Government sends IRC to Parramatta

It’s official, the NSW IRC will be moving to 10 Smith Street Parramatta later this year or early next year.  The lease is signed. 

The writing was on the wall for the future of the IRC when the Government split the Industrial Court from the Industrial Relations Commission structure and sent it to the Supreme Court in December 2016.  It was just a matter of time.

Early this year the news leaked out that the Government was planning to evict the IRC from their magnificent Bridge Street sandstone building.  The PSA, the union covering employees of the state government filed a dispute and all unions which participate in the New South Wales system intervened, including us.  It was, as is the tendency of this Government, cloaked in secrecy, not discussed with those affected, whether they be the employees of the IRC including the Commissioners, nor the various parties who appear in the Commission every day.
 
UnionsNSW coordinated the unions’ opposition and the move was universally opposed by employer organisations (including LGNSW), the Law Society on behalf of solicitors and the Bar Association on behalf of barristers.  Initially it was impossible to find who had actually made the decision, so was hard to know what Minister to see.  Regardless, at no stage was a credible argument put to justify the move.

The best the Government had was that this was part of their strategy of moving public servants out of the CBD.  Nonsense really, considering that there are 10 employees of the Industrial Relations Commission and five Commissioners - two of whom, Commissioner Newall and Commissioner Seymour, have voted with their feet and resigned rather than go to Parramatta. 

Last week the Treasurer/IR Minister Dominic Perrottet argued the relocation “will be a huge boost for the area that will help grow the local economy, create new jobs and reduce congestion in the Sydney CBD”.  BS, really.

Premier Gladys admires IR Minister talking through his hat
 
The Government didn’t consult with the members of the Commission and following the resignation of the two Commissioners, Treasury set a recruitment process in train without any discussion with the remaining members of the Commission.  What would Treasury know?

It’s really that the Government can flog off a nice long lucrative lease of this magnificent building to greedy rapacious developers.  A disgrace.

And a disgrace made worse by the clear implication that this is all happening because the Premier hates the IRC.  While she hates it, she still likes to control it because she could cede the state’s industrial relations powers to Fair Work, but she wants to keep a hamstrung IRC, operating under the restrictions of a Public Sector Pay Policy set by the Government, so she can enforce the dreaded 2.5% limit. 

We may find ourselves in an unusual position

In the July 2017 issue we called for responses on what could be done to keep councillors out of development assessment.  We’ve gone on and on and on for decades about protecting senior staff (check out “Who’d want to be a GM in local government?” written in January 2013) but something needs to be done now.  What should that be?

Send your suggestions to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., but do it quickly.

Former Canterbury demonstrates to ICAC why councillors should be removed from development assessment

Here we go again.  As if anyone needed it, the ICAC this time last week started to eviscerate the corpse of the former Canterbury Council and show why councillors should have nothing to do with development assessment.  Public hearings are examining planning decisions between 2013 and 2016, the activities of former Liberal Canterbury councillor Michael Hawatt and former ALP councillor Pierre Azzi, former GM Jim Montague, and the appointment of Spiro Stavis as Director of Planning.

It all hit the fan after the resignation of the highly regarded Marcello Occhiuzzi in late 2015, having had enough of aggressive pressure from the Hawatt/Azzi alliance and the GM wanting planning decisions that didn’t comply with the planning instruments.  The GM bowed to pressure from councillors and allowed the main players on the interview panel.  Montague’s evidence has been that the councillors tried to blackmail him, sack him at a Council meeting over Xmas/New Year, and bribe him with inducements of handsome retirement benefits and/or a continuing consulting role after the 2016 mergers, on his existing salary.
 
Former Mayor Bryan Robson gave evidence to the Commission of a meeting of ALP players where the former Premier Morris Iemma described Azzi as a “f---wit” , after Azzi had told him he had emailed the GM telling him he would be sacked if he didn’t keep Stavis in the job, and offered financial inducements.  Iemma had asked, “how stupid is he?”  Quite stupid, clearly.

The evidence reveals an obsession with development at all costs, rejecting of the recommendations of planning staff and producing the horror which is now Canterbury Road.

The Commission is also investigating decisions of Stavis as Planning Director.

It’s people like this lot that make it uncomfortable for decent human beings working for the public good in planning, building and environmental protection. 

