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May 21, 2013 | by  | in News |
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OUSA Manager Throws Money at Student Media, Hopes They Will Go Away

Suspended Critic Editor Callum Fredric reached an out-of-court settlement with the Otago University Students’ Association (OUSA) on Friday, giving up his determined bid to be reinstated to the role.

As reported earlier in Salient, Fredric was placed on interim suspension early this month pending investigation, and later filed a claim with the Employment Relations Authority (ERA) challenging the suspension by OUSA General Manager Darel Hall.

Under the terms of the agreement the sum of the settlement is confidential, and when spoken to by Salient, Fredric refused to confirm any figures. However, sources close to the organisation have said that the settlement was around $35,000, which is slightly less than a year’s salary for the Critic Editor.

Fredric was called to a meeting with Hall on Friday 3 May, during which Hall informed Fredric that he would be suspended “on an interim basis” until the following Tuesday, when Hall would make a final decision as to whether Fredric would remain suspended while Hall investigated complaints from five members of both Critic and OUSA staff. Hall also instructed Fredric not to speak to Critic staff nor to return to the premises without express permission. In a letter given to Fredric at the meeting, Hall cited potential health and safety issues to staff due to long hours of work and risks to Critic’s business relations, along with concerns about frequent lateness to and absence from the office.

In the affidavit filed in support of his ERA claim, Fredric rejected Hall’s suggestion that the allegations were serious enough to give rise to suspension. Fredric said that staff health and safety and business relations would not be affected by his return to work. In response to the allegations about his hours of work, Fredric wrote that flexible working hours had been common for many years at Critic, and although he may not always be present in the office, he continued to work an average of 60 hours every week. As Fredric often worked late nights to meet production deadlines, he said it was not practical to be at work at 9am, but staff were always able to contact him via phone, email or Facebook if necessary.
“Staff can get things done even if I am working flexible hours and go home at the time they normally would even if I wasn’t there.”
If reinstated, Fredric offered to “cooperate fully with the process of dealing with complaints”, and work under any reasonable conditions placed on him.

The employment issue became public knowledge when police were called to the Critic offices on Monday 6 May when Fredric refused to leave after being issued with a Trespass Notice by a Campus Watch guard. Fredric was attempting to attend a staff meeting at the Critic offices in order to explain the situation to staff, and ensure that his reputation wasn’t damaged.

Following a meeting on Tuesday 7 May, during which Fredric outlined his submissions as to why he should be reinstated during the investigation, Hall confirmed that Fredric would remain on suspension with full pay during the investigation.

On Thursday 9 May Fredric’s lawyer filed the ERA claim, which requested that the Authority order immediate reinstatement while the claim was being investigated. The claim also requested compensation from OUSA, and that the matter be dealt with under urgency, rather than through the usual time-frames and mediation steps usually required in employment disputes.

The claim sets out Fredric’s grounds for disputing the suspension, namely; that he was not given any prior warning or opportunity to comment; that his employment contract does not state that he is able to be suspended, that the allegations against him had not been clearly set out, and that the complaints raised should have been dealt with in a performance management, rather than disciplinary, process. As a result, it was argued, the suspension was unlawful and completely unjustified. A hearing date was set down for Monday 20 May, but was cancelled due to the out-of-court settlement.

Acting Editor Sam McChesney will oversee the production of the last issue of the semester this week. The role will be advertised from next Monday at the latest.

[NOTE: This story has been updated from the original version posted early on Tuesday 21 May following legal consultation.]

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About the Author ()

Molly McCarthy and Stella Blake-Kelly are Salient Co-Editors for 2013, AKA Salient Babes.

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