Arguing against your own public position

September 22nd, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

Simon Collins at NZ Herald reports:

Disgraced former employers’ boss Alasdair Thompson has switched sides and is speaking up for raising the minimum wage to $18.40 an hour.

Mr Thompson, 66, has revealed he privately lobbied Prime Minister John Key in 2009 in support of a union campaign to raise the minimum from $12.50, where it was then, to $15 – even though publicly he opposed it as chief executive of the Employers and Manufacturers Association.

If I was a member of EMA Northern I’d be incredibly angry that my membership fees were spent to fund a chief executive who went around privately trying to sabotage the position that was the policy of the organisation that employed him and paid his salary.

Thompson sacked

July 6th, 2011 at 1:57 pm by David Farrar

The NZ Herald reports:

The board of the Employers and Manufacturers Association has fired the organisation’s embattled chief executive Alasdair Thompson.

It is interesting that they have actually sacked him, rather than manage to negotiate an exit.

Board chair Graham Mountfort said the decision came because of Mr Thompson’s conduct in interviews on June 23, when he suggested women’s periods affected their workplace productivity and started a fiery confrontation with a TV3 reporter.

I think that is an important thing to note. It would have been harsh to sack Thompson for his initial comments on radio. Many people have stuffed up in a live radio interview. It was the subsequent TV interviews which showed a fatal lack of judgement.


Coffin meet nail

June 26th, 2011 at 9:23 am by David Farrar

The Herald on Sunday reports:

At a dinner at McCormick & Schmick’s restaurant in Washington, Thompson approached Kelly, Street and the business leader.

Thompson is alleged to have made lewd comments at the social event about the relationship Kelly had with Prime Minister John Key, who has been married to wife Bronagh since both were teenagers.

Late last night, the Prime Minister’s office dismissed Thompson’s allegations as “totally ridiculous”.

The source said the comments were made without any basis other than Helen Kelly and John Key’s “good working relationship”.

“He asked her what the relationship was between her and John Key. There was sexual innuendo. Then he said he asked John Key, the last time he saw him. He said he asked if he [Key] fancied Helen.”

The source said Kelly was visibly upset by the comments. She said to Thompson: “That’s disgusting.”

I think I’m speechless. I can’t decide what is stupider for the head of the Auckland Employers Association.

  1. Asking John Key if he fancied the President of the CTU
  2. Telling the CTU President that he had asked the PM if he fancied her
  3. Doing (2) in front of a Labour MP

EMA president Graham Mountfort said Thompson would be asked to explain himself to the board and was no longer allowed to speak with the media.

“He won’t be an advocate for us in the future.”

I note the Wellington EMA went to the trouble of specifically e-mailing all their members disassociating themselves from the comments of their Auckland counterpart.

A horrendous own goal

June 24th, 2011 at 11:14 am by David Farrar

The original comments by Alasdair Thompson were unwise and stupid (and I will detail why further down) but his dual performances on TV3 are the stuff legends, or nightmares, are made of.

Watch his interview with Rachel Morton and then with Mihi Forbes.  I don’t think I have ever seen such sheer awfulness before. Lew at Kiwipolitico has done an initial list of 10 things the EMA did wrong.

This has gone from just being an issue about Alasdair to an issue about the EMA Northern. I can imagine employers all over Auckland quietly removing from their office walls their certificate of membership before anyone notices it. They’d be embarrassed to be associated with the last 24 hours.

This may have been the most effective brand destruction we have seen since Wellington Airport tried to rename Wellington into Wellywood, or the CTU declared war on hobbits.

Before we come back to the interviews let’s focus on the substance of the issue, as a couple of people think this is just about political correctness – far from it.The issue is why do women on average get paid less than men.

Now I do not think the gap between the average hourly rate for men and women is due to discrimination. Sure there may be the odd employer who is an old bigot (and they generally are old) and actually thinks women are inferior. But they are dying out.

