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Statement from Ms Susan Bathgate On Resignation

Media release – for immediate release, Thursday 29 November 2001

Statement from Ms Susan Bathgate

Susan Bathgate has today given notice of her resignation from the Employment Relations Authority.

In a letter of resignation to the Minister of Labour, Ms Bathgate says she has resigned because continuing political attacks are “hampering my effectiveness as a member of the Authority”, and that this in turn is now endangering “the ongoing effectiveness of the ERA as a whole”.

The letter says that this situation “is of great regret to me. ….It is now clear … that there is no option other than to advise you … of my resignation.”

Ms Bathgate says it has always been her desire “to apply the Employment Relations Act effectively and in the manner in which Parliament intended. I believe that I have achieved that desire”.

Ms Bathgate also says that she will not be tendering her resignation from the two other warrants she holds.

In a statement that accompanied her letter of resignation, Ms Bathgate said today that at the time of her appointment to the ERA she had held other warrants for some years.

“I was invited to seek appointment to the Authority,” she said.

“I clearly identified to all parties at the time of those discussions that I wished to continue my existing work on my other warrants and specifically asked if this would present a problem”.

“My appointment was on the basis that I would continue and indeed one of my other warrants subsequently continued after its formal expiry”.

“The recent report of the Office of the Auditor-General says the Department of Labour, which administers the ERA, was “aware at the outset” of my work on other tribunals, but did not raise the matter with me until seven months after my appointment”.

Ms Bathgate says that in September this year she asked the Higher Salaries Commission to provide a ruling for situations such as this.

“They declined to do so. I therefore sought and reached agreement that the Department of Labour would be reimbursed for periods where I was working under my other warrants. I also sought and agreed a formula to cover work already done.”

Ms Bathgate said that this formula was determined independently by the Auditor-General and agreed by all parties, and all adjustments were completed this month.

Ms Bathgate said in light of the ongoing allegations made against her under Parliamentary Privilege, some natural justice would be served if, in balance, a concluding remark of the Auditor-General’s report of 13 November was recorded:

“I am satisfied that all audit issues relating to Ms Bathgate’s remuneration from 12 October 2000 have now been satisfactorily addressed”.

Ms Bathgate said that in the debate many commentators had missed a fundamental difference between a judicial officer appointed under warrant and an employer/employee relationship. Members of the ERA are judicial officers, not employees, and so are not covered by employment legislation, minimum code or other relevant law.

“This situation could be likened to someone who is self employed with a portfolio of work, and it is not uncommon for judicial officers in this country to hold multiple warrants at one time as I have done.

I also reiterate for the record the section of the report of the Auditor General which states that the Office had “identified a number of possible causes of the problem” which included:

- the Authority and the other tribunals were administered by different Government departments;
- the Employment Relations Service did not have the right procedures to help Ms Bathgate manage her competing commitments’
- the caseloads of Authority members in Wellington had been lower than expected; and
- there was a lack of policy or guidance on how anyone is to deal with Authority members who hold multiple warrants.

Attached: Copy of resignation letter.

Wellington
29 November 2001

The Minister of Labour
Parliament Buildings
WELLINGTON


Dear Minister

Over the past week or so I have, while on leave from my duties as a member of the Employment Relations Authority, taken the time to reflect on recent events. As you know, I consider that the report of the Auditor-General supports the view, long maintained by me, that I have acted appropriately in the manner in which I have exercised my duties. I regarded my making, on 23 November, the adjustments recommended by the Auditor-General, as an answer to allegations to the contrary.

Notwithstanding the above, it is unfortunately quite clear that the political attacks which have been made on my position appear likely to continue. These attacks have reached the point where they hamper my ongoing effectiveness as a member of the Authority. For that reason they also now endanger the ongoing effectiveness of the Authority as a whole.

That is a matter of great regret to me. It has always been my desire to apply the Employment Relations Act effectively and in the manner in which Parliament intended. I believe that I have achieved that desire.

However, it is now quite clear to me that there is now no option open other than to advise you under section 170(3) Employment Relations Act of my resignation as a member of the Employment Relations Authority, effective as soon as my outstanding duties permit this.

For the avoidance of doubt, I record that I intend to continue to discharge the duties that my warrants as Chair of the Complaints Review Tribunal and as a member of the Social Security Appeal Authority require me to perform.

Yours sincerely

Susan Bathgate


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