Posts by Bruce Hamilton

  • Hard News: Anatomy of a Shambles,

    The curious can find guideline on the criteria for employee or contractors at the ERS.

    http://www.ers.dol.govt.nz/relationships/employee.html

    Wellington • Since May 2010 • 7 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: Anatomy of a Shambles,

    The Bryson case failed because he met criteria for an employee, especially his need to be trained at his employer's expense, whereas most contractors ( service providers ) are trained/skilled at their own expense - even if it's from previous employment experience.

    The courts have a defined set of criteria to find the true nature of employment/contractor relationships, and it's likely that laws will be changed to recognise the atypical nature of the relationship historically used in this industry.

    IIRC, there already are a couple of industry exemptions, but I'm not sure whether they cover the true nature of the relationship, or some other reason.

    EDIt : Sharemilkers and Real Estate agents were the examples I was trying to recall.

    Wellington • Since May 2010 • 7 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: Anatomy of a Shambles,

    Pat,

    Oner answer I've read to your question 4 ( MEAA administration fee for delivery of residuals ) is 12 - 15%.

    That means union member receive $85 - $88 whenever contractors entitled to the same residuals receive $100, and that's over and above the additional costs of union joining fee and annual membership fee.

    My suggestion would be to remove all of these payments out of the avaricious paws of unions and agents, and pay them direct to workers via an independent, govt, or specialist agency. Perhaps then we could see how much MEAA(NZ) really care about the terms and conditions of NZ actors.

    Make no mistake, these WB executives are charged with producing films on time and at optimal cost-effectiveness - their bonuses and jobs depend on those objectives. They will want to be certain they achieve the best outcome, and it's not clear NZ can now provide that.

    I hope "smile and wave" can broker a deal, but it's surely touch and go with other willing hosts around, recent boycott, and the changed $NZ/$US rate - as I suspect there was limited forward cover taken.

    Wellington • Since May 2010 • 7 posts Report Reply

  • Hard News: Anatomy of a Shambles,

    Dean,

    If you had read the link provided by Russell, you would know that the Bryson case background was unusual, and...

    " even the [ Employment Court ] Judge emphasised that her decision was based solely on the individual circumstances of Mr Bryson’s employment and was not to be regarded as affecting the status of any other employee in the film industry.”

    That case would not be good grounds for prosecuting change. It's main effect was to ensure companies made the actual relationship clear, whether as an employee or contractor.

    Wellington • Since May 2010 • 7 posts Report Reply

  • Speaker: Seeking Better Science,

    "You make good arguments. The problem I have is that those are the same arguments that were made 20 years ago when we shifted from a model of “keeping scientists off the streets” to a model of funding projects that bean counters believed would result in “benefit to New Zealand” ie almost always measured as money."

    The CRI implementation was because major clients told the govt that expenditure was not responsive to their needs. The more vociferous included other govt depts, ( such as Police and Energy ), and the agricultural industry. The competitive funding model was trialled internally in parts of the DSIR before CRI formation.

    The purpose was to make science relevant to customer needs, the failure is because the customer doesn't prescribe the needs ( the provider converts their needs to chargeable use of uncommitted research capability ), and the whole bureaucracy became large and parasitic.

    "Your implication that scientists kept off the streets are unproductive is not supported by fact and really is simply an insult to the people and work that led to those same products lauded in the government’s latest paper on science.."

    Your misinterpretation isn't my problem.. What part of " I do some work with IRL, and they have imported and/or recruited locally some of the most capable and dedicated scientists I've ever worked with." aligns with your interpretation?

    On FTE costs...
    " Most firms don’t factor in the cost of their administrative and senior management teams. "

    Of course they do, both government and commercial research providers do not cross-subsidise internally unless they have a special relationship with the client, and research is offered as a subsidised support service. Some firms may put internal R&D as part of the overhead, but that's clearly not what I was discussing.

    On definitions...
    "As an aside I think we are describing top talent slightly differently. from listening to Professor Gluckman and my own experience the top talent referred to are the really exceptional people. In any field there may be a dozen worldwide."

    This funding is to help NZ industry, not build world-leading science, such as the CoRE programme. That's a different part of the $1.2 billion of hard-earned taxpayer bikkies.

    However, I'd suggest that CRIs have plenty of people who can help invigorate NZ industry, as well as tackle the critical national strategic priorities - if only a govt bureaucrat would clearly specify and fund the programme and assign competent principal contractors.

    On timelines...
    " Taxpayers need good value from their investment, but if you get bad value by demanding a product in 10 years and you get good value by accepting that many projects reveal their value in 20-50 years then, as many many countries have proven, it is much better value to the taxpayers to fund long term science."

    Really?. Which countries, which projects?. BRIC seem to have grown by using tariff barriers and appropriation of others' IP. I don't think that I expected NZ taxpayers to all die at 10 years when I suggested rewards within their lifetime. A decade is a good progress review time, as the world changes and 80% are going to under-perform or fail anyway.

    On CRI charging rates..
    "I hate that fact but I can’t change the accounting that turns my salary plus bench costs into that number. Pretending it shouldn’t be that high doesn’t help anyone."

    CRIs are now a distress purchase for many commercial entities, because it's easier, cheaper, and quicker to purchase relevant overseas research. The use of over-qualified scientists as technicians in some CRIs doesn't help. If they aren't competitive globally, why should industry use them?.

    My employer is a company with several relatively expensive ($100K+) toys and expensive consumables. We are also bench researchers. Our total overhead costs ( excluding salary ) are ~$70K per FTE. I'd be surprised if the overheads of similar-sized private research providers were much higher.