Part of the gap is because men and women tend towards different jobs. More men are police officers and more women are teachers for example and police officers get paid more on average. But that doesn’t explain all the difference as there is a gap within professions also. On average male lawyers get paid more than female lawyers and male teachers more than female teachers.

There are a couple of factors at play here. One is historic – until 20 years ago men far outnumbered women at university in the high paying professions such as law, medicine etc. So most of the senior ranks are still men. Fortunately at entry level the numbers are now more balanced, so over time the gender mix may get more balanced at the senior or higher paying levels.

The other factor (which Alasdair correctly pointed out) is that more woman than men take a break from the workforce to be the primary caregiver, and when they return are more likely to be part-time so prospects for advancement are not so good as the person who has stayed working full-time throughout.

Even this doesn’t fully explain the gender gap, as there has been a recent study that even early on in a profession, men are being paid more than women. Now one has to be careful about a study over a profession, rather than just one employer, as differences between employers may account for the gap. However if one accepts the study at face value, a possible answer is that generally younger men are more assertive than younger women in pushing for pay rises and generally in salary negotiations.

So I tend to reject the thesis that women get paid less because evil employers discriminate against women and think they are inferior.

The possible factors I have laid out above are all about individual choice. You may choose to enter a less well remunerated profession, because it isn’t just about the money. You may choose to take a break from the work-force. You may choose not to be aggressive in your pay negotiations and take whatever is initially offered. These are all individual choices. Sure there are issues around societal expectations, but that is a debate for another day.

But here is why what Alasdair Thompson said is so stupid and counter-productive. he listed something women have no choice over (having a menstrual cycle) and cited it as a reason why women get paid less. He basically said that women are less productive because they are women. It undermined all his other (generally sound) arguments.

This reinforced every prejudice unions and others have about employers – and worse this comes from the head of EMA Northern.

And I can only imagine how women feel, to have to put up with having a menstrual cycle is I suspect bad enough by itself, so to have some employer bigwig come out and say oh yeah and your monthly cycle is also why you get paid less would be beyond infuriating.

It is possible of course that some women do have a high use of sick leave due to their menstrual cycle. But I do not believe, and have not seen a shred of evidence in support, the notion that the prevalence of this is significant enough to actually affect average pay rates.

Now the original comments by Alasdair were survivable. All he had to do was to say something along the lines of “A couple of employers had anecdotally mentioned to me this was an issue for them, but I was quite wrong to link it to average pay rates between genders as it is not a factor, and I apologise for mentioning it in the interview”.

But instead we got the Tv3 interviews where he could not have made a worse impression of himself. If Helen Kelly could invent a wicked caricature of an employers boss, she couldn’t have done better than what we saw. Rambling justifications, instructions to the cameraman as if he was the producer, demanding no interruptions, walking out, patronising the female reporters, constantly referring to his own staff members in a way which I found demeaning, standing over Mihi Forbes and angrily remonstrating with her, calling her a liar, demanding previous footage be declared off the record retrospectively and the list just goes on.

I don’t know how professional media trainers like Brian Edwards, Judy Callaghan, Bill Ralston and Janet Wilson even managed to watch a few minutes of the video without their heads exploding in despair that someone could come across so badly in what is meant to be a damage control setting.

EMA Northern need to consider what they have to do to repair the damage. My only advice is that it does not involve Alasdair doing another round of TV interviews.

Hey Alasdair, what about the time lost with men thinking about sex?

June 23rd, 2011 at 5:13 pm by David Farrar

Stuff reports:

The head of the Employers & Manufacturers’ Association has publicly apologised over comments he made on radio this morning about women’s menstruation and its effect on workplace productivity.

Alasdair Thompson, the chief executive officer of the EMA (Northern) and a member of the APEC Business Advisory Council, said he was amazed with the enormous response he’d had via email since making the comment that women get paid less than men because they take sick days ‘once a month’.

Alasdair is only looking at half the picture. Yes, women may menstruate once a month which may distract them from their jobs, but men think about sex around 400 times a month, which surely leads to far more lost productivity.

