FENZ NEW COMPLAINT SYSTEM

FENZ is in the process of changing its complaint process to replace the BCO (Behaviour and Conduct Office). This is separate to the code of conduct that the NZPFU is challenging and will keep members updated.

Back in April 2021 the NZPFU advised members not to engage or participate with the Behaviour and Conduct Office as the complaints process was a shambles with the most basic principles of procedural fairness not being adhered to.  The BCO has undergone various iterations but consistently has failed to provide a safe, timely and fair complaints process that meets procedural fairness and natural justice standards.  This is a criticism of the structure and process, not the individuals employed in the BCO.

  • For those that had the very unfortunate experience of the BCO (as complainant, accused or witness) they will attest to the long-winded drawn out processes where external lawyers and partners from top tier and costly law firms have complicated the process and resulted in many investigations taking years to complete. Sometimes the investigator determines they want to speak to almost everyone in the workplace and as a result our members have felt pressured to take sides whether or not they were actually present for the incidents or behaviours complained off.
  • There are hundreds of hours involved in interviews, transcripts, analysis of those interviews/transcripts and information needed or provided, and constant battles to get complaints properly heard and for procedural fairness principles to be adhered to.  The investigator and their staff are charging for those hours which must be quite lucrative in some cases.  For those NZPFU members involved (regardless whether complainant, accused or witness) those hours are on top of their usual duties (if they are not banished from the workplace) or done in their own precious time often having to respond under strict timeframes even through the investigation has been conducted over many months.  For the union representatives supporting or representing those involved those hours are largely unpaid and a massive toll.
  • The decision-maker ends up with only the investigator’s view of the information is a report which is often challenged by both sides to no avail.  The decision-maker (usually a Region Manager) is then expected to base their decisions on whether the serious step of discipline (including dismissal) is warranted.  Sometimes the person or people complained about has been required to remain outside the workplace for the duration so regardless of the outcome they are isolated, ostracised by the process and for some left completely demoralised.  In our experience there has been a real reluctance to put a manager through that process and even if they do there is very little done in workplace to support those affected by the complained behaviours or support while the investigation takes place.
  • The end result has been no matter where our members were on the side of the complaint, no one felt they had been properly heard in a timely manner or that the  issue was resolved fairly and appropriately.   

FENZ is now moving away from the BCO and has contracted out the complaint process to Fairway.

To be clear, we have not had any opportunity to determine what parts of the complaint processes should be contracted out or the process to be followed.

FENZ decided to determine and introduce the process without seeking any genuine input or influence from the NZPFU. We represent approximately 75% of all staff employed by FENZ so one would have thought it would have been beneficial to talk to us about what needed to be changed and what a good process looks like.  They didn’t.  Why? Because they do not value the input of those most affected by these processes.

Like the new proposed Code of Conduct that work was done behind doors and then produced as a fait accompli.  This was despite the NZPFU meeting with relevant FENZ representatives (who have all since left) for about 6 months in 2022 to determine a complaints management process that could be articulated in policy and the CEA.  At the 11th hour FENZ walked away from the nearly-agreed process and genuine consultation on the process ceased at that point.

FENZ also started introducing the new process to our members before providing the NZPFU with an opportunity to hear the changes.

We have now had a chance to meet with Fairway and outline our concerns about the complaints processes to date and to hear how they intend to make a difference. 

So does the NZPFU support this new complaint system?  On the face value of the discussions had to date there is potential for this to be a significantly improved process.

I want to say it can’t be any worse than it is now, but who knows how low the bar can go.

The potential for improvement on the current complaints system include:

  • An independent (if truly independent) triage system to determine which level or process the complaint should be catered for.
  • The removal of the ability of those with a conflict of interest to influence the process. Again we will have to see whether this actually occurs. 
  • If the process is transparent and applied consistently and fairly it should prevent many long-winded investigations and the unnecessary widening of inquiries. Hopefully it will be an end to involving nearly the whole workplace/station whether the individuals (including the complainant) wanted that to occur.
  • Dealing with complaints against managers on the same basis rather than the protected process some managers have and currently benefit from.
  • Preventing managers from misusing the complaint process to attack staff or to favour, conquer and divide staff.
  • An emphasis on genuine and sustainable resolution without widespread destruction of the wider workplace-relationships will result in a far better system.

NOT THE VSO’S ROLE TO ASSIST VOLUNTEERS TO MAKE COMPLAINTS

We have been notified that invitations for information sessions on the new system have been sent to management-level staff and VSOs.  FENZ’s rationale of involving VSOs in those sessions is so that VSOs can inform volunteers of the complaint processes.

  • It is not the role of the VSO to train or assist volunteers about the complaints process, or to facilitate in any way complaints being made.
  • The VSO is there to assist and support a brigade and in doing so often works very closely with CFOs.  It is unfair and possibly very damaging to the VSO to be put in the position of assisting volunteers to access a complaints process.  The VSO’s involvement is likely to be construed as having taken a side in assisting a complaint being made regardless of who is involved as the complainant or the accused.  We have repeatedly informed FENZ of what should be an obvious risk to the VSO but FENZ has chosen to ignore it. They have also chosen to ignore that it is not part of their duties.   
  • We have also been informed that some District Managers are requiring the VSO to attend.  That is not a lawful instruction as it is not part of your duties.  Some may wish to attend for their own information.
  • Regardless of whether you attend the information session, please be aware that you cannot be required to assist a volunteer in making a complaint, particularly when doing so may jeopardise the necessary working relationships with the Brigade, or would put you at risk of being perceived as taking sides.  If asked to do so please refer the volunteer to the appropriate manager.  It is the manager’s role to ensure that all staff and volunteers know how to access the appropriate complaint system and what that entails.

In unity,
Wattie Watson
National Secretary

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