IRC President slams Gosford

The bigger they are, the harder they fall.

Gosford has always been a very difficult and uncompromising Council to deal with.

It is the only Council where we had to use the Industrial Relations Commission to make them agree to a protocol in 2004 undertaking to respond to our letters. It’s the Council in 2002 that insisted on putting managers on contracts where we made them insert, for the first time, a clause saying that the contract would be renewed if the employee performed satisfactorily and it’s the Council, in 2000 after a long-running dispute involving depa complaints to WorkCover, we made spend $1.1 million on a new air-conditioning system in their Administrative Centre in Gosford.

All this time, the human resources management policies have been hard and unwavering.

On 29 July, the President of the Industrial Relations Commission Justice Boland, handed down a Statement and Recommendation in a dispute we had run for a member the subject of a clumsy, ineffective, biased, sub-professional and dawdling investigation.

A complaint had been made by two ratepayers on 12 February that our member had entered their property without notice. He had done this consistent with his authority under the Local Government Act and the Protection of the Environment Operations Act because, observed from the roadway, it looked like they'd removed a freestanding WC and incorporated it into a boatshed where there may be a risk of pumping sewage into the Hawkesbury River. Hawkesbury River oysters anyone?

Nothing happened for 6 weeks after the complaint was made (apart from, we suspect, a bit of sucking up to the applicants) and instead of investigating whether the employee had delegated authority to do this (which he did under two pieces of legislation) the Council investigated it as if the allegation was correct, and he didn't have authority. He was never provided with a copy of the complaint (only what was alleged to be a summary) and he was invited to a "disciplinary meeting" when the meeting was no such thing. We made them fix this inaccurate wording but they didn't apologise. Of course.

And even when we intervened, it took them more than seven weeks to investigate the issue of the basic right of entry.

And after seven weeks, and a succession of e-mails from HR telling us we would have an answer the following day, all of which turned out to be porkies, we filed a dispute.

And luckily for us, the President of the Commission had just stepped down from a Full Bench dealing with legal issues arising from the attempts by the NSW Government to stifle the arbitral powers of the Commission for public sector workers. That meant he had some time free and he listed our dispute.

He was very critical of the council’s process, their lack of timeliness, their failure to properly protect our member in the investigation and the astonishing and unacceptable timeframe.

This was one of those disputes where it seemed that there had to be something missing. There had to be something we didn't know about. Why else would the Council take seriously the complaint about right of entry when the delegated authority held by the employee made it clear. Who knew who?

Why else would the Council in the Commission say stupid and inane things like "he should have assessed the risk from the office"? Why would they suggest that "no one" at Gosford amongst our members understood the legislation under which they entered properties? Why didn't the Council check the delegation and reject the complaint within 48 hours?

We don't know. Apart from the fact that it’s Gosford and they march up there to a different drummer.

But the decision of the President (click here to view) means that our member was innocent of the Council’s allegations.

Significantly, it also means that everyone involved in the chain of this investigation - from the hapless investigator, the unshakeably confident hard women of HR, the Director of City Services, the Director Community Services and Organisational Development, the General Manager and then they Acting General Manager, all got it wrong.

Apart from the President's criticism of the investigation and his observation "it was not at all fair on Mr Spare that he had to bear a concern about disciplinary consequences for many months when the nature of the investigation, in my opinion, could have been completed within a month" the President recommended, consistent with our request, that "the Council take the opportunity to review its disciplinary procedures and in doing so it should consult with depa and the USU in order to avoid any future misunderstanding or dispute."

The Council will love that. We look forward to it.

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