It’s like living in a television satire of greedy and corrupt councillors, a manipulated GM, an inappropriate and biased recruitment process, all set amongst dreadful developments with additional floors, increases in floor space ratio, a questionable sale of land...

There are two big issues here for us. 

The first, is the legislative framework which allows senior staff to be employed on term contracts which can be terminated with no avenue of redress or review.  GMs, as we saw demonstrated graphically following the 2013 local government elections, can be sacked by a newly elected council without explanation, without recourse or review.  The GM is the most vulnerable of Council employees.
 
There are no employment protections for the GM and senior staff - being expressly excluded by section 340 of the Industrial Relations Act from access to the IRC.  The 1993 Local Government Act was based upon how things operated in the State but in recent years most SES positions have been transitioned from term appointments to permanent, and for those which aren’t, any decision by an Authority to sack “for any other reason” requires a written report from that Authority justifying the decision to the Public Service Commission.  This is a test Mid-Western would have failed in 2015 and the former Canterbury would have failed here.

The second is allowing elected councillors - unqualified, often incapable of being impartial and with a demonstrated propensity to look after mates - to be involved in any way with a development application.  We dealt with this in depaNews in July 2017 under the heading “Enough is enough - it’s time to cut councillors out of development assessment”.
 
By coincidence,  on the following day the NSW Government announced the removal of major developments from councils and place them in the hands of planning panels, claimed to be independent but invariably containing elected representatives who, as we have seen, do struggle to understand the big picture.

Something has to be done.

Electoral Commission declares 2018 depa elections

Aren’t we lucky we don’t live in Gotham City.  While many of us have probably seen equally evil candidates having a run for federal, state or particularly, local government spots, we never quite get down to the kind of threats the Joker made standing as Governor*.  Still, vote for me or I’ll kill you is a nice change from jobs and growth.

But we’re all civilised people and when depa has an election, just conducted by the State Electoral Commission, things are much more polite and far less threatening.

At midday today nominations closed and the Electoral Commission has just declared elected all candidates who nominated for the ten vacancies.  Here is the Electoral Commission's Declaration of Poll. Eight of the current officers of the union (as they are described in the Industrial Relations Act) stood for election, so there were two vacancies to fill.

Elections are held every two years for the position of President, the two positions of Vice President and six members of the Committee of Management and every four years for the position of Secretary.  This year was the four yearly cycle so I’m pretty excited to be elected for four more years of pursuing the tyrants, the bullies and those who don’t do the right thing by our members.  Thank you all.

President Jo Doheny was elected unopposed.  Jo had been appointed by the Committee of Management to fill the casual vacancy created by Andrew Spooner’s resignation back in October and now is elected in her own right.  In her nomination, Jo wants to increase our membership and maintain good management practices and said “the union has demonstrated a history of sound advocacy for the members that I will seek to continue in a professional manner and a further the objectives of the union.”  Jo is Senior Strategic Contributions Planner at Central Coast Council and long-standing delegate and member of the Consultative Committee.

The current Vice Presidents, Joanne Dunkerley and Jamie loader nominated and were re-elected.  Joanne wants to “ensure the continued growth and success of the Association” and Jamie is “extremely proud of the role that depa plays within the industrial framework of Local Government and our reputation, whilst hard-earned, speaks for itself.  If we are involved, there is a fight to be fought”.  Joanne is an Urban Planner at Newcastle City and Jamie is Unit Manager Environment and Certification at Central Coast.

Four current members of the Committee of Management were re-elected to those positions:

Steven Cook continues his strong connection to regional New South Wales and wants to “continue to help contribute to the strategic operation of the union and achieving positive outcomes for the benefit of the whole membership.  Having lived with cancer for the past five years, I also believe that I bring a unique insight to the Committee, as an individual balancing a serious medical condition with full-time work.”  Steven is Senior Town Planner at Wagga Wagga Wagga City, our delegate and Chair of the Consultative Committee.

Vince Galletto has a “deep conviction in preserving the rights and benefits of all local government employees and fines great purpose in the role of committee member of depa as a keeps me up to date with all the current industrial issues and challenges that face local government and further provides with the ability to participate and represent my fellow members and all award negotiations.”  Vince is the Acting Manager Assessment at City of Ryde and the Chair of the Consultative Committee.

