SkyCity boss desperate to deflect blame for bible fiasco

21 Jun

TUNI PARATA: SkyCity worker Tuni Parata at the Unite Union offices, awaiting a meeting with SkyCity managers regarding the misconduct charge laid against her.

By Mike Treen
National Director, Unite Union

Unite Union welcomes the decision by SkyCity to allow its worker Tuni Parata to carry her bible at work.

However it is disappointing that in the process the company has sought to shift the blame for this fiasco onto the union.

Grainne Troute, the company’s general manager group services, was asked by the union to intervene to stop the disciplinary process soon after the original disciplinary letter was issued on June 6.

This issue has dragged on for over a month. Tuni Parata first received a letter on May 14 summoning her to an “investigation meeting” on May 18. The incident involved a manager seeing a small pocket bible on a vanity on April 26 while Ms Parata used a bathroom near her work area. The meeting was attended by her manager Jennifer Philpott and an HR advisor Doreen Carter. Tuni was had Tina Barnett from Unite with her.

At this meeting it was made clear that this incident involved a small pocket bible that was only taken out to read during breaks. Tina Barnett asked for an exemption from the general rule be made to allow Tuni to carry the bible.

On May 27 Tuni received a letter from Jennifer Philpott, SkyCity Tower Operations Manager, summarising the discussion at the May 28 meeting. In this letter Jennifer Philpott quotes herself saying: “I said we do need to draw the line somewhere, for you it may be a bible that gives inspiration, but it could be something completely different for another staff member, an I-pod for example. Doreen mentioned that some people believed that smoking gave them inspiration, but SKYCITY wouldn’t agree to a request to smoke during work hours. In essence it is a subjective matter: what one person finds inspiring another may not.”

Jennifer Philpott also said “I agreed that we will consider your request” to have an exemption to carry the bible “and come back to you with a decision on that matter and a decision from this meeting”.

That response came on June 6 in a “Your Rights” letter to Tuni Parata saying “we are considering disciplinary action being taken in relation to the alleged incident”. The letter summoned her to a meeting on June 7 and Tuni was “advised that the outcome of this disciplinary meeting may be that the Company considers disciplinary action, up to and including a final written warning.”

Under the labour law in this country a final warning can only be issued for “serious misconduct” if it a first offence of that nature. That means the company had to believe the misconduct was serious.

The same letter threatening the same possible outcome was repeated on June 12 and June 14 as meetings were rescheduled at the union’s request. We rescheduled the meetings because we thought the company was making a grave error of judgement and wanted to appeal to someone at a higher level to stop the process proceeding.

After Tuni received the June 6 letter Unite national secretary Matt McCarten rang Gainne Troute. He explained that we considered this process was completely over the top and the company faced a serious media fall-out if they proceeded. He asked for her to personally intervene to stop the disciplinary meeting proceeding.

However after Tuni received the June 12 and 14 letters it was clear that despite our appeal to Grainne Troute the meeting was proceeding as a disciplinary meeting.

It was only then that a media release was made from the union on Monday June 18. That release explained that Tuni face a final warning as a possible outcome but also said this was a threat of immediate dismissal if her misconduct was repeated. We never claimed she faced dismissal on this occasion.

It was not until the morning of Wednesday June 20 that Grainne Troute announced to the media that they were no longer treating the issue as a disciplinary matter and therefore the scheduled meeting was no longer a disciplinary one.

At no stage has the company thought to offer Tuni an apology for the stress they put her through.

Casino worker wins right to keep Bible at work

By Abby Gillies

SkyCity worker Tuni Parata has won the right to keep her Bible with her at work following a meeting with her bosses today.

Ms Parata met SkyCity managers this afternoon about her alleged misconduct for carrying the Bible during shifts as a host at the casino – a habit she feared could cost her her job.

It was determined at today’s meeting that carrying a pocket Bible was not a disciplinary matter and Ms Parata was allowed to carry the book with her at work as long as it was not visible and she could use it during her breaks.

“I am very happy with the outcome. I’m allowed the keep the Bible with me,” said a smiling and relieved Ms Parata after the meeting.

Unite Union national director Mike Treen was also pleased with the outcome but said the action taken by SkyCity had been unnecessary.

“We are (pleased) but we don’t think Tuni should have been put through this.

“She will be able to carry a pocket Bible with her in the future that’s not obvious to the punters at SkyCity,” he said.

He has also asked SkyCity to review its policy around uniform breaches and to “clarify the nature of disciplinary letters”.

SkyCity general manager group services Grainne Troute said earlier that a written warning was the maximum penalty for the breach of uniform standards, and was confident the issue would be resolved without any disciplinary action.

The breach extended to items such as mobile phones, books and other things which might interfere with staff fully engaging with their customers, she said.

“Initially the issue with Tuni was she was carrying a Bible that was much larger than the small pocket Bible that she’s now carrying. The Bible that she’s carrying now is much smaller – she can fit it into her pocket – and it does appear that she can carry it without it being visible to customers and, therefore, from an appearance standpoint, it fits with our uniform policy.

“I think what we’re finding here is that the policy is flexible enough to allow something small like a pocket Bible but it’s not flexible enough to allow a large Bible, like the one that was previously being used.”

Ms Troute said this afternoon that the decision made today would have been communicated to Ms Parata on Monday if a meeting that day had gone ahead as scheduled. It had been pushed back by the union.

Ms Parata was never in danger of losing her job over the Bible, she said.

“We were unequivocal right from the start that this wasn’t a dismissal issue.”

Ms Parata had originally carried a much larger Bible and while that was not suitable, the smaller Bible she was now carrying was.

“For us it is a pragmatic solution for her. As long as she has the small Bible that she can keep on herself that doesn’t interfere with the look of her uniform in any way … fine,” Ms Troute said.

By Abby Gillies

– APNZ

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