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Issued by Dr Morgan Wairiu this morning in Honiara

USP’s Executive Director for People and Workforce Strategy, Mr Jone Nemani has written to the Fiji Sun commenting on Saturday’s story about the treatment of Dr Morgan Wairiu. He claims that Dr Wairiu did not properly notify the University of his intent to resign. Yet, as the story indicated, Dr Wairiu did not resign! He decided not to accept the offer of a new contract. On December 16 he informed his supervisor who in turn sent Dr Wairiu’s original email to Mr Nemani on the same day. This is standard procedure at USP.  On 17th December Mr Nemani wrote to say that he was not satisfied with the letter of resignation because it had not been addressed to him personally. On 21st December Dr Wairiu confirmed in writing that he would not be renewing his contract if an offer of renewal was made.

What is astonishing about Mr Nemani’s attack on Dr Wairiu is that the University didn’t actually write to Dr Wairiu until 22nd December 2020 with an offer to extend his contract. This was the day after Dr Wairiu had written to Mr Nemani to say that he would not accept any new offer. The University’s “Renewal of Contract” policy says that “Generally a decision to renew a contract for a second or subsequent period of three years is made relatively early in a contract (at the 18 month point)”. The long delay by the University in making an offer of contract renewal to Dr Wairiu was a serious breach of the University’s own policies and left Dr Wairiu “in the lurch” about his future position at USP and in jeopardy of not having a valid work permit, but Mr Nemani harps on that it is Dr Wairiu who has left the University “in the lurch”. Perhaps Mr Nemani needs to take a course in Human Resource Ethics!

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Dr Wairiu was left in the impossible position of having 30 days of earned leave owing to him, which in all other cases, the University has insisted staff must take before they end their employment and couldn’t be paid out. Understandably he applied to take this leave which his supervisor approved. That would have left him with 5 days before the end date of his contract. However, he needed to return to Solomon Islands because of the impending expiry date of his visa and the lack of any income to support him and his family in Fiji. Repatriation flights are few and far between so on 4th January 2021, Dr Wairiu wrote to the Vice Chancellor and President (VCP) Professor Pal Ahluwalia to request approval for 5 days leave without pay to allow him to join one of the rare repatriation flights from Fiji to Solomon Islands on 9 January 2021.  The Solomon Island’s government have made it clear that further flights in the coming months will be unlikely because of the Covid-19 situation. Dr Wairiu and his family did not want to be stranded in Fiji after his work permit ended.  The Vice Chancellor instead approved a 3-months’ notice waiver and claimed Dr Wairiu was terminating his contract early and therefore would lose any benefits owing to him.

Both the Vice Chancellor and Mr Nemani falsely claimed in emails to around 600 staff of the University that Dr Wairiu left “in the lurch” to take up another job offer. This was untrue but it was also an astonishing breach of any conceivable professional and ethical standard.  As an employer, USP should not be copying over 600 people into emails which contain falsehoods about one of its employees. Now these untruths from Ahluwalia and Nemani are circulating on social media. Nemani then tops it off by again breaching confidentiality and repeating these falsehoods in letters to the newspapers.

All this was in respect of Dr Wairiu’s substantive position as Deputy Director of the University’s Pacific Centre for Sustainable Development. Yet, he had also been the acting Director of this unit for the last one and half years. This acting role was also coming to an end on 31st December 2020. Despite constant reminders from Dr Wairiu and his Supervisor to the Vice Chancellor and the Director of HR, there had been no indication that Dr Wairiu’s contract as acting Director would be renewed.

In Dr Wairiu’s many communications to HR and VC Ahluwalia, he has raised the issue of how he was being bullied and frustrated by the previous PACE-SD Director who had been seconded to another full-time position, but continued to interfere in the running of PACE-SD. Dr Wairiu’s emails and formal allegations were not pursued by the University, despite clear procedures for dealing with such matters. Were Nemani and Ahluwalia protecting the previous Director because of her open support for the VC? Should we be surprised that she has been immediately put back into the role of Director even though her salary is half funded by the University of Bergen in Norway to do an entirely different job??

Dr Wairiu would have been happy to stay on at USP, in support of the Climate Change and Environment work in the region, for the sake of students and staff with whom he had an excellent rapport. However, when the actions of the VC and his Director of HR began to impinge on his career, output and health he decided that enough was enough. The actions taken by Ahluwalia and Nemani, as well as the follow-up falsehoods they have spread in the media and in communications to staff of the University, are yet further examples of the vindictiveness we have come to see in the past two years from the current Management of USP. When is the USP Council going to come to its senses and see what is going on under its nose? Unfortunately, the treatment of Dr Wairiu appears to be typical of what USP has become during Ahluwalia’s time as VC.

What you think?

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