7 Aug 2019

$130k paid out to ministerial staff after relationship 'breakdown'

1:20 pm on 7 August 2019

Seventeen staff have left their jobs working for government ministers over the past decade after a breakdown in the employment relationship, and were paid out a total of more than $130,000.

New Zealand Government; parliament; Beehive

New Zealand Government. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

A further $80,000 was paid out to nine employees who left and signed confidentiality agreements on their way out.

In June RNZ reported 15 staff employed by Parliamentary Service were paid out more than $180,000 after the "breakdown" clause in their contract was invoked

The Department of Internal Affairs (DIA), that has responsibility for Ministerial Services, has now released details of payouts made after the breakdown of minister/staff relationships.

In the contracts for ministerial staff there's an 'irreconcilable difference' clause, the use of which can "occur at the behest of either an employee or Minister".

The highest number of contracts terminated under this clause was in 2010 under the National government, with seven departures.

In the years between 2008 and 2017, when National was in power, there were 14 departures; so far there have been three under the coalition government, all last year.

The practice of invoking that clause and then requiring people to sign non-disclosure agreements was criticised in the Debbie Francis report, as contributing to the culture of bullying and abuse of power in Parliament.

Speaking after a select committee appearance, the Speaker of the House Trevor Mallard said that report showed there had been a number of cases where people had "effectively been paid money to go away and be quiet".

"I think it's been symptomatic of a workplace that has not worked well...so things have escalated and there's been a tendency to get rid of problems and make them go away with money."

That wasn't good for taxpayers, said Mr Mallard, nor was it good for the people involved as the staff member often felt quite "bruised" and the senior person in the situation, who were often managers at Parliament and "occasionally" MPs, didn't learn anything from the process.