Sometimes things just slip under your guard. Even though we hadn't been consulted when Upper Hunter Shire Council introduced its drug and alcohol policy a few years ago, nor when they reviewed it last year, we knew there was some extremism at play. Without having seen the policy, we thought the extremism was the introduction of random drug and alcohol testing - something we don't like because it fails to properly target workplace risk and too often can pick up employees who are working well and enthusiastically and not doing anything wrong or creating risk.

(And it's hard not to make the aside, because often we see councils that take ages to do the simplest of tasks, many think this is an industry crying out for some performance enhancement.)

depa has had a policy for years that we are opposed to random drug and alcohol testing and, after we filed disputes with Hornsby, Sutherland and Wollongong about policy issues generally, we were pleased when the USU took up the challenge. As a result, through 2009 and 2010 the three local government unions and the Local Government Association and Shires Association developed Industry Guidelines, agreed by the peak employers organizations and the three local government unions in an admirable consensus, for the guidance of the industry.

In the August issue of depaNews we reported that we had written (our letter of 25 August) to the Department of Local Government requesting the review of the anti-discrimination provisions in the Local Government Act. These provisions were drafted in 1993, had not been reviewed, and specifically required councils to act to eliminate discrimination in employment "on the grounds of race, sex, marital status and disability".

Our concern was that since 1993 the Anti-Discrimination Act had made unlawful a number of additional areas of discrimination (in particular, being discriminated against because of an employee’s responsibilities as a carer) which were not acknowledged in the Local Government Act and, because section 346 provides that in the event of any inconsistency between a Council’s EEO management plan and the provisions of the anti-Discrimination Act, then the Council’s management plan prevails. We thought this had the potential of rendering invalid those areas of unlawful discrimination included in the Anti-Discrimination Act since 1993

We said in August that because the Division of Local Government likes to put the clock on local government performance, we would put the clock on them.

Our letter was dated 25 August and their response to us was dated 9 February and without getting too particular, that’s just over 23 weeks - or about 115 working days. Just as well the Minister’s Committee on Women in Local Government encouraged them to be quick about it!

Anyway, they tell us that we were wrong and that we needn't worry. See their response here.

Well, we are reluctant to get involved in this debate too heavily because observations we made last year about the inappropriateness of a Council assessing its own development applications drew some criticism. Some of it was very vigorous - we had no idea how things work in the bush, we didn't care about how council costs would blow out if they had to get someone else from another council to come and look at the job, etc.

We understand now that it is cheaper for a Council to use its own staff to assess its own applications and certify their employer complies with the conditions of consent. We think it still makes the industry vulnerable to attacks from private certifiers who we complain are prejudiced when they accept money from the people for whom they are doing the job.

We also know that there are employees in the industry who would welcome prohibition in this area because they had been pressured to approve and certify things they would have rather not approved or certified. It's a bit of a two-edged sword really.

The BPB has temporary guidelines in place and has written to all councils, and e-mailed every council employee who is an accredited certifier and put five options:

Option 1: No exemption for any council

Option 2: Exempt regional and rural councils only

Option 3: Exempt all councils (for work) up to a certain value

Option 4: Partial exemption to allow councils to act as the Principle Certifying Authority

Option 5: Existing exemption (permit Council accredited certifiers to undertake Council and council employees’ certification work), or

Option 6: Another option.

The Committee of Management considered this potentially no-win question at the meeting on 11 February and we will be advising the BPB that we believe it appropriate for Council employees to certify applications filed by other employers of the Council and that, when it comes to assessing and certifying the Council’s own Development Applications, we encourage regional cooperation to ensure the proper management of conflicts of interest.

depaCup Winners CanterburyFour members from Canterbury Council have won the depa Cup at the 2011 Union Picnic Day Golf Day at Blackheath on Friday 11 March. And by a handsome margin too.

The eighth depa Golf Day was contested by 17 teams (including two teams from Shoalhaven and the longest drivers of all, a team from Bega Valley) and the Canterbury players - Steve Arnold, Greg Liddle, George Kalivitis and our delegate Stephen Pratt, triumphed. Greg also won the prize for closest to the pin on the second shot.

The longest drive was won by Alex Williams from North Sydney and the closest to the pin by Stephen Cullen from The Hills. Stephen was actually second closest to the pin – and Ross di Mauro from Liverpool, who was closest to the pin, learns the hard lesson that you have to be there for the presentation to win the prize.

Local Government Super provides some sponsorship towards the event and the prizes were awarded by LGS CEO Peter Lambert. To view all photos from the day click here.

Tactical Response Group?Wow, who wouldn't want to join the Tactical Response Group? Those hot, body-hugging overalls identifying you as TRG tucked into your butch boots, the big guns, the reputation of being an action person? “I work for the TRG darl’, bit hush hush”, who’d miss out with a line like that? Phwoarr!

We got quite excited when we received a letter from the BPB asking us to nominate someone for their TRG. Our relationships with those at the BPB get better by the day but here was an opportunity to dress up too!

But when it was clear that their TRG actually stood for their Technical Reference Group - a committee which provides feedback to the Board on issues with proposed changes in legislation or that require changes in legislation or areas to improve the certification system, the euphoria vanished like a smile off Benji Marshall's face - as SMH wine writer Huon Hooke descriptively observed in the Good Living section yesterday. Nice line, Huon.

The Committee of Management invites expressions of interest from members who may be interested in participating in this less glamorous but nevertheless essential and valuable role. We need to have a nomination to them by 30 March and we need a summary of your qualifications and experience.

Victor Lampe delivers pizzasEmployees are entitled to join a union or not to join a union. In the olden days in local government and other areas there used to be a preference of employment clause for union members that provided, all other things being equal, if two candidates were applying for a job, then the union member got the job. This reflected the preference at the time for employers to deal with registered organisations of employees.

The Preference of Employment clauses were deleted from the Local Government Awards more than a decade and a half ago and now whether an employee joins the union or not, is purely a voluntary decision. We can't make people, we can only encourage them. That keeps us on our toes, working hard and telling people what we do.

Sometimes encouraging people to be a member isn't easy. After all, whether employees are union members or not, they get the benefits that result from negotiation by the unions of the Awards or Enterprise Agreements, the benefits of the precedents set in industrial disputes like our recent dispute at Wagga Wagga, pay increases and progression under the provisions required in salary system etc etc.

Every benefit inserted in the Award when negotiated between the LGSA and the unions flows through to everyone - whether they contribute through fees to the appropriate union or not. Sometimes there is no limit to how much the freeloaders are prepared to accept.

“… the question now is whether it would be unjust or unreasonable for the company to implement the urine-based random testing regime with its wide "window of protection", with all that implies for interfering with the private lives of employees, when a much more focused method is available, where a positive test is far more likely to indicate actual impairment, and is far less likely to detect the use of drugs at the time that would have no consequential effect on the employee's performance at work."

nurse holding urine YUK!This is an extract from the decision of Senior Deputy President Hamburger in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission in Shell Refining v CFMEU. The Commission, in a decision which is now the Federal authority, found that it would be unjust or unreasonable to move beyond the existing saliva testing regime to the less effective and more intrusive urine-testing.

We couldn't have put it better. The most effective method of testing for impairment at work is saliva because urine gives no indication of how recently a drug was taken. While it might let you know who-did-what two weeks ago, it doesn't let you know who-did-what just before they came to work. As the AIRC appreciates, it fails to be an effective test of impairment at work and is overwhelmed by the negatives of invading the privacy of employees with findings that have no effect on the employee's performance at work.

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