Renah Givney has been involved in a huge restructure and the negotiation of an enterprise agreement and wants to continue “to see firsthand the important role that depa plays in supporting members in the workplace and providing constructive and effective input into the local government industry.” Renah is a Senior Development Assessment Officer at Coffs Harbour City and our delegate.

Brendan Hayes, like Vince with more than 30 years as a depa member, wants “to be part of a leadership group that strives for workplaces that are fair, appropriate and reasonable and reflect this in its policy development and approach and dealings with all industrial matters.”  Brendan is Director - Environmental Services at Weddin Shire and a long-serving delegate and member of consultative committees. He is also the President of EDAP.

The two vacant positions as members of the Committee have been filled by (in alphabetical order) Andrew Magee and Shona Porter.

Andrew MacGee

Andrew MacGee says depa “is the voice of environmental health, building and town planning staff in councils throughout New South Wales and performs an invaluable service for those staff as it keeps management honest and operating in accordance with the Award”.  He is “keen to assist in ensuring that the Association remains a vital and relevant force into the future for the benefit of all members - current and upcoming”.  Andrew is Coordinator Planning Engagement at Campbelltown City, has been our delegate for more than a decade and is Chair of the Consultative Committee.

Shona Porter

Shona says “depa provides value for members in providing professional and capable advice and would like to be elected on the committee to increase my knowledge of employment related issues so that I can better represent my fellow colleagues/depa members.”  Shona is a Senior Planner at Canterbury-Bankstown Council (previously at the former Canterbury, when she first became our delegate) and is another member who has had vigorous experience of the merger process.

You can see the full policy statements of all the candidates here.

The new Committee takes office from 1 May 2018 and will be a great combination of experience and enthusiasm to guide and manage depa for the next two years.
                     _______________________________

*The unconventional slogan embraced by the Joker was featured in DC comics “Some Enchanted Evening” in July 2005.  And, as you always when all you really want is an interesting picture, you end up with some bizarre trivia. It was this issue where it was revealed that Batman’s costume is not only fully insulated, “the costume is likewise equipped with a durable codpiece for protection against embarrassing low-blows”. Keep that in mind for the next pub or school trivia night.

Clearly, this issue of depaNews has something for everyone.

2018 depa elections – lucky Lord Buckethead isn’t a member

 

The NSW Electoral Office has established a timetable for our elections this year.  They will post notices to all financial members on Monday 12 March and nominations will close at 12 noon on Tuesday 27 March.

The Electoral Office will conduct elections for two-year terms for one President, two Vice Presidents, six members of the Committee of Management, and a four-year term for the Secretary.
 
Our elections are normally fairly orderly processes, because we do invite members to let us know if they’re interested and it’s always members that have acted as a delegate or a member of a consultative committee for years who think they might do something more, so it is rare for there to be surprises.  We could do without our own Lord Buckethead.

How to not lose your leaseback car

 

This is a good time to remind everyone with leaseback cars that if you sign a leaseback agreement, it means you have to comply with your part of the bargain.  It’s a contractual arrangement, you have to allow the fees to be collected, you might have to wash the car, you will need to look after it as if it’s your own, you will have to avoid motorsport, and you will also have to report any damage to the people running the fleet.  Usually a leaseback agreement requires all damage to be reported and some require “all damage, no matter how minor”.

Make sure you do.  If you don’t, it’s breaching a condition of the lease and you can be absolutely certain that there will be another provision in the lease in which breaches of the provisions may see the end of your car.  One day, someone will get you.

If you turn up to report some damage, and the people running the fleet tell you not to bother, make sure you get that advice from them in writing.  Just for later.
 
If the car has been repaired and you go to pick it up and don’t think it’s been repaired properly, don’t accept it or make sure you properly document with those who accepted it back from the panel beater those things that have not been done properly, so you don’t get blamed later.

If you have a leaseback agreement, read it so you understand it.

We spend a lot of our time arguing about fleet management and leaseback arrangements with councils but leaseback arrangements continue dependent upon those people with the Council cars not abusing the arrangement.  Just saying...

Government decides to move the IRC out of the Sydney CBD

 

In 2016 and 2017 depaNews covered the moves by the NSW Government to dismantle the Industrial Relations Commission.  They separated its two constituent parts - the Industrial Court, which was moved into the Supreme Court, and the Commission itself and its primary responsibility to conciliate and settle disputes by agreement, to remain as a separate entity.  A separate entity with a Chief Commissioner and four Commissioners supported by 14 staff working for the Commissioners and in the NSW Industrial Registry.
 
