PSA advice to DHB sector members for the 2016 District Health Board elections

DHB employees, as state servants, are subject to the State Services Commissioner’s guidance on political neutrality.

This guidance is clear that state servants have the right to be politically active (as individuals and through their union) and must balance this with a responsibility to maintain political neutrality and not bring the employer into disrepute. In general, this is relatively easy to manage through clear mutual understanding of the parameters of political neutrality and through good communications between the union member and management.

Each DHB has its own policy on conduct, and on managing things such as conflict of interest, so members must be familiar with what it says. The PSA expects that DHB policies will be fully consistent with SSC guidance and will not seek to place further limitations on the political activities of staff.

Can I stand as a candidate and do I have to take leave?

The New Zealand Public Health and Disability Act 2000 (section 7, Schedule 2) is clear that employees may stand for election to the DHB.

There is no statutory requirement for a stand-down period of leave before the election, but you should refer to internal policies governing this situation and also discuss the situation with your manager, in terms of avoiding or managing any conflict associated with standing.

How can I manage a possible conflict of interest?

You should:

  • Declare your employment by the DHB when applying as a candidate;
  • Let the employer know about the candidacy as early as possible – on a ‘no surprises’ basis – so that any conflict can be managed appropriately;
  • Not campaign in a way that attempts to draw credibility for the candidacy through your employee role.

The nature of your DHB employee role is relevant to managing any possible conflict: for example, whether the employee is a health professional “in the field” is less likely to attract potential conflict (and conflict management) issues than if the candidate is employed in a role directly related to the governance and decision-making within the DHB. If a role is close to the decision-making or governance function (e.g. senior management in the DHB), it may not be manageable. If the conflict is manageable, both the Board and the employer will need to create and agree a management plan.

What if I am elected to the DHB?

Generally, you can remain as an employee, and you and the employer will have to agree a plan for managing your governance role alongside your employee role. There are a number of DHBs where this has been done, so it is possible, and Board duties undertaken by employees are generally accommodated.

Again, if your role as an employee is close to the decision-making or governance function, the conflict may not be manageable.

Practical things to consider include:

  • Agreeing how you will meet your DHB performance expectations in undertaking both roles, in practice, and at an early stage;
  • The employee and employer will need to decide terms, that include taking time out for Board meetings. We would expect the DHB to be flexible around Board commitments and to give employees every opportunity to participate as a Board member. The Ministry of Health advises that 30 days per year, plus the time on Committees, is the minimum expectation for Board members so it is a significant commitment;
  • Board members are paid fees under the fees framework. The expectation from an integrity perspective is that State servants do not get paid twice for services performed. If an employee is given time during work hours to attend Board meetings or conduct Board business, they should not seek fees. However, if the Board work is undertaken in the employee’s own time (e.g. if an employee takes leave without pay to undertake Board business), the employee can claim the fees.

Further information

Information about the upcoming DHB Board elections on the Ministry of Health website, including information for candidates. This information includes guidelines for conflicts of interest for DHB employees.

The State Service Commissioner’s guidance on politically neutrality.

Get in touch with the PSA Organising Centre on 0508 367 772 for advice, or talk to your PSA organiser.