    On the allocation of the money...
    " yet more transfer of government investment from discovery and idea generating science into product development."

    NZ can not afford to wait decades, this funding is intended to kickstart introduction of R&D back into companies to help them compete and grow. It probably won't work, but that will be because the merged MoRST/FoRST entity will pervert the intent and process, not because NZ research entities can not assist.

    Perhaps this is offensive, but the message I got from your post was that only certain classes of scientists can lead a major recovery, and money should go to them. I disagree.

    Somebody once said, " When being chased by a lion, it's not necessary to be the fastest runner, just quicker than the slowest". That's the case here - NZ needs to compete on the world stage, not lead the world.

    Wellington • Since May 2010 • 7 posts Report Reply

  • Speaker: Seeking Better Science,

    I never said CRIs were paying million dollar salaries, I said we don't have too, because we have been able to attract good quality scientists.

    The old recruitment system targeted fresh, bright graduates, hired them for a year or two, and then funded their PhD or post-Doc at a overseas univeristy that excelled in a discipline that would be useful to NZ. They were bonded for a few years on their return, which enabled the IP to be transferred before they moved on. Some are still leading major CRI programmes.

    The CRIs decided to abandon that system because a few candidates didn't honour their bond, and they believed NZ universities could deliver similar people. They didn't, hence the current problem, and the solution of overseas recruitment - note that NZ graduates do apply, but don't make the cut - whose problem is that?. It's not the CRI's.

    One small research firm that exports all products had approx. 300 applications ( mainly from overseas ) for a PhD researcher with relevant experience. The salary offered to the final candidate was probably a little more than the equivalent CRI salary.

    With applicants' permission, several CVs were forwarded to a CRI with similar positions available, and I think two were hired. Last time I talked to senior managers, they are both regarded as invaluable acquistions.

    I can't comment on NIWA, but the departure of people like Lowe and Manning in their climate science programme implies a corrosive environment, possibly management belief in lowest salary for each inflated-value FTE charged to customers ( whether crown or commercial ) generates maximum management bonuses.

    I do some work with IRL, and they have imported and/or recruited locally some of the most capable and dedicated scientists I've ever worked with.

    If you believe the $250,000+ is "what it costs to do the science", you clearly believe a factor of 3 - 5 is a valid research cost, it's not. That's why many NZ firms have moved away from CRIs for research.

    Most firms I've worked for, or have been associated with, have factors of 1.5 - 3, even when expensive equipment is used. Factors of 3 - 5+ are more typical of high-thoughput QC and production laboratories, who usually also pay technician wages.

    CRIs have duplicated expensive management and commercialisation departments, and created expensive corporate infrastructures because that was the expectation of their owners and boards.

    Most importantly, the bidding system has failed to address NZ industry and government strategic research requirements, hence the change.

    Will it work?. I doubt it, but that's partly attributable to factors such as company managers who see research as a distress purchase, and Ministry staff who refuse to define and long term fund national strategy.

    Wellington • Since May 2010 • 7 posts Report Reply

  • Speaker: Seeking Better Science,

    The change in funding is because the existing system has not delivered for NZ. About $2.1 billion is spent annually in NZ on R&D, of which the government spends about $1.2 billion.

    Taxpayers need to obtain good value from that investment, preferably in their lifetime. Funding scientists to keep them off the street to stop them being mugged by, or mugging, little old ladies, is no longer a national imperative, as NZ imports scientists on an "as required" basis.

    Many of the top scientists I've met have come to NZ for lifestyle + career, often decades ago, but some even in the last few years. We don't have to pay million dollar salaries.

    The govt is aware that converting fundamental to commercial industry is usually on timescales of decades ( eg IRL's Superconductivity and Supercritical programmes ). Hence the focus on firms that already perform R&D. The government hopes that such experienced companies will generate commercial revenues/jobs quicker than new players.

    Given that most NZ industries regard R&D as a distress purchase, rather than strategic, then offering "free lollies" may appeal to corporate bean counters. Also, companies tend to bring innovation to the market ASAP to maximise returns from the sunk investment.

    As a patent is limited life, it should generate some returns to the owner ASAP. A patent represents a sunk cost, and should be generating revenue ASAP ( even if only by excluding competitors ), if not, why not?. Last time I looked, Auckland Uniservices and IRL had more granted and sealed patents than Fonterra.

    The companies that innovate, F&P, Fonterra, Gallagher Group, F&P, etc. have clear expectations of the timelines for returns, whereas Universities and CRIs hoped to license their IP to NZ companies, but often it's been to offshore entities.

    If CRI researchers are costed at $250,000+ pa, it's little wonder NZ industries aren't rushing to them - especially as most CRI researchers don't understand industrial R&D imperatives. The proposal is to help the NZ companies overcome the cost barrier, rather than wait until it's a distress purchase. Hopefully the managers and bean counters will learn that strategic planning can be very rewarding to the business.

    The recent IRL competition " What's Your Problem NZ?", discovered many NZ businesses ( large, medium, and small ) could usefully use $1 million of "free" access to CRI scientists, as their bean counters saw shared risks for sole benefit.

    Shaun Hendy's "A measure of science" blog at sciblogs has been discussing options to improve our research productivity.

    The Marsden fund serves a totally different function, and if the government doesn't want to fund more of such research currently because of the national finances, that may be a rational political decision.

    Wellington • Since May 2010 • 7 posts Report Reply