EXCLUSIVE: ONE UNION CALLS FOR INQUIRY INTO CHIEF EXECUTIVE OF PARLIAMENTARY SERVICES

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“This is an unambiguous and dark warning to victims of bullying in parliament: keep quiet and don’t come forward.” 

ONE UNION has written to the Speaker of the House today requesting he take action against the chief executive of Parliamentary Services over his conduct relating to bullying by Mr Nick Smith MP. 

The union alleges Mr Rafael Gonzalez-Montero and others cynically used the victim and the complainant as pawns in a campaign to get rid of Smith. After Smith was forced to resign, the victim and the witness were abandoned. 

 

The Summary  

Chief executive Gonzalez-Montero forced a young victim, against his wishes, to participate in a year-long investigation against Smith. 

The chief executive promised the victim he would personally protect his well-being, his employment and his career. A similar promise was made to the primary witness of the bullying. 

Instead, during the investigation neither of the junior staffers had their employment contracts renewed. They lost their jobs, and their parliamentary careers are over. The victim still owes money for the lawyer he was appointed by the chief executive. 

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Gonzalez-Montero’s lawyer has threatened the victim and myself that if One Union goes public with their story, Parliamentary Services may sue the victim and myself personally for damages. Smith was a bully and was held accountable. But, Gonzalez-Montero’s actions, are those of an abuser. He should be held accountable too. 

The Francis Report two years ago said parliament was toxic and abuse was rampant. It made 83 recommendations. Nothing has changed.

We request the Speaker agree to the following:

  • Hold an inquiry into Gonzalez-Montero’s handling of this matter.  
  • Direct the CEO to answer the union questions on this case.
  • Release the final investigation report.
  • Provide an update on 2018 Francis report.

 

The Background  

In August 2020 Parliamentary Services chief executive Rafael Gonzalez-Montero launched a formal investigation into the bullying by Nick Smith against a junior staff member in July. After Smith was advised of the complaint, he countered with a complaint against the alleged victim. 

The chief executive summoned the young staffer to his office and advised he was being investigated too, and he was required to co-operate with the inquiry. The young staffer said he didn’t want to be involved because he felt it would hurt his career. He was right, it destroyed it. The chief executive said the staffer didn’t have a choice. 

 

The Promise  

Gonzalez-Montero, however, assured the victim that he had nothing to fear. He made a heartfelt personal promise that as chief executive he would protect the staffer’s wellbeing, his employment, and his career in parliament. A similar reassurance was given to the primary witness who was the actual complainant. 

The chief executive said this was a chance for parliament to show it would hold powerful individuals accountable. It seems Gonzalez-Montero was motivated by the Francis Report two years earlier that had lambasted the toxic parliament culture and identified numerous cases of bullying and abuse. The report made 83 recommendations and said parliament had to take action.

 

Under the Bus 

Gonzalez-Montero provided the victim a lawyer. The first invoices were paid. Then they stopped. After that the victim had to borrow from his family to pay the legal bills.   

When the preliminary inquiry report was finally produced, it was shared with the participants. A brutal media smear campaign was immediately launched against the victim and the witness, causing enormous stress to both young people. It was clear certain media had been briefed against the workers. As the attacks intensified the victim requested a meeting with Gonzalez-Montero. The chief executive told the victim to meet at a Wellington café rather than his office. 

At this meeting the staffer begged the chief executive to put out the facts in a media statement to counter the lies. Gonzalez-Montero point blank refused, saying he had a wider responsibility to maintain relationships with politicians. It is clear his responsibilities, in his mind, didn’t include telling the truth, keeping his promises, or protecting his staff. 

When the victim asked what his legal complaint options were, he was advised that path would not be good for his future career.

 

The Resignation

When the inquiry report was finalised, its findings were the same as what was stated in the draft report. It confirmed that Smith was guilty of bullying and harassment. It also found the victim blameless. The victim and his lawyer were permitted to read the full report but have no copy.

When then National Party leader Judith Collins told Smith the report was about be leaked, he immediately resigned from parliament. Gonzalez-Montero refuses to confirm who has copies. Did Judith Collins? The chief executive refuses to release the final report. 

 

The Betrayal 

The union believes the victim was used as a political pawn in an internal party power play. The chief executive, with his wilful silence, betrayed his employees. 

