Shawn Tan & the EPMU

Note: I have responded to Idiot Savant’s attack and provided further comment on the employment issues in separate posts.

NZ’s largest private sector union, the Engineering, Printing & Manufacturing Union, has suspended an employee after he was placed on ACT’s party list (hat-tip Redbaiter). The EPMU says that Shawn Tan did not seek permission to stand as a candidate, and this is required by the collective agreement under which he is employed along with the Union’s rules.

Idiot Savant says, it’s just not on. I’m not quite so sure.

Certainly, unions’ role in regulating employers’ ill-treatment of workers and promoting workers’ rights does not exempt them from the very standards they seek to enforce. Discrimination on the basis of political belief is unlawful.

The Human Rights Act 1993 prohibits discrimination on the grounds of “political opinion, which includes the lack of a particular political opinion or any political opinion”, except “in relation to employment of a political nature.” The latter is spelt out and the EPMU is not covered.

However, the EPMU have not started disciplinary procedures because of Tan’s political beliefs. (Idiot Savant says “give him his job back”, but he hasn’t lost it yet.) The EPMU probably knew about Tan’s political beliefs before his placement on ACT’s list, but continued to employ him without prejudice it would seem.

They are concerned about his standing for office without permission, and that is a completely different matter. It would be possible, but unlikely, to stand for political office without any political beliefs whatsoever. Say for a dare.

Standing for office implies taking time off work. The EPMU want to be able as an employer to balance workloads. There is a contractual condition to ask for permission to stand as a candidate for this reason. Why didn’t Tan do this?

[Update: some reflections from Steve Pierson at The Standard.]


30 Responses to “Shawn Tan & the EPMU”

  1. roger nome Says:

    If it’s in the agreement then obviously Tan doesn’t have a leg to stand on. Obviously, working for a union he’g going to be fairly clued up on employment law,and will know this. To me it’s looking like he’s just trying to stir things up, perhaps give himself some free publicity to help with the launch of his campaign, and hit “the left” at the same time. A pretty cheap stunt really.

  2. barnsleybill Says:

    It has worked though hasn’t it eger? very bad look for the EPMU. More grist for the mill and certainly makes a complete mockery of their neutrality lie.

  3. Inventory2 Says:

    Bollocks roger nome – the EPMU’s own website says that an employer can’t discriminate on the grounds of political opinion, so the EPMU is hoist by its own petard.

  4. Redbaiter Says:

    I had hoped you would have been less politically partisan and more on the side of the employee Jafa. After all, if you turned the situation around, and found a guy had lost his job because he was standing for Labour, wouldn’t you try and protect him from being victimized?

    Yeah I know- you say quite cutely that the reason behind the suspension is that Mr. Tan did not inform them or ask their permission, and that this made it impossible for him to keep his job. Then Andrew Little says this-

    “Somebody who wants to seek public office for a party whose philosophies and policies and interests are directly contrary to the interests of the union’s members would obviously be foolish to say that that would not have a bearing on any application for approval.”

    Its therefore clear that Mr. Tan’s suspension is more related to his politics than any procedural matter. If you truly do care about the rights of workers, you should be defending him. Or is the EPMU just all about the Labour party, as many already claim? A sham as a true worker’s organisation and in reality only there to raise money and propagandize for the Labour party, or in other words, exploit workers.

    Incidentally, I have no problem with workers taking collective steps to improve their position, but I detest this apparently forced association with one political party. There’s no surety that Labour as a political force will make things better for workers. Often the contrary.

  5. Sam Says:

    No jafapete, there is no assumption that Mr Tan will be taking time off work. If Mr Tan can still do his job, then the EPMU don’t have a leg to stand on.

    They cannot require Mr Tan to ask permission. To stand for Parliament is a democratic right, and one they cannot seek to regulate.

    Simply, they cannot lawfully stop him from standing, and they cannot sack him for it.

  6. adamsmith1922 Says:


    Your view on this matter is a severe disappointment

  7. roger nome Says:

    Inventory2 – the guy hasn’t fulfilled the terms of his agreement with his employer (in which instance you would normally support the employer no?). Game over.

  8. roger nome Says:


    Say McDonald’s hired someone, then they found out that they took up another job, which entailed campaigning to have all fast-food regulated out of existence. In the agreement is a clause that states “before seeking another job you should seek approval from McDs management”.

    Would you support McDs then legally terminating the agreement? I would. I can’t believe this has even made it to the news.

    It’s an obvious publicity stunt. They guy knew that he had broken the terms of his agreement with the EPMU, and he knew that he would be fired as a result of this. What’s the big deal?