Meanwhile there is a village in Auckland that wants its idiot back.

Council stakes in Auckland Airport

April 22nd, 2010 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Alasdair Thompson writes in the Herald:

Auckland Airport is issuing more shares to fund its purchase of airport company shares in Cairns and Mackay, Australia, and the mayors of Manukau and Auckland say their councils will use ratepayers’ money ($28.66 million) to buy their extra allocation of them.

This means that every ratepayer in Auckland and Manukau has been forced to fund a speculative investment in two Australian Airports. Madness.

I asked Mr Brown about this recently, and his answer was he wants Manukau city to control the airports shareholding because it’s a “strategic” asset. He quoted a former Manukau mayor, who apparently used to say “it’s a licence to print money”. He made no attempt to compare the return on his ratepayers’ investment in the airport with the returns or benefits from investing in risk free core public infrastructure.

John Banks agrees with Mr Brown. He too wants his council to buy more shares in the airport to keep its level of control over the airport’s ownership. Mr Brown’s subtext was that most of the people who will vote for him like public ownership of businesses such as airports and ports and don’t like private ownership of them.

But this is like saying most people don’t like private ownership of businesses, even though it is business that provides the jobs, products and services, and dividends and taxes that pay for the jobs and services of the public sector. We say that where the private sector is happy to take on risk let it do so and let government regulate monopolies and control of “strategic” assets.

Could not agree more.

Stating Opinon as Fact

September 1st, 2009 at 6:21 am by David Farrar

In a classic case of stating opinion as fact, Northern EMA CEO Alasdair Thompson writes:

Maori have the right to be elected to reserved seats on the new Auckland council under the terms of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Now of course the Treaty says no such thing.

Certainly some, maybe many, will argue that having reserved seats on the Council would be consistent with the Treaty of Waitangi.

But I get annoyed when people form an opinion on what should be done, and then claim that so and so is a “right” under the Treaty of Waitangi.

It is a way of trying to stop debate.

UPDATE: Alasdair was writing in a personal capacity. I mentioned his work role, as that is how almost everyone knows him.

Calls to sack Peters grow

April 10th, 2008 at 6:37 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports that calls for Peters to be sacked as Foreign Minister (he could be moved to another portfolio) are growing. Business representatives who are still in China are said to be furious and Phil Goff has been trying to calm them down, agreeing it was a “bullshit” situation. Those effectively calling for him to go include:

  • Northern Employers and Manufacturers Association chief executive Alasdair Thompson
  • Bob Fenwick, a past president of the NZ Export Institute
  • Revenue Minister Peter Dunne

The fact Peters is not just quietly voting against (or abstaining) but has launched a high profile campaign  in NZ against it with newspaper ads is what has them fuming, plus his insistence he will state his views against it when overseas as Foreign Minister.

Martin Kay in the Dom Post covers in more detail the Revenue Minister’s views on Peters:

Mr Dunne, UnitedFuture’s leader and revenue minister, said Mr Peters would fly in the face of “all conventions about good government” if he spoke out against the FTA as a minister. “I can’t see how you stay on that basis.”

… Mr Dunne told Newstalk ZB the FTA was central to the Government’s foreign policy and Mr Peters had to represent that.

Kay also covers the issue of Labour’s about-face on this:

Dr Cullen’s insistence that it is all right for Mr Peters to speak against the deal contradicts comments he made soon after Mr Peters was appointed, when he said the FTA was one of the “highest foreign policy goals”.

His insistence that Mr Peters is free to criticise the deal overseas also appears at odds with a Cabinet circular that says he must speak for the Government “on all issues” when out of the country.

Colin Espiner in The Press also quotes Dr Cullen yesterday:

“I think that people understand very clearly that the confidence and supply agreement provides that Mr Peters is bound on matters purely of foreign policy …”

Now recall that in 2005, Dr Cullen stated in Parliament that the China FTA was one of the Government’s “highest foreign policy goals”.