IRC directs Hunter Councils to provide information in Alcohol and Other Drugs dispute

What is it with the GMs at councils in the Hunter region? How could they not be benign and contented people with all that fabulous Hunter Valley semillon and shiraz? Why is it that when the Commission recommended that they provide details to depa to allow us to have an informed debate about what really happened in the trial of the Industry Guidelines at the five councils, that the four Hunter Councils refused to supply the information?

It would be easy to say that the GMs don't understand that to have an informed debate you need information. It could be that they've been snowed by HR Managers who want to assert that there is evidence of a deterrent effect but don't want to back that up by providing proper evidence.  It could be of course, that they know there is no evidence but they want to keep asserting it anyway.

Debate and disagreement continues between the LGSA and the unions about how the Industry Guidelines, agreed between all of us and tested in the trial in the last six months or so of last year, should be changed as a result of the trial. When the Industry Guidelines were prepared there was unanimous agreement between the LGSA and the three unions that random drug testing only had a place for employees who had already tested positive either in a post-incident or reasonable-suspicion test. But the LGSA and the USU at some stage during the trial (and even before the survey of employees participating in the trial) changed the view to support random testing being an option for everyone - not based on risk, not based on reasonable suspicion, not based on incidents. Both organisations claimed that there was evidence that having random testing deterred many people from doing things they had historically done.

We are open-minded. We entered the trial with no expectation at all about what would be discovered but, like everyone else, were a bit surprised when the random testing regime chosen as an "option" for the trial by the five councils didn't turn up anyone.  No drugs anywhere, and no alcohol positive testing either.

If the trial had shown positive testing all over the place it would have been hard not to review the quarantining in the Guidelines of random testing, but it didn't. What has changed?

We asked those councils participating in the trial (Maitland, Muswellbrook, Lithgow, Newcastle and Port Stephens) to put their money where their mouths were when they spoke of their conviction on a deterrent effect and provide us with proper details of sick leave, access to EAPs, workplace reportable incidents over the trial period and, for more reliable analysis, the preceding five years as well. But they didn't want to provide it.

So, when our disputes were last before the IRC on 22 May, Justice Haylen informally recommended that the information be provided to allow better decision-making.

On behalf of the Hunter Councils, Port Stephens GM Peter Gesling wrote a letter to the LGSA refusing to supply the information and reiterated the unsuccessful arguments that the Councils used before Justice Haylen - which he had already rejected as insufficient to deny access to information that would, if it were an arbitration, be provided as a matter of course.

We feel sorry for Peter - obviously he didn't draft the letter himself and this should be a good lesson about the risk of signing letters drafted by other people.  Here is his letter and here is our reply with 21 corrections to his uninformed response. It could have been easier if he had returned our phone call. And if you are really keen, here is our letter explaining what we want and why we want it.

We also feel a bit sorry for the LGSA who, they told us, "immediately" took steps to request information we were looking for from the five councils. They don’t really mean immediately (because immediately we left the Commission they remarked about the recommendation only being "informal" which would have emboldened the Hunter Councils’ representative) but certainly "post-immediately” and at least Lithgow responded positively to the request.

When the dispute resumed in the Commission yesterday, the LGSA had received information sought from Lithgow. Good for Lithgow - clearly no reason to hide behind statistics and the statistics they provided about access to sick leave, EAP etc showed that there was no pattern at all during the trial which could remotely be described as evidence of a deterrent effect.

Thanks, Lithgow.

So, yesterday Justice Haylen upped the ante and directed that the Hunter councils supply the information to allow the continuation of negotiation about changes to the Guidelines with evidence backing the assertions being made by the LGSA and the USU on behalf of the Hunter Councils.

It’s time for the Hunter Councils to put up or shut up.

The unions and the LGSA will meet again on 26 June and the disputes resume before Justice Haylen on 28 June.


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