  9. dave Says:

    Pete, the reason Tan didnt ask for permission was because he was officially told that were he to do so it would be declined based on the party he intended standing for. And that’s illegal discrimination.

  10. roger nome Says:

    dave – care to provide proof of that claim?

  11. jafapete Says:

    Redbaiter, You’re wrong about that. It’s not a partisan viewpoint, just a reading of the law. That said, I think that employers should bend over backwards to allow people to participate in the political process, and the EPMU doesn’t appear to have made much effort to do this. They do have the option of alloowing him to stand and keep his job — if they choose.

    Further, if Andrew Little really said that then he is providing a prima facie case of discrimination on a prohibited ground it would seem. Pretty foolish for a lawyer to be doing that.

  12. roger nome Says:

    dave you don’t have any proof.

    The article merely claims that ….

    he said his supervisor told him he should resign if he was thinking about standing for Act when he first raised the subject.

    Even if we’re to to take Tan’s claim at face value (which i don’t) it doesn’t mean that his request would have been turned down on the basis of his political views. All it would mean is that for what ever reason, his request would have been turned down.

    In any case, Tan doesn’t have anything down in writing (he could be making it all up) meaning that he doesn’t have a legal leg to stand on.

    Game over…

  13. Inventory2 Says:

    roger nome – did you read the bit about him in NBR? When he was at varsity he was a lefty, believing all the idealistic stuff that the left-leaning academics filled his mind with. Then he went out and worked in the real world, and found out just what the reality of all the leftie stuff was. Maybe you need to get out in the real world too matey – too much time in ivory towers isn’t healthy 😉

  14. Swampy Says:

    Dear Mr Nome, you really do need to grow up. The EPMU claims that Tan’s political views (and those of Act’s) are contrary to the interests of its members. I would love to see the EPMU prove that in a court of law. They can’t because it is all political bollocks.

    Swampy, thanks for commenting. Please note though, that the deal on this blog is that you attack the ideas and not the person. There’s nothing that Nome has said that is immature and necessitates any “growing up” on his part. telling him to “grow up” simply detracts from whatever you are arguing anyway.

  15. jafapete Says:

    Taking another look at the NBR article, it does look as though the EPMU got it right in law. Some of the points raised above…

    Sam says “Simply, they cannot lawfully stop him from standing, and they cannot sack him for it.” I may be wrong, but I cannot recall that this is what the law says. I know that the Electoral Act provides that state servants must be placed on leave when they satnd for Parliament, but I don’t think that it requires private sector employers to allow employees time off to stand, in the way that jury service is covered, for example. So the law as I understand it does not require employers to allow employees time off, and they may therefore dismiss employees for taking time off to do so.

    This would appear to be the basis for the inclusion of the provision in the collective agreement. (Understandable in operational terms in the EPMU’s case, given the number of their staff with an active interest in politics.) The NBR article quotes Little as saying that “previous decisions had been made on the basis of workloads and availability.” Further, “Earlier this year an employee’s request to stand for the Labour party in local government was turned down.” (Last year, surely, unless it was a byelection?)

    And EPMU national secretary Andrew Little told NBR that Mr Tan’s desire to stand for Act would probably have been considered by the executive if he had applied.

    Inventory2 raises a “blue herring”. Tan’s conversion to the radical right is neither here nor there. But since he appears to be a recent appointment, one assumes that the EPMU either didn’t seek to find out his views on workers’ rights, despite the fact that he was employed to give advice to workers on their rights at work, or knew of his political leanings and didn’t care. Either that or Tan somehow maintains an affinity with ACt policies and a concern for workers’ rights, which would surely give rise to awesome levels of cognitive dissonance. Or, Tan is simply remarkably unstable, which is quite possible given his placing on the ACT Party list 🙂

    Finally, I can’t see in the NBR article the quote from Little that redbaiter uses, but perhaps he has another source. As I say above, this would be a foolish thing to say, as it appears to suggest that the EPMU would base their decision on the grounds of political opinion. If he said this — despite being a lawyer by training — then it would make for an interesting court case.

  16. roger nome Says:


    If you want to find the source of a quote, just paste the whole thing into google, and if it’s genuine, it will come up right away. In this case it was Newstalk ZB.

  17. Redbaiter Says:

    Well, whatever, will be interesting to see the outcomes. Can’t help but improve things for the Nats. Sure they haven’t replaced Crosby Textor with Karl Rove?

    PS- thanks for the emails. Very kind of you.

    Redbaiter, thanks for the link below. Very kind of you. I think that you’re right about the outcomes being interesting. My prediction would be that most of the punters voters, would see that, as Roger Nome has pointed out, it’s clearly a stunt. They’d ask, what the hell is an ACT candidate doing working for the EPMU? Oh, and I think you underestimate Crosby-Textor.

