I got it wrong on Deborah Powell

A week ago I blogged:

So the National Secretary of the NZRDA gets paid almost $1 million a year for her services. Great work if you can get it.

Unions often rail against business chief executives being paid huge salaries. And government chief executives also get criticised for some of their salaries.

Now if the members of NZRDA think is worth $927,000 a year then good on her for convincing them to pay it. It’s their money. But it is weird that the highest paid person in the public health system isn’t a DHB Chief Executive, or a consultant or specialist or the Director-General of Health. It is the National Secretary of the junior doctors’ association.

I assumed a job which pays $927,000 a year would be a full-time job. But it isn’t. The enterprising Ms Powell is also the National Secretary of the Apex Union. And they also pay the company 99.9% owned by Powell $608,000 for contract negotiation services.

So that’s a combined $1,535,000 for contract negotiation services. Now we don’t know if that is 100% salary for Powell, but even if you have a couple of staff to assist you, you’d be doing better than any other person in the public health system.

There was an interesting profile in 2001 in the Herald, showing this is not a recent development:

Radiation therapists walked away from treating cancer patients last night and, for the second time this year, went on strike. Surely a tough decision.

Throughout the dispute, one person is regularly quoted on behalf of “her” members as though she, too, feels the pain of being paid a pittance for a vital role in saving people’s lives. She is articulate, passionate and stroppy. She is Dr Deborah Powell. …

So to be, well, um, direct, the Weekend Herald would like to talk to her about “the impression that you and [husband and business partner] Terry have done extremely well financially out of your relationship with the medical unions”.

So even 18 years ago people had noticed.

“This isn’t silk,” she smiles, fingering the collar of her emerald-green shirt.

No, but the people who mutter disapprovingly about Deborah and Terry Powells’ asset-backing do point to their avocado farm near Whangarei, valued in 1998 at $1.2 million.

“We have an avocado orchard. So what?” she replies. “It’s where we live.”

The median house price in 1998 was $165,000 so the farm was valued at around eight times the median house. Today the median house value is $550,000 so I imagine the orchard is worth a lot more today.

Come the 1991 Employment Contracts Act, the entrepreneurial Powells saw the opportunity to sell their employment contract negotiation skills beyond the young doctors.

Among those they added to their stable was the Sales Representatives Guild. But that led to considerable trouble when, in 1993, they were both convicted of fraud for rigging the guild’s ballot in favour of compulsory membership.

Pair stood to gain $92,000 if compulsory unionism was carried and another $2500 for every 50 members beyond 1000. It would also be paid an annual $80,000 base payment.

The Powells continue to deny their guilt. Anecdotally there are doctors who remain unhappy about the Powells and refuse to join the RDA because of their presence. 

Yes and quite a few of those doctors have been e-mailing me. They have this old fashioned belief that a conviction for fraud for vote rigging in a union makes you a bad choice to run a union.

But anyway let’s not begrudge someone bringing capitalism to a union and making great money out of it. I’d say NBR should look at having a union category for their next NBR richlist!

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