Today the Deputy Public Service Commissioner Helene Quilter QSO announced an independent review of FENZ’s progress to address workplace culture and complaint handling practices. The Review is to independently assess the progress FENZ has made since the 2019 Shaw Report, what is working, and what needs to be improved or accelerated.
The NZPFU welcomes an independent Review as FENZ continues to fail to manage complaints consistent with procedural fairness and natural justice and within reasonable time frame. It has been a long time coming and necessary. The independence of the Review is crucial as it will look behind FENZ’s glossy reports and corporate-speak to get the real story. We hope the Review will expose the significant funding spent on building a large Behaviour and Conduct Office which still fails to operate a proper complaints process founded on natural justice and procedural fairness and ultimately hold FENZ to account for the harm its failures has caused a significant number of NZPFU members and other staff and volunteers.
While the FENZ Board Chair asked for the Review, the announcement indicates it has been driven by the continued public calls for action by current and past workers and volunteers whose experiences raise serious questions about FENZ’s inability to manage complaints. The NZPFU has repeated publicly called for accountability in the failure to implement proper complaints processes, and to train Managers to make fair decisions in an unbiased, transparent manner. This includes appointment processes and general day to day management where decisions are made on personal preferences and biases rather than sound evidential-based decisions.
The NZPFU informed members in April 2021 that it was not in their interests to engage with FENZ’s Behaviour and Conduct Office as key issues including complaints processes and structure had yet to be determined (see https://www.nzpfu.org.nz/news/nzpfu-advises-members-not-to-engage-or-participate-with-behaviour-and-conduct-office/). In the past year the NZPFU has attempted to resolve those matters meeting directly with the head of the BCO but FENZ walked away from that process attempting to force complaints into the unresolved process regardless of the complainant’s views.
The failure to properly investigate in a timely manner in itself causes harm. Regardless of the genesis of the complaint, the failure to act promptly and properly in some cases has become the greater harm. The lack of transparent and fair processes is more than frustrating with NZPFU members reporting increasing anxiety. Some members contemplate leaving their career as they can no longer cope feeling abandoned, disrespected and not valued.
There is a plethora of examples but one example already in the public arena is a series of complaints made by NZPFU firefighters against the same Manager early in 2018. This is not an isolated case.
- More than 4 years later the NZPFU members have yet to be provided with any draft report, report or proposed outcome.
- FENZ has spent more than $170,000 on the unfinished investigation.
- In the 4 years since a series of complaints were laid, the accused Manager has been appointed to other management roles within FENZ, continuing to manage firefighters in different geographical areas.
- In March 2022 – 4 years after the complaints – then National Commander Kerry Gregory informed the NZPFU that those directly involved would be provided with the relevant parts of the report in the week 23 March 2022. That has still not happened.
- The Regional Manager responsible for providing the reports has since gone on planned leave so it is unlikely that anything will not happen until June 2022. There is no excuse for this ineptitude.
- During those 4 years some NZPFU members have reported a serious decline in their wellbeing.
- That same Regional Manager is responsible for another case that has been ongoing for more than 2 years with the delay causing serious harm to the wellbeing of all involved.
- Last year FENZ commissioned a KPMG report into its policies and practices (without the consultants speaking to anyone independent of FENZ including the NZPFU but referencing the Union in the report) when that funding and energy should have first been spent on dealing with the cases at hand.
There is also the issue of FENZ failing to ensure an appropriate investigation into all allegations against the UFBA CEO while continuing to fund the UFBA about $4 million per year. See: https://www.nzpfu.org.nz/news/fenz-must-immediately-cease-funding-ufba-and-declare-no-confidence-in-ufba-board/
The announcement and terms of reference can be read here: https://www.publicservice.govt.nz/resources/independent-review-into-fire-and-emergencys-workplace-culture-and-complaint-handling-practices/
The NZPFU has contacted the Reviewer to ensure we can participate including providing the experiences of our members and others we have supported. We will keep members informed of the Review process and how to participate.