But the Government doesn’t understand what the Commission does, and initial plans to move the five Commissioners and their staff to Goulburn Street to fit into the NCAT building (because that was a tribunal made from of a variety of parts and roles they thought the Commission could be hammered into) were so flawed that they didn’t proceed.
 
The courtrooms were too small and the parties appearing wouldn’t fit, there were no separate conference or negotiating rooms for those occasions when the Commission was conciliating with one side while the others remain somewhere else, and it was given up as folly.
 
But now the Government is up to no good again - proposing to move the IRC from the Sydney CBD to Parramatta without consultation with any of those people who use the services of the Commission.  No-one spoke to the employers’ organisations, no-one spoke to LGNSW representing 120 or so councils in NSW, no-one spoke to the individual unions which appear in the Commission, no-one spoke to UnionsNSW, no-one spoke to the Bar Association representing the barristers who appear, no-one spoke to the Law Society representing the solicitors and no-one spoke to the employees who would be affected, the members of the Commission, or the head of the jurisdiction.
 
This is NSW Government consultation at its proudest.
 
The complication has been that it’s hard to identify who would have consulted.  Described as a decision of “Government”, no-one is prepared to say who made the decision.  No-one knows whether it was made by all members of the Government, the Cabinet, an individual minister or even a couple of them, staggering home late one night from the Parliamentary bar and wondering why they shouldn’t send 14 people out from the CBD to Parramatta as part of the Government’s commitment to moving people to the west.  A small step of course, but an important one made in those circumstances.

Bit, by bit, the information has been revealed with draft floorplans as well.  The plan is to move the IRC out of the CBD without asking anyone who uses the system whether that’s good, bad or indifferent, and move it to Parramatta - 10 Smith Street, to be precise.

When you go to a museum or gallery or some other kind of Government institution they invariably ask you your postcode, so they have some idea of where the punters are coming from.  But no one did this - a relatively simple request could be made by court reporters asking advocates and lawyers appearing to record the postcode of their office or chambers.  Far too sensible and clearly not desirable because it would show virtually everyone who appears in the IRC has an office or chambers in the CBD.  Except probably us, with our office at Five Dock.

If governments don’t properly disclose why they’re doing things then we hapless citizens and users of government services try to work out why this would have happened, what was the motive.  Moving 14 people out to the west is clearly not the reason.
 
It’s hard for the Government to confess that the beautiful 19th century Victorian Chief Secretary’s building in Bridge Street that currently houses the Industrial Relations Commission and offices for the NSW Governor would be a marvellous piece of prime real estate that has had greedy, drooling developers trying to get their rapacious fat fingers on for decades.  The Government has already sold the Department of Education building, it’s only a matter of time before the other beautiful building in Bridge Street occupied by the Department of Planning for decades goes as well. Then they will all be lost to public ownership and access.

Some people think they can get away with anything...

 

We’ve just stopped a Council, which has been breaching the Award and stealing money from employees by making them work more than 35 hours a week in their tracks.  Mergers have the advantage, as we’ve seen at Georges River, of identifying things that don’t look right and where questions need to be asked.
 
When Murray River was formed by the merger of Murray Shire and Wakool, a member from Wakool was offered a job requiring a 36 hour week.  And he asked the obvious question - both reasonably and politely.  Not the obvious way with a, WTF!

But the Council was reluctant to answer the question, behaving as if ignoring it would make it go away.  We now know that historically, that has worked for them.  Then we became involved, they were reluctant to answer our questions as well and significantly frustrated by this stonewalling, we filed a dispute in December to have the IRC help find the answers.

We didn’t know whether we were talking to people who didn’t understand, or were a bit slow, or who’d been sprung at last and were trying to hide it, but before Commissioner Newall on 18 December it was agreed that LGNSW would work with the Council to try to understand what was happening.

What was happening was that Murray Shire (for longer than anyone was prepared to acknowledge) had been making 35 hour week employees work 36.  It was claimed this allowed them to accumulate sufficient hours to close the place over Xmas/New Year but the calculation showed that collecting up to 52 additional hours (or even 44, if you assume people take a bit of leave) they were ripping off the staff.

