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Background Information on Plumbing Dispute

Background Information On Ministerial Review Commissioned By Hon Dr Michael Cullen Into The Relationships In The Plumbing, Gasfitting And Drainlaying Industry


1.1 The Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Board (”the Board”), individually and collectively, believes the independent review report is grossly unfair and fails to reflect the Board’s responsibility, laid out in the Plumbers, Drainlayers and Gasfitters Act, to uphold public safety.

1.2 Hazel Armstrong, Deputy Chairperson of the Civil Aviation Authority and a barrister and solicitor, was commissioned by the Minister for Tertiary Education, Hon Dr Michael Cullen to conduct the independent review.

1.3 The Associate Minister of Health, Hon Damien O’Connor, who is responsible for Board appointments, has replaced the entire statutory board on the basis of the report that the Board considers is unfair and contains factual errors.

1.5 The Board considers this causes unjustified reputational damage to the members of the Board.

1.6 The Board considers that all aspects of central government are subject to obligations of natural justice, including by reason of the New Zealand Bill of Rights.

1.7 The independent review was commissioned by Hon Dr Michael Cullen, in to the apparent breakdown in relationships between the Plumbing, Gasfitting and Drainlaying Industry Training Organisation (“ITO”) and the Board and to investigate other matters that impact on that relationship.

1.8 The Board disputes that there was a breakdown in relationship and has consistently maintained its willingness to work with the ITO.


2.1 In September 2001 the Board resolved to reintroduce registration examinations for plumbers and gasfitters, following five years of accepting the National Certificate for registration purposes.

2.2 From July 2002 the Board no longer accepted National Certificate solely for registration purposes as evidence of satisfactory competence.

2.3 It appeared the National Certificate was not producing plumbers and gasfitters competent to protect consumers’ health and safety.

2.4 Of particular concern was the moderation and integrity of the assessment of the unit standards.

2.5 There was wide consensus among the training providers and the industry that the ITO was not operating as effectively as it could.

2.6 In early June 2003, the Chairman of the Board was requested to attend an urgent evening meeting with the Manager, Industry Training, Tertiary Education Commission (“TEC”) at which the Manager outlined “serious governance, management and financial problems of the ITO”. The Board was asked whether it would become TEC’s agent to manage the ITO’s training arrangements should that become necessary.

2.7 Shortly thereafter, the Minister responsible for the TEC received a report from its general manager. The report noted that the ITO had sought additional Government assistance of around $700,000 to fund 14 block courses for 2003 and that the ITO had stated that if such assistance was not forthcoming, it would defer these courses and publicly question the Government’s commitment to industry training. The report noted that the Board might be prepared to provide some of its reserves to support the establishment of a new ITO but it was not prepared to support the present ITO. The report referred to “longstanding issues of poor performance.”

2.8 In mid July 2003, the ITO, the Board and the TEC met to discuss the establishment of a new ITO which “is well governed, well managed, financially viable and supported by all sectors of the industry”. The Board was asked to contribute $480,000 to assist with the ITO’s financial crisis. At that meeting, the Manager, Industry Training of the TEC, reminded the Chairman of the Board and other Board members present, that the Board had statutory obligations under the Plumbers, Gasfitters and Drainlayers Act 1976 in respect of education and training.

2.9 The Board initially rejected the request to assist the troubled ITO, but subsequently agreed to contribute $240,000 “in the interests of all concerned and in the spirit of wanting to continue engagement with both the TEC and Master Plumbers to find a resolution to a longstanding problem.” The offer was not accepted and other arrangements were made through the TEC.

2.10 These issues had been preceded by:

* an Energy Safety Service Survey of 200 gasfitters which was critical of gas fitter competence

* concerns raised by the Gas Association of New Zealand over gasfitter competence;

* a Coroner’s Report making recommendations to the Board on improvements in training;

* continuing poor registration examination results pointing to a failure of the unit standard/National Certificate training system; and

* an increasing number of industry complaints about the quality of training and poor outcomes from the ITO.

2.11 The Board took a number of steps. In April 2004, after a six month consultation process with the industry, it initiated a competence based licensing system for both registered and craftsman gasfitters. In addition, the audit system in place for craftsman gasfitters was significantly strengthened.

2.12 In November 2004, the Board identified the Australian Training Package as a possible way forward to overcome long standing training issues in the industry in New Zealand.

2.13 In August 2005, after consultation and the full involvement of the ITO, there was unanimous agreement in principle between the ITO and all training providers that the Board continues exploring the Australian Training Package.

2.14 On 9 November 2005, at an industry forum called by the Board, the Chairman and the Chief Executive of the ITO voted against the endorsement of the Australian Training Package. The reason given was that “unless [the ITO] was solely responsible for the qualification it would do everything in its power to stop the Board introducing this qualification.”

2.15 On 10 November 2005, the Chief Executive of the ITO wrote to the Associate Minister of Health, Hon Damien O’Connor, complaining about relationship issues between the ITO and the Board.

2.16 The Ministry of Health then prepared a report for the Associate Minister of Health which stated that the Board:

- intended to introduce the Australian Training Package to New Zealand by June 2006;
- intended to deliver it through polytechnics and technical institutes; and
- would receive money from these training institutions for the use of the package.

These statements were incorrect. This has been acknowledged subsequently by the Ministry.

2.17 Immediately following the Ministry of Health report, the Minister for Tertiary Education commissioned the independent review into the relationship between the ITO and the Board.

2.18 The Associate Minister of Health’s response to the independent review report was to fire all of the members of the Board. The independent report recommends the ITO lead an investigation, along with NZQA, TEC and the Board to adopt the Australian Training Package.

2.19 It would appear that the cost of training as opposed to the quality of training had become a key issue. The Board is mandated to focus on quality on behalf of public health and safety.


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