EMA chief Alasdair Thompson, under siege for comments about women’s “monthly sick problems”, is on sick leave himself, the employer’s association confirmed.
President of the Employers and Manufacturers Association (Northern) Graham Mountfort told Without a Word of a Lie Mr Thompson was on sick leave from the country’s biggest employer group, after controversial comments about gender pay equity prompted calls for his resignation last week.
Concern for Mr Thompson’s health was understood to have stalled the board’s determination on the embattled chief executive’s future, with an insider claiming he might be in hospital.
Mr Mountfort said he was “incredibly frustrated” things were not moving more swiftly, but next steps were not in the board’s hands, he said.
“It’s just got to take its course,” he said.
“It’s incredibly frustrating, I know everybody would like to see a resolution.”
He recognised the irony of an employers association, which advised its members on thorough employment relations procedures, was going slow at its own game, he said.
“We would like to be acting more decisively, but as an organisation that advises employers on responsible process, we have to be seen to go through due process. Unfortunately, that’s taking longer than we hoped.”
Mr Mountfort, a former director of packaging company Permark Industries, was not paid a bean as chairman of the EMA’s 16-member board.
The voluntary board had earned every cent in the “horrific” four days since Mr Thompson made the inflammatory comment the gender wage gap was due to women taking more sick leave than men, citing one reason as their "monthly sick problem".
The board was now in into “damage control mode” to distance itself from Mr Thompson’s comments.
“Alasdair’s comments were way off the wall. They were not representative of our attitudes. In our working experiences, we have not ever seen an issue in that area,” he said.
The ensuring frenzy was distressing because it had overshadowed the EMA’s long-standing advocacy for equal pay for equal work.
But Mr Mountfort thought a Green Party bill to amend the Equal Pay Act --discussion of which is where Mr Thompson’s comments originated – went too far.
Green Party MP Catherine Delahunty’s bill would “give teeth” to current employment laws by allowing workers and unions to request information on pay levels by gender in their workplaces to assess whether the Equal Pay Act was being applied.“I think it’s step to far, and too intrusive into workplaces. While we encourage pay equity, we don’t think the steps being promoted in the bill are the right way to go about it.”
Mr Mountfort said the Thompson “crisis” had triggered a review of how the EMA board interacted with it’s appointed CEO "going forward," but would not be drawn on whether that would be Mr Thompson or not.
Mr Thompson was in touch with the board this week, but he had not personally spoken to Mr Mountfort since the weekend.
The EMA board had strong legal experience, with former head of the Takeovers Commission and senior partner at law firm Russell McVeagh John King among members who also included Rankin Treasury Advisory’s Derek Rankin, Geoff Whitcher from the University of Auckland, Scott Fuller from NZ Steel and Kevin Reilly from ASB.
Although there were only two female board members: Cogita Business Services executive director Margaret Brown and Weight Watchers New Zealand national manager Colleen Stairmand, the board would like to appoint more.
“”We're always on the lookout for additional women and good members generally,” said Mr Mountfort.
A sub-group of senior board members was overseeing the decision process that would determine Mr Thompson’s future.
Mr Mountfort commended Mr Thompson’s contribution to the EMA during his 12-year tenure at the helm.
His role in driving the 2005 ‘Rev Up’ campaign that secured an extra $330 million from the government in planned spending on Auckland transport and in spearheading the One Auckland project that helped kick-start the Royal Commission of Enquiry into Auckland governance in 2007, were among his key achievements.
“He has done an excellent job, but I think his judgment has deserted him.”
The people deciding Alasdair Thompson's fate
EMA (NORTHERN) BOARD
Graham Mountfort (President), Permark Industries
Colin Martin, Nuplex Industries
Margaret Brown, Cogita Business Services
Andrew Hunt Kinetics Group
John King, Russell McVeagh
Kevin Reilly, ASB Relationship Banking
Derek Rankin, Rankin Treasury Advisory
Colleen Stairmand, Weight Watchers NZ
Geoff Whitcher, University of Auckland
Andrew Corbett, Tranzsoft Group
Chris Davis, Rinnai NZ
Laurie Margrain, Open Country Cheese
David Thomas, Winstone Wallboards
Scott Fuller, New Zealand Steel
Bob Fenwick, Planhorse Systems NZ
Maurice Barton, Sonoco NZ