We understand that members from Murray Shire had done the calculations, worked out that they didn’t add up and asked for explanations from management years ago but they were ignored.  We understand how that happened because when we asked the same reasonable questions they ignored us. We had a phone conversation going through the maths of it all and there was almost a begrudging realisation about what was going on (their calculation had clearly been based on a 38 hour week), so clearly the lightbulb is starting to glimmer, although quite weakly.  We thought it was a sign they got it but then they went into hiding.
 
What we were asking was how many employees had been affected by this and for how long.  Reasonable questions, lawful questions and questions deserving an answer, but we got nothing.

depa is hard to ignore and with extremely valuable assistance from LGNSW we have now resolved the dispute for three depa members and four LGEA members (for reasons we don’t understand, USU members didn’t think there was a problem) with an agreed calculation to establish compensation going back six years.

The Council was keen to keep the settlement in individual Deeds of Release with confidentiality provisions and, for the sake of a settlement like this, we agreed.  This has been done.
 
But really, what’s going on down there?  The deeds our members signed required the payment to be made within seven days and the Council failed to comply with the requirements of the deed for each of our three members.  Almost as if they were asserting some bizarre corporate value of intransigence and wilful disobedience.
 
They failed by only a day or two, but a breach is a breach and clearly down at Murray River Shire there are far too many things well-beyond their understanding and capacity.

What else have they been hiding at the old Murray Shire?
 
This could be a regular part of depaNews because today we discover that the same HR Manager has a proposal to change the alignment of the pay periods now that Murray River has merged. She provides three options that are being considered and one of them allows for employees choosing to make up for a week when they don’t get paid with “one week of cashed out annual or long service leave”.

Jeeze Mary, do you mind.  The Award does not allow the cashing out of annual leave or long service leave under any circumstances.  It does allow long service leave to be taken at double pay but that requires someone not to be at work and on leave.  Clearly it’s time for someone to attend an LGNSW course on how the Award works....

Going down like dominoes at Tweed

 

In December we reported on our two unfortunate members injured at work where the Council and their insurer StateCover had accepted liability for psychological injury directly attributable to the behaviour of management.  That means that the injuries to our members were not their fault, even though we know GM Troy Green is reluctant to use those words.  We know that because we pressed him to do so. Yes, it is your fault Troy. You’re the boss.
 
To have one employee on workers compensation for hazardous, unacceptable and unpleasant behaviour by the same manager is one thing, but two is quite something else.

But now there are four.  The two new claims are not our members and, unfortunately for them, not members of any union, but one has a workers compensation claim in the same directorate as our members, and the other elsewhere.  What is it about Tweed?

Significantly, our first dispute this year was filed when the Council terminated the employment of our first member injured by the Council early in January.  It was a termination with a significant number of procedural flaws, no sensitivity, compassion or sympathy, and no evidence of care.  It’s one thing to have medical evidence identifying that the employee can’t return to that workplace (at least without four of the management going, starting at the top) but it’s another to bump them out the door in the first weeks of January when medical and industrial advice is hard to get.  It’s hard to imagine that the timing was mere coincidence, with the closure of our office and the advice the employee would have needed.
 
The dispute continues.

And now StateCover is starting to wonder.  Two accepted claims and two more to be determined in the next week or so. The Council must be getting close to being uninsurable.

Okay, we don’t mind a challenge, but …

When we happened to be the only people in the world who thought to ask a very simple question late last year about why employees with cars at the former Kogarah were receiving a value for those cars in the calculation of “superable” salary for superannuation purposes, and their colleagues in the Georges River merger from the former Hurstville were not, we had no idea what we were getting into.

But what the heck, we were off and running. LGS after an initial period of hostility and trying to blame everyone else is now doing everything to pursue compliance with the Fund’s own requirements for those in the Retirement Scheme and the Defined Benefits Scheme. The IRC is supportive with timetabling and encouragement and LGNSW is pressing its members to provide the information we need to work out just how big this problem is.

When the dispute was listed last in 2017 before Chief Commissioner Kite, LGS undertook to use the annual survey on superable salary to provide more information and obtain as much as they could about the extent of the problem.  LGS kept the parties advised of the documents as they were going out and the dispute was relisted for 30 January - the day after the deadline imposed by LGS for the information to be provided.