Despite Gonzalez-Montero’s early assurances, the employment contracts for the victim and the witness were not renewed. Neither are now employed in parliament. Once the political hatchet job was done, the chief executive lost interest. 

This is an unambiguous and dark warning to victims of bullying in parliament: keep quiet and don’t come forward. 

 

The Sordid Aftermath

Because the victim was compelled by Gonzalez-Montero to cooperate with the year-long investigation he is now in debt. Everyone else had their legal fees picked up by the taxpayer. 

Gonzalez-Montero currently is offering no compensation to the victim. Apparently, they don’t want to set a precedent. He and his lawyer say if they are required to attend a mediation, their position won’t change. 

The senior law partner representing Gonzalez-Montero says he is very relaxed. Given they are paid close to $1000 an hour, that’s no surprise. The taxpayer funded trough is very deep for those who protect the powerful against the vulnerable. 

Gonzalez-Montero has been at pains to say to the union how bad he feels for the victim.  

When I reminded him of his earlier promise to protect the victim and his career, the chief executive initially claimed he couldn’t remember the meeting. When I  said he had sent an email to the staffer to make an appointment with his secretary, and National’s chief of staff had confirmed she was present, he offered to put in a good word for any future suitable job vacancies the victim may apply. No promises of course. This is beyond muddle-headed idiocy. Who thinks like this? 

Gonzalez-Montero is paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to lead over two thousand employees in parliament. He wouldn’t last a day in the private sector.

 

The Prime Minister 

This deep injustice happened on Jacinda Ardern’s watch. The prime minister asks us to be kind to each other. We agree. There are times for soothing words and an empathetic smile. But in this matter, firm action is required.

Character integrity is measured by how we treat those with little power. This is a time for the prime minister and the Speaker to instruct Gonzalez-Montero to fix this mess he created. Or sack him. 

 

SIGN OUR PETITION TO PROTECT VICTIMS OF BULLIES IN PARLIAMENT

 

Matt McCarten is Union Director of One Union. 

Help us win justice for victims of exploitation and abuse in non-unionised workplaces. Go to www.oneunion.org.nz, or free phone 0800 368 000.

Report cases of mistreatment and unfairness, donate to our work and join us.

20 COMMENTS

  1. SNAP. I was thinking of putting a comment on OM referencing the Stuff article :
    https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/127248298/just-a-fing-secretary-former-mp-nick-smith-bullied-harassed-and-swore-at-staff-according-to-a-draft-report.

    The young guy is to be admired for not agreeing to a confidentiality agreement. People working for Masters of the Universe wankers who think they’re the cat’s whiskers should always keep diary notes and IF they can afford it, never agree to a confidentiality agreement. It allows employers who are arseholes to try and reinvent history and bullshit their way out of it.
    Keep up the fight @Matt. It’s becoming all too normal

    • Yes Tim. This young man did well not to sign the confidentiality agreement. Many sign them because they can’t afford not to, but they should be abolished as their outcome, if not their purpose, is to protect bad employers.

  2. The current speaker has done more harm to the role than anyone could imagine. He is the man pulling the strings. Whoever replaces him has to bring honor back to the institution.

  3. Once again Matt you show that the need for employee protection and representation has never been greater. The Speaker must agree to all of your requests or his credibility will totally disappear.
    Keep up the good work.

    • I truly hope this is addressed.
      Clearly Nick Smith was allowed to get away with this behaviour(31 years in parliament) and finally, at least we get to see the type of person he was. When you throw in Aaron “don’t you know who I am” Gilmore, the behaviours of Hamish Walker, Andrew Falloon, Jamie Lee Ross, Maggie Barry, Jian Yang and Todd Barclay etc etc, a pattern emerges.

      Where was the then speaker on these matters?

