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Breakaway union plans misguided

31 March 2008

Breakaway union plans misguided

Plans for a breakaway principals’ union are misguided and legally fraught, PPTA president Robin Duff says.

The Secondary Principals’ Association of New Zealand (SPANZ) will vote on whether it will form a stand alone union this week – a move that Mr Duff believes could have a number of serious implications.

Many SPANZ members are also members of the PPTA’s Secondary Principals’ Council, which represents them through advocacy and wage negotiations.
SPANZ however has plans to push for pay negotiations with boards of trustees rather than the Government, a move Mr Duff sees as a blatant conflict of interest.

“Principals are essentially members of the board, which opens up a whole raft of issues. A union is required by the law to be at arms length from the employer and that is simply not possible in this situation,” he said.

The Auditor General is also likely to be interested, as reports in 2003 and 2005 raised concerns about the ability of some principals to extract extra remuneration from boards.

Auditors identified 119 separate instances of possible additional remuneration to secondary school principals where boards of trustees had not sought Ministerial approval.

The payments ranged from less than $500 to about $23,000, which was for time spent on implementing a video conferencing project for the school. Other payments included a $10,000 performance bonus, a travel subsidy of $850 a month for 12 months, a $5000 annual payment for duties relating to a school farm and hostel, a clothing allowance of $1500 a year and payment of airline club membership fees. Moreover, no tax payment was made even though this was clearly income.

In some cases the principals themselves authorised these payments.

It must be a matter of concern to both the Minister and the State Services Commissioner that according to a legal opinion obtained by the Auditor General “the Ministry has no power to require a board to apply for approval of a payment of additional remuneration or to cease making an unlawful payment.

Also it is unable to direct a board to take action to recover an unlawful payment. The Minister is unlikely to be able to use his statutory powers of intervention in schools to require a board to take recovery action against an employee, or to replace a board with a Commissioner if a board was not prepared to seek recovery of an unlawful payment.”

There are serious conflict of interest issues inherent in this proposal and taxpayers’ money is clearly at risk, Mr Duff said.

“Wage negotiations need to be fair and equitable for all concerned and what SPANZ is proposing is neither of those things,” he said.


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