The Council might not have turned on lunch, or even morning tea (like councils have for previous victors) but the Mayor of North Sydney Councillor Julie Gibson last week presented the 2013 depa Cup to the North Sydney team which won the depa cup on Union Picnic Day Golf Day on Friday 8 March.

The only team member not present was Alex Williams on holidays in Cuba.

Pictured above left to right, are Brett Maina, Warwick Wynn, Mayor Julie Gibson and Joseph Hill outside North Sydney’s office in Miller Street.

The depa golf day will be held again at Blackheath on Friday 14 March.

There is never a shortage of poor HR decisions in local government. It’s amazing the number of miscreants, sociopaths, people-haters and venal simpletons who find their way into HR and management councils. Every year there is always a handful of councils that contest our prestigious Worst HR in Local Government Award, traditionally announced in our December issue.

And while things might happen during the year which give a clear indication that one Council may simply edge out the rest, is unusual to have a hot favourite emerge only halfway through the year.

How about this Council (which will remain nameless until the bookies properly set the odds) as an early favourite:

  • Fought the LGEA by contesting their claim that 18 engineers should get the Civil Liability Allowance and when the Commission looked at it, the 18 got it! And they spent more than $50,000 in legal costs to fight it.
  • A Director of Corporate Services with anger management issues who shouted at representatives of the unions at a Consultative Committee meeting telling them that they knew nothing about industrial relations, he was the only expert because he’d done it for five years (when there were delegates there who had done it for decades) and when his boorish and boof-headed behaviour found the Council in the Commission and he was caught out, “apologized” in a smug and self-important email that satisfied no-one and, of course, wasn’t game to turn up in the Commission himself anyway.
  • As part of a restructure made a couple of USU members redundant and then tried to cheat them out of their 1 July Award pay increase. Unsuccessfully, of course.
  • One of the only councils in NSW to not have a policy regulating contact between councillors and staff when implicit in the Code of Conduct is that Councillor contact should only happen consistent with the policy. Maybe the only Council. Does any other Council not have a policy?
  • Suspend two employees, have an “independent” investigation conducted which, when it didn’t provide the result they wanted, referred it to a barrister for review to try to unpick it to set it aside. Their independent investigation with their investigator, should be enough.

And that’s just for starters. More next month.

Look out driving to work, it is no longer covered by workers’ compensation.

Everyone is affected by the NSW Government’s changes that remove compensation for injuries that happen on the way to or from work from workers’ compensation coverage. With the support of the Shooters and the Nile Group in the Upper House, the Government has removed the historic protection available for injuries that only happen because you're on your way to or from work. Historically known as "journey claims", this is part of the Government’s attack on workers’ compensation.

While there have been other entitlements slashed and burned, this is the cutback that can affect everyone, every day.

An amendment in the Upper House has provided that accidents which are "incidental" to your work in travelling to or from work may be covered. No one really knows what this means - it draws on the South Australian legislation and the only example given to help understand its implications is a nurse travelling to work and doing a bit of nursing on the way.

Here is a link to a summary of the changes prepared by our solicitors NEW Law and as soon as it is clear what is "incidental", we'll let you know. You should presume the worst.

All we can be clear about at the moment is that if you start work in the field, you are not covered under workers’ compensation as you travel from home to the site but, because you have already started work, the remainder of your journey to your normal workplace is covered.

It's hard to see any logic other than cutting costs in removing journey claims when these claims cover accidents that only occur because someone is travelling to or from work.

 

The Division of Local Government is currently reviewing the Model Code of Conduct and back in July last year we made a submission. Now, having seen the proposed new Draft which has been circulated in the industry (but typically, the DLG didn't think it appropriate to send it to us) we think there's really only one problem.

But it's a big one.

The Division has proposed a new 6.4 (e) to require that employees must "ensure that any participation in political activities does not conflict with their primary duty to serve the Council in a politically neutral manner."

What? There is no "primary duty" for employees in the current Local Government Act requiring political neutrality (whatever that is), there is no definition of what "participation in political activities" means and the Division is unable to give any examples of the sort of behaviour that they think needs to be regulated with a provision like this.

It looks like everyone pretty much missed this provision but we didn't. Significantly, this proposal has been drafted by employees of the Crown and there is no comparable obligation imposed on them.  What were they thinking? And, more importantly, what were they thinking at the same time that the Independent Review Panel is charged with the responsibility of making recommendations to create a more mature relationship between the State and local government?

It would also be potentially challengeable as a breach of an employee's human rights and any number of ILO conventions. This is what we said in our letter.