Only 38% of councils had responded in time.  January is not a good time and LGS said this is pretty consistent with their expectations.  While this is a disappointing response, it’s not a bad sample and it showed:

  • 1506 of 4544 employees were covered by those responses - 33% of all members affected,
  • 311 of those 1560 employees had access to a private use car but LGS claimed only 137 “required a value to be reported”. 

We can assume that those employees who didn’t require a value to be reported would be senior staff and senior staff contracts where the Council would have reported a TRP.

The IRC has an extremely valuable role to play here because it can direct the attendance of councils not cooperating and the Chief Commissioner provided an encouraging paragraph to be included in LGS follow-up correspondence.  The dispute was relisted for a further report on 21 February with the understanding that the words of encouragement would be included in correspondence from LGS the following day or so to the outstanding 62% of councils, there would be telephone follow-up and LGNSW would be actively chasing up those councils as well.
 
On 21 February when the dispute resumed, all councils had responded - the last slacker Council (which LGS would not name) responding only the day before.
 
We will meet with LGS on 8 March after they’ve had time to check, analyse and validate the responses and present some exact figures.  The information provided, before analysis and validation, shows 4402 employees in the funds affected, 328 employees where the Council claimed a value had been reported but of course it’s those councils that didn’t report a value but where employees have private use of a Council car, which need to be identified as well.

But there is a limit to the value of this information.  It will show which councils are providing a value for the private use of the Council car in superable salary but only prospectively for 2018.  It will then require a forensic examination of individual records to determine which councils had been doing so in 2017, 2016 and so on all the way back to when this became a clear and unequivocal obligation in 2003.
 
Clearly this is going to be a long haul.
 
We have 145 members who’ve given written consent for depa to have access to information held by both the employer/s and LGS which might ordinarily be regarded by either as confidential to the extent necessary to settle this dispute.  It may well be we can use those members and their consent to audit those councils.  If you are a member affected by this dispute but you have not provided your written consent, it would be a good idea to do so now.
 
While we will have some information on the current position (and we know of one Council in particular that has confessed to employees that “for the first time”, they will be doing it right) it’s going to take a long, long time to go back and research this sufficiently to work out how to deal with it.  At the very worst, it could involve a forensic examination of salary histories and the employer advice on every single person with a Council car, at each or every of their councils, going back over the last 15 years...

And then we’ll have to start looking at people who retired since 2003 and see how they were treated.  LGS has accepted that after we have reached a settlement for those currently employed, they will write to members of the relevant funds who have retired since 2003 to see if they want to make a claim.  We’ve had a few members contact us from that category and we are committed to assisting mopping up for the retired members as well.

But this is a big deal.  It is also a very, very, very big job.  It won’t be finished this year but we will have a better idea of the figures after our next meeting on 8 March.

Welcome back

For almost all of us, this week ends what always seems like the longest school holidays in the history of the world. They stretch, almost interminably towards the horizon as the six or seven or whatever weeks rollout.

We know what it’s like. But these interminable holidays serve a useful purpose. If it wasn’t for the constant challenges of what to do with the kids over that long, long time, how else could the relentless grind of them going back to school and the challenges of then balancing school and work look easier?

So welcome back to everyone. We hope you find 2018 provides richly rewarding and satisfying work with smart, entertaining and good-company colleagues, in councils that are inspirational bastions of good decision-making, providers of generous and flexible conditions of employment and proper market rates of pay, while at the same time valuable and recognised protectors of the natural and built environment.

But seriously …

That’s good advice. It always helps, before you’re about to do something that could be dangerous or damaging, to make sure you ask someone if there is a risk whether there are better options.

But we're not really reminding you about the dangers of electrocution, are we.

Every now and again it makes sense for us to remind members that it’s always good to get advice about what’s happening at work in restructures or general organisational change. 

If you’re looking at resigning from the Council, or lining up a job at another Council to coincide with a redundancy where you are now (not as easy as it sounds, so beware), or whether it’s reasonable to be in a series of rolling temporary contracts, or what it is that you can get away with, or can’t get away with, it might be smart to get some advice.

That’s what we are here for. Ring or email before you make the big decisions, just in case.

