Earlier this week the Employment Court issued a long-awaited decision in favour of two respected Massey University academics and TEU members, Martin Wrigley and Terry Kelly.
Both were dismissed following a “selection process” which involved the university choosing which academics to keep, and which to dismiss. The decision directly challenges widespread selection processes in the tertiary education sector. It confers significant power on employees facing dismissal, previously denied to them.
The legal issue was about the requirements of natural justice – what information were the academics entitled to have (and comment on) before they were dismissed?
The Employment Relations Act requires an employer to give employees access to information about a proposal to dismiss, and an opportunity to comment on it before a decision is made. The University had provided Mr Wrigley and Dr Kelly some relevant documents but not others. It withheld information in documents which compared the various academics, one to the others. It also did not provide information about the views each panel member formed about the candidates; their assessment of the various candidates’ strengths and weaknesses; and the views of the final decision makers and the reasons for those. Accordingly, the academics did not have an opportunity to comment on all of those matters before being chosen for dismissal.
The court found that the disputed documents were relevant and thus, prima facie, disclosable. It also held that while the information was confidential, the privacy interest in this case was outweighed by the need for fairness.
TEU deputy secretary Nanette Cormack said the ruling was the outcome of hard work by TEU’s highly experienced and regarded legal counsel.
“One of the benefits of belonging to a union like TEU is access to dedicated employment law specialists, that would cost individuals thousands of dollars more than their TEU membership fees,” said Ms Cormack. This case sets a good precedent for all TEU members.