Maggie Barry accusations

The Herald reports:

National MP has been twice investigated over claims this year – including accusations she expected staff to do political party work on taxpayer time, which would be unlawful.

The Weekend Herald can reveal two employees in Barry’s four-person office have accused her of bullying since May – one in a personal grievance complaint, and the other during the investigation of that complaint.

Neither staff member now works for Barry, the MP for the North Shore and the former host of Maggie’s Garden Show, a once-beloved staple of New Zealand television.

Barry concedes there were issues raised by former staff, but they were resolved “by mutual agreement” and “there was no finding that bullying or harassment had occurred”.

And she is backed up by a different former staff member who said she never saw any bullying behaviour from Barry, though she added that everyone has different ideas about what constitutes bullying.

So let’s look at the details alleged:

The Weekend Herald has obtained documents which show that during its investigations in August this year, Parliamentary Service heard allegations that Barry:

• swore and yelled at staff;
• called an employee “stupid”;
• used derogatory terms about other elected officials, which made staff uncomfortable;
• referred to people with mental health issues using offensive terms like “nutter”;
• discussed her employees’ sexuality in the workplace;
• expected staff would do work for the National Party during office hours, which they felt unable to refuse while knowing it was wrong, because they were scared.

This is an interesting mix of issues. Having an MP refer to other elected officials in derogatory terms is not bullying at all. I’d say it is not at all uncommon for MPs to offer frank opinions about some of their local body counterparts when in the privacy of their office.

You shouldn’t yell at staff or call them stupid, even if they stuff up. And parliamentary staff shouldn’t be asked to do party work. So there are some issues there that if correct, are not a great reflection. But it may not be totally clear cut.

However, the Weekend Herald has heard recordings which appear to show Barry swearing in a work context, and others where she appears to call a local board member “barking”, one a “waste of space”, and another “a duplicitous piece of shite”.

This suggests that a former staffer was tape recording private conversations with their MP. This is a huge betrayal of their employment role, and I suspect that person would be unemployable if their identity became known.

Todd Barclay attracted huge condemnations for allegedly recording one of his staff. Well it’s no better if it is a staff member recording an MP.

Speaking about the Francis review earlier this week, Act leader David Seymour said MPs, and not Parliamentary Service, should be the boss of their staff, and the current arrangement means MPs can treat their staff with impunity.

This is a worthwhile idea.

One of the tensions at the moment is The Parliamentary Service is the employer and hence they pay for any costs of any employment disputes etc. There isn’t a huge financial incentive for MPs to avoid employment disputes.

If you changed the arrangement so the parliamentary party or even the MP was the formal employer, then you could well end up with better incentives as if you have to pay out a dissatisfied staff members say $15,000 that is $15,000 less money you have for newsletters etc.

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