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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Hospitality Labour Style II - the SSC replies

For the interests of all observers and especially PSA members, here is the reply to my letter to the State Serices Commission. I have sought and been given the writer's permission to publish it.
Good morning Mr Fiinkensein

There are several characteristics in the circumstances you report which warrant enquiry.

I will respond further when I have had the opportunity to gather some background.

You may be aware that the interest which the State Services Commissioner has in matters like this, flows from an amendment last year to section 57 of the State Sector Act 1988. That extended the Commissioner's mandate for setting minimum standards of integrity and conduct, beyond the Public Service, to include Crown Entities. District Health Boards are Crown Entities.

The Commissioner is midway through a programme which involves working with all Crown Entities to determine what integrity provisions they have for their staff and Board members. By the end of 2005 he anticipates being in a position to decide whether it is appropriate to exercise the new power given by the State Sector Act to issue a code or codes of conduct, in a manner similar to that which led to the publication of the Public Service code of conduct in 2001.

You may be interested in the preliminary views which the Commissioner has about the core integrity standards for those involved in the State Services. These are set out in a discussion document which forms the basis for work currently being undertaken with Crown Entities. http://www.ssc.govt.nz/standards-discussion-document

The obligation of all State servants to remain politically neutral in the performance of their duties precludes neither an interest in political issues, nor involvement in a union.

The overriding obligation of State servants however is:
  • to serve Ministers of the day
  • not to do anything which could affect their agency's ability to work equally well with any future Minister
  • not to act in a way which could undermine the confidence of Ministers in their agency
Fulfilling this obligation requires judgment. The implications vary according to the extent of a State servant's relationship with Ministers, their responsibilities and their prominence as a State servant. Integrity, political neutrality and a spirit of service to the public are the cornerstones of professionalism in the State Services.

The PSA and the Government have a Partnership Agreement. Appropriate contact with State servants is part of that partnership. Until your email, the SSC was not aware of instances where PSA activities or resources may have stepped beyond informing and advocating in the interests of its members, and into perceivably party-political activity.

None of the PSA material we have encountered so far has been overtly partisan in a way which would offend the political neutrality obligations of the State Services. The PSA leadership has been cautious in the preparation of material and it is evident that, while pursuing the interests of its members, it has taken care not to be provocative. For example its election material uses mainly pastel shades and not the bold party colours which may be assumed to typify activist-member affiliations. The election resources accessible on the PSA website include a link to the SSC guidance for State servants on political neutrality.

The underpinning message from the PSA is that working in its members interests requires an awareness of what the Public Service is achieving and the implications for that work, of the various party policies. This approach is best illustrated by the schedule of comparisons on pages 11 and 12 of the August 2005 special edition of the PSA Journal.

There is an underpinning message that Labour Party policies reflect the aspirations of the PSA and its membership. However, this remains an inference for the reader. For example, if it were the viewpoint of a reader that reduced public spending was desirable, or that there should be more integration of services, or that the existing gender pay gap should continue etc, this material produced by the PSA would identify for the reader the party which promoted those policies. The material however appears to leave the choice to the readership, some of whom may be attracted to the alternative policies.

The pamphlet you have referred, with its message "think public services when you vote" has that same ambiguity. It also has a message for someone seeking reduction in the scope and scale of public sector services.

The PSA is aware that meetings on departmental premises must not have a party political complexion and that public resources must not be used for electioneering purposes. The incident your report at Whakatane hospital suggests that an understanding of political neutrality requirements may not be ubiquitous.

I shall contact you again when I have more information.

Beith Atkinson
Programme Manager, Integrity and Conduct
Wahanga Tiaki Kaupapa

State Services Commission
PO Box 329
Wellington
[+/-] Show/hide the email from the SSC

Posted by Adolf Fiinkensein | 8/31/2005 03:57:00 PM

4 Comments:

Blogger Whaleoil said...

Interesting how the SSC answers on behalf of the PSA justifying their brochure and all.

8/31/2005 04:15:00 PM  
Blogger Antarctic Lemur said...

I think Beith is trying to be delicate:

"The pamphlet you have referred, with its message "think public services when you vote" has that same ambiguity. It also has a message for someone seeking reduction in the scope and scale of public sector services.

The PSA is aware that meetings on departmental premises must not have a party political complexion and that public resources must not be used for electioneering purposes. The incident your report at Whakatane hospital suggests that an understanding of political neutrality requirements may not be ubiquitous."

Sounds like someone is in trouble.

We often use understatement and sarcasm here on SH, but I doubt anyone would take that as us being on the other guys team. We'll just have to wait and see what happens.

8/31/2005 04:40:00 PM  
Blogger Murray said...

I think the respones has been very quick and is quite resonable.

I look forward to the resloution.

8/31/2005 05:02:00 PM  
Anonymous Ryan said...

I think Beith needs some more letters of complaint from those agrieved, including an 'eyewitnesses', and details of any similar such incidences.

Top work Adolf. There must be a level playing field.

8/31/2005 07:23:00 PM  

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