 

Well, that’s it for us

The depa office will close at midday on Friday 22 December and reopen with reduced resourcing on Wednesday 3 January.  Margaret will be fully back in the office on Monday 8 and I’ll be back on Monday 15 January.  Yes, and as we always say, we will be back in a January-kind-of-way but rested, relaxed and ready to go.
 
All of our staff and members of the Committee of Management wish you a fun, love and family-filled Xmas and new year and we look forward to creating unrest with you in 2018.

Tweed Shire is the most hazardous workplace for depa members in NSW

Tweed Shire GM Troy Green

There won’t be any teasing buildup, listing nominees and identifying their inadequacies (although they do get a brief mention at the end of this) we are cutting to the chase here.  Tweed Shire wins the 2017 award for the Worst HR in Local Government by a margin so significant, no one else was in the race.

Tweed, and in particular the Building and Environmental Health Unit has the worst culture of workforce bullying depa has seen in the last three decades.  And, to make matters worse, an unacceptably slow and almost begrudging acceptance by the GM and others that something needed to be done.

This all began for our members (and those were not members of ours and in the admin staff) in 2015 with the appointment of a new Manager Building and Environmental Unit.  But it was not until February this year got a we started to get the first phone calls from members wanting to speak confidentially, fearing our involvement (one member was told by the manager that if he was going to get advice from the union, he needed to tell the manager first!), cowed, anxious and having had enough.  For some members, so distressed and anxious were they about retribution, that conversations were difficult and many couldn’t be finished.

There is a limit, given our commitment to protect the health and wellbeing of our members, to how many confidential calls we can manage before we act.  We could handle one, maybe two, but beyond that something clearly needed to be done.
 
There had been changes to the structure without advice to depa contrary to their obligations under the Award, one employee (not a member of ours) had been moved (largely against her wishes professionally but satisfying a desire to get away from the manager), work was redistributed to people already overworked, all against a background of low morale and the new manager’s unusual communication and management style.
 
Already by this stage a number of employees had sought advice and assistance from the manager HR, the director and even the GM.  The Council has claimed that they had no formal claims or allegations to investigate but just as we can’t ignore confidential approaches and at some stage need to do something, neither should the Council ignore them.
 
They could ignore one, or two, but by our counting there were more than 11 people who had approached the triumvirate of GM, director and manager HR for help, either individually or collectively - and while the Council argued that they did do some things, they continued to argue they couldn’t do anything because nothing was formal.  They were aware of the problem, they failed to fix it.

One of our members brought the matter to a head with allegations of bullying and harassment.  We became involved and out of that involvement the Council agreed to have a review of the change process, but only in relation to the Environmental Health section of the Unit.
 
Our member who provided the impetus for this review has been on sick leave on and off since April and on workers' compensation continuously since May - with the Council and their insurer StateCover in June accepting that they had been injured in the workplace and by the manager.  This was to be our first member sufficiently damaged the have a workers’ compensation claim accepted.

And the phone calls from members kept coming, confidentially of course and on 31 May, just before the external consultant was to conduct the review I took the unusual step of emailing all members asking if they were okay and whether they wanted us to do something.  The protection of confidentiality confirmed that they did.  And didn’t they unload on what had been an horrific time for them going back over the two years.  They tried to manage it and cope, but received no assistance from the Council, and could cope no longer...

The next day the GM set the tone for how they would respond to our concerns in a letter of response berating depa for communicating with members on the eve of the Independent review in a way which “has the potential to compromise the integrity and independence of the review process and as such directly or indirectly negatively impact the health and well-being of Council staff.”

We live with the continuing regret that we didn’t file a dispute then, to get the whole thing into the IRC in an open and public way and have the IRC assist the management of the issue. We may have been able to better protect our injured members.

Interestingly the GM committed to address the problem and asserted that their commitment “is practically demonstrated by the time, money and resources committed to the review process currently underway.”  The GM can now show us how much that commitment has cost, both in time, money and resources.  Come on Troy, what have you spent so far?

It then emerged that the review was not going to interview those employees in the Building section, nor the admin staff, nor transferred staff, nor anyone who had left the organisation unhappy about the change in managerial style.  We were able to have a Council agree to broaden the review to cover the building staff and the admin staff but not transferred staff or those who had fled the organisation.  Why would the Council want the consultant to talk to them when they already knew what the consultant would find?

