The University of Otago has set up a new complaints process
in response to staff concerns about the behaviour of a senior
The revelation a new ''resolution process'' had been put in
place in the Marketing and Communications division was
detailed in a letter sent by chief operating officer John
Patrick to staff in the division on Wednesday and
subsequently leaked to the Otago Daily Times.
The leak comes after the division's director Virginia
Nicholls was accused at an Employment Relations Authority
hearing last month of bullying and being responsible for a
''toxic'' environment in her division.
The new complaints process was put in place in response to
issues raised in a letter by TEU organiser Shaun Scott to
university vice-chancellor Prof Harlene Hayne just after the
Mr Scott was critical of a process set up to resolve issues
uncovered by a review of the division by lawyer David Sim.
The process involved staff being asked to make any complaints
directly to Mr Patrick.
''As we predicted, complaints and concerns were not
forthcoming, as the threat of restructuring or disciplinary
action had the effect of enforcing silence on the staff,'' Mr
In a letter to Mr Patrick in April, Mr Scott said members
''do not feel safe raising complaints, given the clear
message that any 'frivolous' or 'vexatious' complaints will
not be viewed well''.
The letter to Prof Hayne said morale was ''low'' for many
staff in the division and the issues raised in the Sim report
had not been resolved.
Outlining the new complaints process in the letter to staff
this week, Mr Patrick said ''all concerns'' would be taken at
''face value'' and ''there will be no implications for people
raising a reasonable and genuinely-held concern''.
''Whilst we do not necessarily fully accept Shaun's comments,
our primary concern is for the wellbeing of staff and morale
in the Division.
''To that end, we have decided to introduce a process whereby
staff can raise concerns in a manner that they might feel is
more safe for them.''
The new process, which would be trialled until June, was
based on the university's ethical behaviour policy, which
specified people, including a human resources adviser and a
mediator, who could assist staff in deciding how a matter
should be dealt with.
''In addition, our employment agreements state that, if
people have a problem with their employment, they should
raise it with their manager,'' Mr Patrick's letter said.
The university's provost Prof Bob Knight had also agreed to
be a contact person staff could discuss their concerns with.
''We have asked Prof Knight to keep a confidential record of
any contact he has with staff so we can monitor how many and
what type of concerns are being raised,'' he said.
Mr Patrick finished the letter by saying: ''Hopefully we will
make good progress towards our aim of improving
management/staff relationships in the division.''
In response to questions about the new process, university
human resources director Kevin Seales said: ''We take the
concerns of staff and issues raised by the TEU seriously.
It is our hope that this resolutions process helps to make
good progress towards our aim of improving relationships in