Grumpy Wagga Wagga builder Peter Hurst has had a win over Wagga Wagga City Council with the ADT ordering that the Council disclose details of their investigation of his 2010  complaint.

There is nothing wrong with complainants wanting to be satisfied their complaints were properly investigated and that the result of the investigation is transparent and consistent with the evidence provided. But, there are sometimes people in the community for whom no decision or action, other than the one they want, is ever acceptable.

In 2010 Peter Hurst made a broad range of allegations against two members of ours in the Planning Department. A long investigation by the Council's own Internal Auditor (so long that we filed a dispute to try to hurry it up) cleared the employees concerned and the subsequent industrial dispute set a new standard for protecting employees in the industry. No longer can councils ignore the protection of their employees’ professional reputations as part of their duty of care.

Maybe people were tired and emotional or it could have been the time of year but it seems we will never know. Someone at Wingecarribee Shire thought it made good sense to give 12 months notice to remove a leaseback car from a member just before the end of the year but when we wrote to challenge the decision those responsible scurried for cover like cockroaches under the fridge when the kitchen light goes on.

One of the great improvements in the 2010 Local Government (State) Award was a provision that if an employee had a leaseback car as a condition of their employment, then they had it forever or until such time as they chose to hand it back. This replaced the standard 12 months notice provision for everyone and separated cars into conditions of employment cars and cars provided for other purposes.

Clause 15 of the State Award provides this protection and even provides examples to assist management work out what all this means - specifically, if the car was offered "as an incentive to attract and/or retain the employee" and "the period the employee has access to the vehicle”. This new clause means that virtually all of our members will have cars as a condition of employment and the longer you have a car, the more entrenched that entitlement becomes.

But someone thought that if they told the member that he didn't have the car as a condition of employment then he could be bluffed and would accept the 12 months notice.

We reported briefly in the December issue about attempts by Singleton Council to remove an entitlement for Indoor Staff to three days concession leave over Christmas/New Year, which they had enjoyed as an entitlement under Council policy since 1984. We stopped the Council removing this entitlement in 2011 and ensured that if they want to do anything at all about it in 2012 and subsequently, they need to negotiate with the unions.

This was a messy dispute. Representatives of the Outdoor Staff thought it made sense to have Indoor Staff forfeit some of these days so that the Council could then provide a similar arrangement for the Outdoor Staff - clearly it didn't occur to anyone at the time that the best way of establishing an equitable practice is to bring everyone together on the better standard.

The Council also mistakenly thought that they could remove this entitlement with a resolution of the Consultative Committee - something the Committee did at meetings not attended by our representative, nor that of the LGEA. Charming.

But our proceedings in the Industrial Relations Commission late last year foiled this and subsequently the Council agreed to reinstate the entitlement for 2011 and think about it again in 2012.

If an employee starts work at a Council and there is a condition of employment contained in a Council policy, then that becomes a condition of employment for anyone employed while ever that policy exists. Having an entitlement under Council policy is the best and longest-lasting way of protecting an entitlement.

Entitlements can only be protected for the duration of an industrial instrument like an Award, or an Enterprise Agreement or even a Council Agreement under the Local Government (State) Award but if you have a council policy, it's very, very hard for a Council to remove it. They can decide that they won't provide it to new employees but it is virtually untouchable of those who already have it.

Please contact the office for advice if you find yourself in a similar situation.

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