It was clear that management at the Council, particularly the GM, the Director and the HR Manager, were keen to remain part of the problem rather than part of the solution and by this stage we knew at least seven people had made complaints to the triumvirate.  On 18 July we wrote to the GM under the heading “the emerging evidence of the hazards of working at Tweed” imposing deadlines to be provided with the relevant reports into the injured worker and the conclusions of the review and we met at Murwillumbah on 27 July - from 11 to 3:30, largely without lunch punctuated by arguments about having access to documents for fear that we would misuse them.

The GM agreed to take some immediate steps to reduce the hazards in the workplace while a consultant tried to rebuild workplace relationships, mentor and help the manager work on his empathy and self-awareness, conduct workshops for all staff to assist them develop a resilience and assertiveness to allow them to tell the manager when his behaviour was unacceptable or hurtful, so they could become part of the therapy.  Lovely.

The GM agreed that the manager would be directed not to have one-on-one meetings, nor meetings with staff in his office with the door closed and to discourage the manager from getting others to interrogate employees about what they were saying in what the manager thought looked like suspicious circumstances.  Please, how was this allowed to develop?  These were intended to be temporary arrangements, but they continue six months later...

And it hasn’t got any better.  We now have a second member off work on workers' compensation with the Council and StateCover also acknowledging that the same manager was responsible for the injury.  Significantly, the injury occurred during the mentoring,  during the significant hands-on assistance provided by the consultant to the manager and support to employees both through the EAP and, for at least four of our members, seeking advice and assistance from the external consultant as well.  A proper costing of this exercise will reveal that it has cost the Council a fortune.

The Council is lucky that it’s only two of our members on workers' compensation.  One of those is unlikely to return at all but the other has high hopes to return to safe work and a hazard-free workplace. One member preferred to remain at the Council but to restructure to avoid having to report to the manager and this has provided temporary respite, and a fourth yesterday said to me that the manager now rarely comes out of his office and employees can go to the lunchroom without being scared.  That’s all good news, of course, but how much of a solution is locking the manager up?

This is the most hazardous workplace for our members in New South Wales, the GM is responsible for allowing it to develop, failing to manage it and failing to remove the problem.  It is something that he knew about from late 2015.  We have 509 emails in our Tweed file since March and we don’t keep them all.

And while the GM was responsible for allowing it, the director and the HR manager were complicit by defending their inaction because they didn’t have a formal complaint, and being part of the problem.

Two accepted workers' compensation claims, one member temporarily safe by restructuring the job to remove one-on-one contact and others, thinking things are okay because the temporary rules about no one-on-one meetings, no closed-door meetings continue six months later and look like continuing well into 2019.  Clearly there was a simpler solution? 

What about the others?

Campbelltown lumbers on with the glacier-like pace of their restructure and replacement of experienced employees lost more than a year ago, but have redeemed themselves a bit and don’t get nominated by doing the right thing for a member mum returning to work on a two-day week part-time basis; Murray River has been exposed for stealing hours from workers by making them work 36 hours a week instead of 35 and then been largely uncooperative about trying to resolve it, and it’s a problem that goes back for many years at the former Murray Shire; and Sydney City, which simply can’t help itself and continues to present as a Council with an admirable and progressive approach to planning, transport, climate change and making Sydney a more attractive city but with employment conditions and an Award that sits more appropriately in the 1960s and a hostility to the significant and progressive changes in the State Award over the last 10 or 20 years.
 
But really, none of these places injure their employees like Tweed does.

depaNews HR awards will be out Wednesday or Thursday...

Despite what looks unnervingly like an outbreak of good HR in 2017, we still have some nominations and we will have a clear winner.

depa elections next year

Early in 2018 will see the two-year election cycle for the positions of President, two Vice Presidents, and six members of the Committee of Management.  This will also coincide with the four-year cycle for the position of Secretary.

Financial members can expect to receive notice from the State Electoral Office in February or March.

There is currently a vacancy on the Committee of Management and while all the other members of the Committee will be re-contesting their positions, we are looking for one more member interested in bringing their experience, usually as our delegate or representative on the Consultative Committee, onto the Committee of Management.  But the election allows anyone to stand, experienced or otherwise. It’s the joy of the democratic process, after all.

Ordinarily we find candidates are people who have already been active in depa and want to become more active.

Think about it over the break.  If you’d like to know more about it, give me a ring.

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