25 Jan 2024

Fair Pay cabinet paper leak investigation comes up empty-handed

5:51 pm on 25 January 2024
Carolyn Tremain

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment chief executive Carolyn Tremain. Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The investigation into leaked Cabinet paper about Fair Pay Agreements has been unable to find evidence of how it got to the media, but a spokesperson for Workplace Relations Minister Brooke van Velden says it was accidentally sent to a "national union organiser".

The spokesperson would not disclose the name of the union.

In a statement, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment chief executive Carolyn Tremain said they investigated all relevant agencies and staff who had access to the paper and coversheet.

"We have not found any evidence across the public service of how this information was sent to media. I have shared this with the Minister for Workplace Relations and Safety and the Public Service Commissioner."

She said Oranga Tamariki's chief executive had reported the documents were forwarded "in error" to a person outside the agency, but there was no evidence linking that to the media receiving it.

"While this investigation is now concluded, MBIE takes any unauthorised disclosure of information very seriously and this has been communicated with our people," Tremain said.

"MBIE followed standard cross-government policy processes and protocols for consultation both inside and outside of MBIE."

In a statement, Oranga Tamariki's chief executive Chappie Te Kani said they were one of 18 agencies consulted on or sent a copy of the paper.

He confirmed a staff member had sent it to an "outside source".

"While I believe this was a genuine mistake, I am disappointed, and I apologise to those affected," he said.

"The outside source that received the document has assured us that the email was deleted. There is no evidence that an Oranga Tamariki staff member sent the email or its attachments to media."

He said Oranga Tamariki had a robust code of conduct which set clear expectations about management of information and confidentiality.

"With urgency I have asked that communication is sent to the business reminding staff to refresh themselves with the policy. Specifically, calling out information security.

"I have spoken with the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment as well as the Public Service Commission and I have assured them that we are putting steps in place to ensure mistakes like this are not repeated."

The papers obtained by media in early December revealed advice to the government showing the agreements would have disproportionately benefited Māori, Pacific People, women, and young people.

One paper taken to Cabinet by Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Brooke van Velden showed she did not believe a 'blunt tool' such as FPAs would have improved employment terms for those groups.

Days later, Van Velden told RNZ's Checkpoint it was possible an enthusiastic supporter of the government had been behind the leak.

It was just the first leak from the coalition government, with others including a confidential Treasury paper revealing the suspension of Regulatory Impact analysis for some policies; and a draft memo from the Justice Ministry about the government's proposed Treaty of Waitangi Principles bill.

Parliament repealed the Fair Pay Agreements legislation, as the coalition had promised, under urgency in mid-December.

The law brought in by the previous Labour government in March 2022 had aimed to allow unions and employer associations to bargain for bottom-line terms and conditions - covering entire sectors.

Businesses had long opposed the legislation, saying it would impose extra conditions on them, increasing costs.

The repeal was fiercely criticised by those on the left, who argued it took workers deemed 'essential' in the pandemic backwards. Opposition MPs joined unions in protesting the repeal outside ACT leader David Seymour's electorate office in Auckland.

The ministry proactively began its investigation into the leak shortly after it was made public.

Prime Minister Christopher Luxon at the time said he had every confidence his Cabinet was not to blame, and it was good the ministry was taking the matter seriously. He had said the information would have been released in due course anyway.

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