'Alarm' at museum's large-scale job losses

By Brooke Donovan

The axe is hanging over nearly 100 Auckland War Memorial Museum staff.

The union for some of the affected staff said yesterday that 66 of the museum's 150 permanent employees would be made redundant under a restructuring programme.

A further 31 staff on fixed-term contracts may not have their contracts renewed.

They included the technical, conservation and registration staff who research, set up and maintain the museum's collections.

The Public Service Association, which has 35 members at the museum, said it decided to air its concerns publicly because it was "alarmed" that such large-scale redundancies were deemed necessary.

National secretary Richard Wagstaff urged the museum's directors to explain their reasoning in greater detail.

Senior managers at the 156-year-old institution have been through the restructuring process.

A museum spokeswoman last night declined to say how many jobs would be lost in the restructuring.

She said 28 full-time-equivalent positions were being "disestablished", and 21 would be advertised this weekend.

She said the PSA's statement contained inaccuracies, but she would not debate those in the media.

Auckland Museum Trust Board chairman David Hill said the restructuring was designed to ensure the museum delivered "a more engaging experience for its visitors".

It was not about cutting costs, or reducing the total number of employees, he said.

The overall net effect on staffing numbers would be minimal.

"The board has a vision for a museum which is modern, relevant and connected strongly to Auckland and New Zealand," he said.

The changes were intended to boost the number of people visiting the museum over the next 10 years.

Mr Hill said the last major organisational change at the museum was 15 years ago, and the $112 million that had been spent on upgrades over the past 12 years had to be matched with a "new-look approach by staff".

"The new organisational structure will be a lot simpler and is designed to improve collection care and development, and research, and provide a more unified approach to looking after visitors.

"While all of the new roles will be advertised, I am confident that there are very strong internal candidates in all areas."

Director Vanda Vitali, who joined the museum last year from the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum, said in February that an "organisational restructuring" was necessary.

She said the museum was "losing ground" because it had used the same practices for years, and was losing its relevance to Auckland's increasingly diverse population.

MAORI: WE'LL RECLAIM OUR TREASURES

The restructuring at Auckland Museum threatens to seriously damage its relationship with Maori.

Maori are concerned that the move reflects a shift in the museum's focus on taonga (treasures).

Some iwi have threatened to take their taonga out of the museum if it goes ahead with a plan to shed up to 97 jobs.

A director of the museum who oversaw its Maori collections is among those who have already lost their jobs.

The director of Maori, Dr Paul Tapsell, left this month.

His position was created in the 1990s, under Treaty of Waitangi legislation, to sit alongside the museum director and oversee Maori collections.

The Herald understands the assistant curator, a researcher and 12 other Maori department staff will go.

Ngati Whatua leader Grant Hawke said Maori should think about laying a Treaty of Waitangi claim over the collections.

"These taonga have tuku iho, tuku iho (come down from ancestors). They're not things you kick around.

He said Sir Hugh Kawharu had played a key role in setting up the Maori structure at the museum. What was happening now was a slap in the face to his efforts.

"They've had these taonga for 150 years but we've only had Maori looking after them for the last few.

"Before, the only brown faces up there were sweeping the floor. What does this restructuring do? Puts us back there."


Te Runanga o Ngati Porou leader Apirana Mahuika told the Maori news programme Te Karere on Friday that if the museum went ahead with its plans the iwi wanted the taonga back because the mana of the taonga would be compromised.

A spokeswoman for the museum said iwi had no reason to be concerned, as the restructuring reflected its commitment "to its kaupapa with the Taumata-a-Iwi", and its relationship with Maori remained unchanged.

She said the museum was recruiting for a Maori partnership and development executive to advise the museum director on the museum's responsibilities to Maori.

- Brooke Donovan, Yvonne Tahana

- NZ Herald

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