Herald under the Official Information Act.

Worker: I was micro-managed into illness

The day city council worker Bob Brown was due to return from sick leave - required, he says, because of workplace stress - he was notified his position was to be officially reviewed.

The former Hamilton City Council energy manager is one of 13 staff members who have been made redundant in the first six of 25 organisational reviews.

Mr Brown claimed the council had tried to manage him out of his job for the last 18 months of his employment and he had been involved in several reviews, including being taken to one side and asked if he wanted to leave. The city council recruited Mr Brown from the UK in 2006 and by the time he joined the organisation in 2007, his manager had resigned.

"The person who recruited me had a really good vision about what the role was about. Clearly when she left (about a month later) they didn't know what to do with me," Mr Brown said.

Mr Brown also blamed the "toxic atmosphere" at work for three bouts of depression - the last one of which he claimed was so bad his doctor ordered him take sick leave in September last year until the issue was resolved.

But on November 17, when he was given the all clear by his doctor to return to the work place, he was made aware of a restructure which resulted in his position being disestablished.

Mr Brown said his first bout of depression in October 2010 was a result of being micro-managed by his bosses, but the council had blamed his father's death which occurred four months later.

"The fact they used my father's death against me ramped up the pressure. By October/November 2010 I had already started making notes of all the incidents because it was getting worse. These are things I presented to council in my bullying complaint. They said things like 'now that you are broken what are we going to do with you'. And that's the beginning of the conversation, not the end of it," Mr Brown said.

His redundancy was confirmed last month and Mr Brown and the city council are still involved in mediation after he lodged a complaint with the council about bullying, harassment and serious harm.

Hamilton City Council organisational development general manager Olly Te Ua defended the review in which Mr Brown's role was disestablished as part of changing business needs.

" Mr Brown had been made aware of this for some time in advance of it happening. A clear and defined process connected to this was followed, including him receiving appropriate compensation."

He said Mr Brown's work-related concerns were also being addressed and he hoped both parties would be able to meet an agreement. The first mediation in February between the council and Mr Brown, in February, had been unsuccessful.

- NZ Herald

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