27 Aug 2009

Minister under pressure to clarify meeting cancellation

6:18 pm on 27 August 2009

The Minister of Labour is being called upon to clarify why she cancelled a meeting with the National Distribution Union earlier this week.

The opposition Labour Party is questioning the version of events being offered up by Kate Wilkinson, saying it is the second time the minister has cancelled a meeting with the union.

Ms Wilkinson insists it was a merely a clash of timetables, but a message left on the union's answerphone tells a different story, Radio New Zealand's parliamentary chief reporter says.

Ms Wilkinson was due to meet with the NDU on Wednesday. However, the union received a phone message from a member of her staff cancelling the meeting.

The message said that the ongoing strike by Telecom engineers, who are protesting a move to make some workers owner-operators, made the meeting too risky for the minister.

But Ms Wilkinson says she had a more pressing meeting to attend and that the phone message was a result of confusion from within her office.

Ms Wilkinson says she supports her staff and takes full responsibility for that confusion. She insists the cancellation had nothing to do with the Telecom strike.

But Labour MP Trevor Mallard says it is clear from the answerphone message that the reason for cancelling was political - not a matter of timetable clashes.

"This was about a strike that had been on two days earlier and with another union ... It is the second time she has pulled out of a meeting with the NDU at the last minute and frankly, it's just not an acceptable way for a minister to behave."

The National Distribution Union says it is entirely inappropriate for a minister to refuse to meet a group of workers under these circumstances.

The union is calling on Prime Minister John Key to clarify whether this will set a precedent for his ministers in the future.