There are no bad employees, just bad employers, because if there were bad employees or potentially bad employees, they should have been filtered out with a proper pre-employment process and would not have been considered for employment.
One of my pet hates is the way Human Resources (HR) is
managed in the Cook Islands or to put it in perspective, how it is mismanaged.
To put it bluntly, it is seen as not adding value to an organisation’s day to
day operations. Mediocrity and incompetence seem to be the axiom of those who
take on HR roles and employees take the hit from poor decision making, poor HR
advice, poor training, and poor performance.
Employers in the private and in the public sector in
the Cook Islands are generally very hard-working people and they believe that
they are fair and equitable to their employees. Despite this from my personal
experience and background I can tell you that there is a need for all employers
to have a mind shift in how they manage their employees. A few of the bigger
employers here have hired human resources people and that is a very positive
way to manage their organisations in a professional manner. These HR people are
in the main dedicated to their roles and most of them are not trained HR
professionals. When they take on the role, they learn on the job, they also
learn poor professional HR habits not through their fault mainly, but also due
to the insufficiency in their training, knowledge, and experience.
An additional challenge for those in HR is that many
of the businesses in the Cook Islands are owner operated and the owners of
these businesses are generally good employers. The owners usually have the
final say in any employment relations issue affecting their businesses and tend
to micromanage their staff, understandable if you look at it from their
perspective. They also tend to have three sets of rules – one for management
staff, one for employees on the shop floor and one for their family members.
These rules can and do run counter to the Employment Relations Act 2012 (ERA
2012), because the Act requires that an employer must be fair and equitable
within the employment relationship with the employee. If you have three sets of
rules, how can this be fair and equitable: I propose that it cannot?
Public service employers on the other hand rely on the
Public Service Commission and the Public Service Act 2009 for HR advice and
unfortunately from my experience you might as well talk to your MP who last
year was just a worker in the taro patch because that’s probably the same
advice you are going to get. There are no bad employees, just bad employers,
because if there were bad employees or potentially bad employees, they should
have been filtered out with a proper pre-employment process and would not have
been considered for employment.
Because of a lack of critical employee mass, too many
people in the Cook Islands are employed without proper background checks,
references being thoroughly checked, no proper criminal checks, no proper
health checks. If there is something not quite right with the person’s previous
employment, the Cook Islands thing is to forgive and give the person another
chance. Does it come back to bite them, yes it does, do Cook Islanders learn
from this, no they do not. So, they only have themselves to blame for the
employment relations issue they have with their employee.
At the first sign of trouble, the first response is to
blame someone else and not take responsibility for one’s poor judgement or
actions, that’s the Cook Islands way. The economic fallout from a botched
recruitment process is something that Cook Islands employers struggle to put
into context. The answer is ‘oh well I’ll get someone else to do the job’. Well
guys there usually are no one else so you are stuck, and this drives poor recruitment
practices, so we go round and round in an ever-decreasing circle.
What happens for non-performers? Here is where most
employers in the Cook Islands lose their way, they don’t hold proper formalised
meetings with non-performing employees, usually it’s just a word in their
employees’ ear to improve and that’s the sum total. When this is promptly
ignored or the performance does not improve, the employer’s next move is to go
over the top i.e., you’re sacked, terminated, or disestablished.
An employer must give reasons for termination (1)
Before issuing a notice to terminate the employment of an employee for reasons
relating to the capacity or conduct of the employee, the employer must— (a)
tell the employee, in writing, of the reasons for the termination; and (b) give
the employee a reasonable opportunity to respond and make submissions to the
employer about why the employee’s employment should not be terminated. The
reality is that most employers do not follow a proper robust and contestable
disciplinary process. A reasonable opportunity for an employee to respond is
barely five minutes. Everyman and owner think that they are HR or employment
law specialists and disregard due and proper process because they can’t be
bothered. Usually, their HR department is dysfunctional or the advice from HR
is incorrect, deficient, or biased towards the employer.
Out of all this hand wringing is the fact that most
employees just grin and bear it when they are subject to disciplinary action
from the employer and give up because they can’t be bothered, don’t have the
finances to fight a personal grievance or move on hopefully to the next job.
The ERA 2012 is a starting base that protects both employer and employee in the
workplace, however for employees without the ability to dispute, they are
between a rock and a hard place.
By law in the ERA 2012, employees can belong to a
union and that is perhaps the only economical saving grace for them unless they
get an HR expert pro bono. There are pitfalls but at the same time there are
benefits of belonging to a union that can represent one’s interests in the
workplace, it takes courage to join.