  18. Redbaiter Says:

    BTW, source of my information on what Mr. Little reportedly said:

  19. jon Says:

    This is a publicity stunt by ACT yet poor old Shawn Tan is too silly to realise he’s being used. Haven’t any of you people heard about a breakdown of trust and confidence in an employment relationship as a legitimate ground for dismissal? Mr Tan is employed by the union, which is a democratic organisation, where the policies and directions are decided by members. He doesn’t have the right to expect to continue to get paid by union members and yet stand for a party whose policies are contrary to everything unions believe. How can he promote the EPMU wage campaign for instance, when ACT’s policy is to “allow freedom of contract to make it easier to trial new workers and replace poor performers”…….

  20. The Standard 2.01: Reflections on Shawn Tan Says:

    […] Some excellent points from Jafapete, a dude who knows more than a little about employment […]

  21. RT Says:

    Shawn Tan was a useless idiot when he worked for SFWU and Finsec and did no better with EPMU. I wasn’t surprised when I heard he was with ACT.

    Shawn was never a socialist, just an incompetent little opportunist. Spent more time complaining instead of providing proper support or advocacy to members.

    Jim Bolger rocks.

  22. ernesto Says:

    Sorry Jafapete, but I think you are wrong. The issue will become what matters EPMU are properly permitted to take into account in making the decision as to whether Tan gets permission. If the permission is declined, Tan will stand anyway, face disciplinary action, and then argue that the nature of his (and ACT’s) political beliefs were erroneously taken into account in reaching the decision. Little’s comments will give strong support to that claim. I have no doubt that Little was experiencing a brain implosion when he made the comments.

    If the breach of contract is argued, Tan will claim that it was clear from Little’s comments that, if he did seek permission, his political views would ‘unlawfully’ be taken into account, depriving the process of ‘reasonableness’. Only way out now is for EPMU to let him campaign and work on.

    If breach of contract is argued – Tan wins based on Little’s comments. If permission to stand is refused – Tan still wins on Little’s comments.

    Tan has just pulled a classic Steve Crow. Win-Win and a shitload of free publicity to boot. ACC and EPMU should get together to start a support group for victims of free-publicity-whores.

  23. jafapete Says:


    I don’t think that what you say is that far from my own analysis.

    The EPMU have to argue breach of contract of some sort on Tan’s part — otherwise they’re the ones who have breached the contract, possibly breaking the law as well.

    I have said elsewhere that Little’s reported comments to Newstalk ZB give me pause for thought. This is because they do, on the face of it, provide support for Tan’s allegations of discrimination on the grounds of political opinion. But they sounded hypothetical, and there has to be a strong possibility that they have been taken out of context, that Little garbled his thoughts, or there was a leading hypothetical question, or some combination or permutation of these possibilities. Apart from anything else, Little is a lawyer by training and must know better.

    Sure, if I were Tan’s lawyer I’d be making great play of Little’s comments in court. But we should wait to see what the counter-arguments are before *we* start determining the outcome, should it get to court. It’s the Authority member’s or judge’s decison to make, after hearing all the evidence and arguments.

    I have held off making any comment about how the affair has been handled. This is partly because I have a great deal of respect for the EPMU, which is easily one of the most strategically minded and professional unions in NZ, and which plays a very positive role in many areas such as industry training and health & safety. But it is hard to avoid the impression that it has not handled this affair very well.

  24. dave Says:

    ..which means your respect for the EPMU is dwindling, as it should. And the view that Ernesto and myself have taken appear to be, on the surface, a closer summary of what happened. Notwithstanding contractual obligations, Little’s reported comments indicate the decision making process of the EPMU with regard to such matters and they appear to be clearly at odds with the Human Rights Act. An employer who breaches the Human Rights Act should not be able to protest a subsequent decision of one of their employees to breach contract. Instead, it would have been better acting along the lines of Chris Trotters comments.

    Little’s reported comments, if he did say so in the context I think he did, have a great bearing in this.