      • “Where was the then speaker on these matters?”
        Or indeed where was the then speaker when that silly little wanker tried to set up Daryn Hughes in Hataitai a few years back. (We know where the silly little wanker is – still trying to preen his ego and pondering what rort to pull next. You have to wonder whether Hannah and the Bish still see him as their little project).
        Dirty Pols in that space going forward

      • I notice Bert that you just list National MPs. Labour ministers e.g. Trevor Mallard and Meke Whaitiri, are just some of others accused of bullying. In the 2017 election campaign, Labour was accused of exploiting foreign interns – which is a form of bullying. The Francis report noted a high proportion of female MPs who say they have experienced forms of bullying as well as a large number of Parliamentary staff have said similar things. Not just in relation to MPs but also senior staff like Dianne Maxwell. To imply that it is just National MPs who are guilty is naive at best or deliberately one-eyed. Either way it just helps perpetuate the problem. As Ms Francis said: “MPs were “treated like gods” with a “master-servant relationship”. Power and its mis-use is a potential problem for all MPs – regardless of political affiliation. The only way to really have any hope of addressing the issue is to recognise it is one of power that all MPs and senior staff are susceptible to and treat is as a cross party issue – not one to try and score cheap political points.

        • Not naive in the slightest, that’s your judgement. I noted Nat MP because they are more prominent in numbers and National is donkey deep or at least were donkey deep in dirty politics. Meke Whaitiri I have no time for however she was cleared as was Maggy Barry for bullying yet we both know the truth. But don’t believe for a moment Labour MP’S outnumber Nat MP’s that would be simply stupidity.

          • Well I’m not going to get in a running battle with you Bert so I’ll respond no more after this but you seem to get triggered by any hint that Labour might not be pure as the driven snow. The article was about bullying in Parliament and actually featured Nick Smith but looked at the wider issue. Nowhere in the article did it say who outnumbered who in those stakes and that is irrelevant to the issue really. The reality is that we don’t know. In my experience in the workplace bullies are often otherwise well regarded and highly thought of by some – which is why it is often so hard for the person being bullied to be believed.
            Dirty politics (as it is understood) and bullying don’t necessarily go hand in hand. One could be guilty of one without necessarily being guilty of the other. That is why it is so important that the issue of bullying in Parliament is addressed properly. It is a stand alone issue of which MPs across the political spectrum are guilty.
            You detract from the issue when you try and run it as a point scoring competition or use it to balance out perceived imbalances elsewhere (from what I see all parties get taken to task by different posters on this blog so I would contend there is hardly an imbalance – only one in the eyes of the tribal).
            As I stated, this is a issue that needs to be addressed as a stand alone matter. To use it as a political football just demeans those being bullied.

            • I will not get into a running commentary with you either. Many of your statements I completely disagree with.
              As a stand alone issue this stems from the Nick Smith case and the CEO of parliamentary services is also responsible .
              An informal inquiry in May 2019 found systemic bullying in parliament and because of this inquiry we now a least have a chance for a better work place in parliament.

        • correct = there are a number of Labour MPs going through a few staff each term due to bullying that get away with it, including a cabinet minister- the system protects the MPs

        • Trevor Mallard and Tau Henare came to physical blows so yes it goes both ways. I try to bring balance to those constantly and caustically attacking the government.

  4. Workplace bullying is a big problem in NZ and, in my experience, Worksafe are next to useless when it comes to helping workers who have been bullied. Over the years I have helped support several staff in different workplaces who were bullied. In one case they got a payout and an apology but only because they had kept comprehensive notes of every exchange, dated and signed, and photographic evidence. It was settled rather than go to ERA but that is very hard for any worker to endure – especially younger ones. I’ve known others who just quit because the fight is too hard or costly and they are scared they will get a ‘reputation’ that will hinder future employment. I’ve known of employers who have undertaken underhanded and illegal methods to try and dismiss staff. Another worker I know in a government organisation went to her union for help but the union rep was a line manager and didn’t want to get offside with senior management so cut her adrift. I provided moral support and she hung in and outlasted the bullying managers who were eventually let go. She finally left a couple of years later on her own terms but went through years of sustained pressure.
    Another person I know fought back but had to spend thousands to keep their job. The employer’s lawyer was feral and like an attack dog. In the course of the procedures the lawyer and management sent out a document that had confidential customer information inadvertently attached. When the staff member pointed out this breach (something they would have been fired for) the lawyer and management attacked them and threatened them with legal proceedings if they made it known. Talk about hypocrisy. The system is very much stacked with the employer and those doing the bullying. Having evidenced the financial and mental health costs to staff who have fought back I’m not surprised that the majority walk away.

    • So true gagarin. Unless you are lucky enough to have Matt on your side you are on your own in a very lonely powerless position. Even with support the final outcome will be you looking for a new job.

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