Canterbury Council's general manager Jim Montague is spearheading a drive back to Victorian England by introducing new standards for communication amongst employees. Paralleling the genteelism of a previous era (and an ethnocentric focus on nice white Anglo-Saxons), when they preferred the word "unmentionables" to the word "underwear", Jim has decided that the words "attractive" and "petite" are a breach of the Council’s Code of Conduct. And so is the expression "high maintenance". What the?

You can expect lots of potty-mouth employees having their mouths washed out by HR with this new standard.

We accept the view that a cultured and advanced society communicates in a cultured and sensitive way. Whether language is acceptable or unacceptable is usually in the eye of the beholder and fundamentally appropriate or inappropriate only when it is placed in context.

Canterbury is caught up and confused about language. There are some contexts that come with a language warning. Without pandering too much to stereotypes, the language used out on the road in a gang is generally stronger than that used by professional employees. But professional employees are quite capable of getting down and dirty with the best of them, and it is appropriate if the context is right. It might be okay in the pub but it's not okay with Grandma.

We just went through an exercise of an investigation of a member after a complaint was made at Canterbury. The area in which the member works was formerly housed in the depot where, regardless of sensitivities, it was all very blokey and outdoors. A move to the administrative centre at Belmore a couple of years ago saw our member, amongst others, issuing some guidelines about the new etiquette and the new context. Steps were taken regularly to ask the fruity communicators to take it outside.

depa would support any council that wanted to initiate an educational program to improve the quality of communication at work. It would be developed through the Consultative Committee, union reps on the Consulted Committee would be communicating with their members and when the new standards were introduced, everyone could get on board.

There could be a swear jar in every office. Gosh, what a great idea.

But the idea that a new standards is to be adopted, as it has at Canterbury, and then the new standard applied retrospectively, is fundamentally unfair. A bit like retrospectively imposing an 80 km speed limit in an area that was previously 100 km and then booking people who exceeded 80 when it was legal to do so. No one would think that acceptable.

Sadly, things don’t seem to get any better at Greater Taree.  A bad year last year with a clumsy investigation and the ambushing of staff in interviewing them, a strike by our members, some unpleasant and dishonest effects from the restructure carried out earlier in the year, and then squandering money on lawyers who would rather litigate than conciliate reasonable claims that could assist staff morale. 

And then the Council resolved to knock off a gratuity policy for resigning employees that had been around nearly forever and in the face of the unanimous opposition of long-serving staff and their three unions. Charming.

And now having two unanimous recommendations from selection panels for new appointments overthrown by the senior managers.  Why have a panel of people who know about the work and interview the candidates if you’re then going to reject their unanimous recommendation?

Our members are wondering what the point is of sitting on a selection panel if the director (called an executive leader there) and the GM (mercifully still called a GM) reject it.  Neither of these managers hold any professional qualification in health, building or planning anyway.

There has been community unrest too as assessment times blow out.  And they blow out because the Council isn’t serious about replacing people who go to better places. Even though it advertises a salary range that could attract suitable candidates, they refuse to appoint at above entry level.  So they get no-one much, end up spending more money to fruitlessly advertise but with the same salary restrictions and 60% of the establishment staff end up carrying the load.

So morale plummets precisely because of management policies – something that seems to have escaped the Mayor who accepts that “staff morale could be better” but famously asserted to the Manning River Times that he ‘fully supports the senior staff in their actions to improve staff morale”. What the?

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