  25. Lee C Says:

    As no one reads monkeyswithtypewriters, I shall,(with your indulgence JP) record my observations here:
    I have mixed feelings about the decision by the EPMU to suspend Shaun Tan because he is standing as an MP for the ACT Party.
    When Don Pryde announced he would stand for Dunedin South, I thought it was a good thing, but when Clare Curren stood I did not, based on my own feelings about their experience and capabilities. But I did not base those judgements on the choice of Party they stood for, regardless of how or where I might agree or disagree with their agendas.
    In response to accusations that I had jumped to baseless conclusions about the Tan situation, I did a little research and came up with sentiments such as:

    “You also forget the Clare Curran was the PR force behind the EPMU’s fair share campaign and still has very good links with the movement. Anyone who knew anything about how Labour and the unions work would know that Curran would have had the EPMU’s backing if her candidacy was serious.” (Tane – kiwiblog 30th october 2007)

    ” … see EPMU President Don Pryde has thrown his hat in the ring for the Dunedin South seat and has the full backing of his union. ” (Irish Bill The Standard Oct. 30th 2007)

    “Asked about whether he had discussed supporting Mr Pryde with party president Mike Williams, Mr Little said he had met to talk about the party rejuvenation in general and spoke on the need for new candidates.” (Herald Oct 31st, 2007)

    All endorsed in the Standard, Herald and kiwiblog, by ‘friends’ of the EPMU.

    On the other hand it is that case that Andrew Little has indicated that when he goes for Labour Party President/PM job(?) he would ’step down’ from the EPMU.

    Now, here come some of those mixed feelings. Firstly Shawn Tan sounds like a flake. A likeable flake, but a flake all the same. I would have to say that he is up there with Curren proving enough experience to do the job of MP. But, in both cases I stand to be corrected.
    Secondly, I recently posted on the EPMU ‘Ticklist’. As I then wrote:
    “These calls to protect workers’ rights are laudable, I personally would endorse and support the following: “Wages Policy”, “A meaningful right to be in a union”, “Right to be treated fairly and with dignity”, “Right to a safe and healthy workplace”, “Decent minimum entitlements”, “Committment to ongoing training and learning”. ”

    The ‘Right to be Treated Fairly and with Dignity’? It may be the case that Tan, on the merits of his own tenure and in the way that he has dealt with this, is basically exploiting the EPMU at the behest of his new best mates, The ACT Party. Or he might just be a bit dim. But the EPMU here is compromised, and has acted in a way that embarrasses them.

    On one hand, The EPMU is dedicated to protecting the ‘Right to be Treated Fairly and with Dignity’, but on the other, is acting like a dictatorial and high-handed employer, bullying a lowly employee. The EPMU may suggest they have a worker’s contract, but this contract should not be employed as an excuse to waive Tan’s Rights under BoRA should it?

    After all the cant about how John Key will ‘threaten workers’ rights’, and the recent EPMU rallies, is it not now a little strange to witness the EPMU acting like the kinds of capitalist bullies they were set up to oppose? Or has their proximity to the Government sent them into Lord Acton’s famous downward spiral?

    Final mixed feeling. As much as I would probably wish to ‘suspend’ Tan myself, were I in the EPMU’s shoes, that does not mean that I should be able to. The EPMU appear to be a ‘Law unto themselves’. They ‘warmly endorse’ candidates who stand for Labour, but drum the poor sap who stands for ACT out of his job?

    Suspending Tan was a stupid reaction, borne of the above-mentioned arrogance that comes with thinking they are the supreme moral arbiters of what constitutes ‘worker’s rights’. Is Tan being treated ‘fairly and with dignity’ by the EPMU?

    You decide.

    Hi Lee, Reasoned comment is always welcome here. You forgot to link to your own blog, should anybody feel like adding a comment on the original post: Might just do that myself.

  26. roger nome Says:

    Dave and Ernesto – you’re placing your whole opinion on an off-the-cuff comment. Where’s the paper record that Tan presumably (if he has any hope of mounting a successful case) collected prior to his suspension? That’s what the Authority will want … and as the article says, such cases have a high threshold…

    Unless Tan has something solid it’s not going anywhere. Until then you’re all just barking prematurely … and to no end …

  27. Clint Heine Says:

    Er Jon, I’d love to be enlightened on the anti worker policies of ACT. Can you refresh my memory on how evil ACT is for workers? Or is it ACT is evil to unions?

    I am gagging to find out Jon. 🙂

    But Clint, even if Jon could get past your never intermitting belief in the omnipotence of the free market, wouldn’t it be too late to save you?

  28. I/S re Act vs EPMU vis a vis Tan « The Dim-Post Says:

    […] to a particularly unseemly display of this, as left-wing bloggers who should know better have lined up to defend the right of bad employers to victimise their employees if they dare to run for election […]

  29. Billy Says:

    So, Roge, you want an employment law which says that all of the rights and responsibilities of the employee are set out in the employment agreement? You want something more right wing than the Employment Contracts Act, then.

    Billy, I can’t follow your reasoning. Presumably you mean that the implication of Nome’s arguments is that all those areas currently covered by statutory and implied terms and conditions should be negotiated and treated as express terms. I don’t take that from what Nome says.

  30. Jafapete’s Weblog Says:

    […] has been sacked by his employer, the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union. (Previous posts here, here, here, here, and […]

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