'Unsustainable' work hours concern at museum

Otago Museum treasurer Mike Horne has highlighted the risks to the institution of senior museum staff "carrying unsustainable loads and working unsustainable hours".

Mr Horne's comments were noted in the minutes of a recent informal meeting of the museum trust board's audit, finance and risk committee.

The museum balance sheet was solid, with cash reserves and no debt.

Wage funding was down, as the museum was carrying some vacancies, including at director level, he noted.

Museum trust board chairman Graham Crombie said a "prudent" approach had been taken, with revenue lines under pressure, but spending also lower.

But at this stage he was unsure of the best way forward regarding staffing and salaries.

Museum chief executive Shimrath Paul said steps were being taken to address a "lack of resourcing" at management level.

The museum management's team will consider this matter, and many other topics, including aspects of museum budgeting for the next three years, at an annual management planning workshop on "resources, operations and priorities", which began in Queenstown on Thursday last week.

At the committee meeting, Mr Crombie asked whether under-resourcing at management level was affecting what the museum was delivering.

Museum chief executive Shimrath Paul said critical outcomes were being met, with the team putting in hours to get the job done, and also bringing in and paying for resources on a case-by-case basis.

Mr Crombie said the situation could be addressed by increasing resources or cutting outputs.

Approached for comment, Mr Crombie said the staffing situation was being monitored. These pressures were also linked to long-term resourcing issues facing the museum, he said.

Museum officials said that since David Wright, the former museum collections, research and property services director, had left in mid-2009, no successor had been appointed.

Three other senior managers had since temporarily shared the work.

Exhibitions, development and planning director Clare Wilson had also taken on collections and research duties; programme director Helen Horner was supervising the museum's Tropical Habitat; and finance manager Chris Farry had also taken on property services.

Ms Wilson said it had been difficult to find a suitable replacement for Mr Wright.

The museum's 57 full-time-equivalent staff - excluding museum cafe and casual conference-related staff - was relatively small for the size of the museum and its activities.

The idea of reducing the museum's community programmes because of limited funding and staffing pressures was unattractive, because it could damage morale, and make it harder to retain senior staff, she said.

Ms Wilson said museum's five-strong management group and an executive support staff member were taking part in the latest annual workshop.

They were staying at a villa at the Heritage Hotel in Queenstown for four nights, having driven there in the museum van.

Overall costs amounted to about $2400 for the trip.

Asked whether the spending was appropriate, Ms Wilson said the annual workshops had proved valuable.

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