 

The Local Government and Shires Association, the United Services Union, the Local Government Engineers Association and depa have all agreed that any drug testing in local government should be done by saliva testing and not urine testing. This fundamental agreement underpins the finalisation of the industry's Alcohol and Other Drugs Policy and Procedure in the Industrial Relations Commission yesterday.

The Agreement recognises that saliva testing is both more effective in detecting impairment at the time of the test, more reliable in not producing false positives from legitimate medication and less intrusive into the privacy of employees because it detects impairment at the time of the test and not something that someone might have done two weeks ago.

For more than two years the employer organisations and unions have argued about, developed, trialled, argued again and finally resolved an agreed approach across the industry for those councils interested in introducing alcohol and other drugs policies. It has been at times acrimonious, threatening and uncooperative but it is now over and a good policy base has been created. And our role holding out against agreement between the employers and the USU supporting random testing and some other uncomfortable things has meant the development of a better policy.

Even the USU recognises this, with their representative in this process Steven Hughes, Manager of the Northern Division acknowledging "and in finalising this, the constructive amendments made by Robbo and Martin that allowed consensus to be reached." High praise indeed.

LGS has been committed to responsible and sustainable investment now for more than a decade. That commitment has seen LGS rated as Sustainable Super Fund of the Year, the top-rated fund in preparedness for investment in a low carbon future by the Climate Institute for successive years, winner of the Best Green Super Fund from Money Magazine and the winner of SuperRatings Infinity Award both in 2011 in 2012.

That commitment has driven improvements in the sustainability of the directly held property portfolio.

LGS owns 120 Sussex Street in Sydney - a 21-year-old office building which is the first CBD building in Australia to receive a 5½ star NABERS Energy rating. The upgrade of the building carried out by LGS reduced energy consumption by 54%, making it the lowest energy-intensive CBD building in Australia, as well as reducing water consumption by 46%.

This was done using leading Australian lighting, air conditioning and chiller technology, and the full upgrade was completed at a final cost of only $160 per square metre. These are the factors that drove the Property Council of Australia to provide this prestigious award to LGS. Anyone can build sustainable new buildings, the challenge is what to do with existing building stock.

Lower running costs, fully tenanted and more satisfied tenants means long-term sustainable returns for LGS members and the planet.

There has been a lot of action at Blayney since 10 May when depa wrote to the General Manager demanding an apology from both the Mayor and the Deputy Mayor. From the Mayor, because he allowed bad behaviour at a Council meeting, and from the Deputy Mayor because he behaved badly - breaches of the Code of Conduct and the Council’s own Code of Meeting Practice aplenty.

Unhappy about the lack of application and progress by the General Manager, and a failure to return our phone call or we would make a complaint to the Division of Local Government, we made a complaint - asking the Division to deal in particular with the misrepresentation recorded within the minutes of the June meeting of the Council. As an aside, it turns out that the General Manager failed to comply with our deadline because he was in a meeting with the Mayor tendering his resignation! Apology accepted.

Despite an agreement by the three directors that none of them would be prepared to act as Acting GM, one did but he continued to exhibit the reluctance exhibited by the exiting GM to take the councillors on and to process the Code of Conduct complaint made by depa.

All this became too much and we filed a dispute which was listed before Commissioner Ritchie in the Commission on 6 July. By this stage the bans had been in place for six weeks and no one much at the Council seemed too interested in having them lifted. The bans were on any services at all to Councillor Radburn the Deputy Mayor but also to any meeting at which Councillor Radburn may be present and involved in discussions. This included a refusal to supply anything from the Environmental Services Division for the July business paper.

We went into the compulsory conference with Commissioner Ritchie with a prepared statement that had been negotiated with the Acting GM over the phone the day before. He was happy with its content, we were going to ask the Commission to issue it as a formal Statement and Recommendation and the only proviso was that the Shires Association would review it for any fine tuning. Having spoken to the Shires Association, we thought we had it under control.

But five minutes before the compulsory conference we were handed a copy of what we had understood to be the agreed statement, with amendments to 70% of the document - all primarily aimed at removing any acknowledgement of wrongdoing or guilt by either the exiting General Manager or any of the Councillors. Nice.

We have made a brief submission (only two pages) and you can see a copy here.

When the incoming Minister for Local Government Don Page announced to a packed Shires Association Conference that the first step to "shape the future of local government in New South Wales" was to invite all the mayors and general managers to Dubbo, what better possible response could there be than the famous quote from the hotelier Basil Fawlty.  (The Hotel Inspectors episode, for the enthusiasts.)

Because if you really want to do something that is an exciting initiative, something that really will shape the future of local government over the next 25 years, the last people you would want to invite would be the people with the most to lose. Particularly if you are not going to invite anyone else.

Far too many councils are trading insolvent, can't afford to reflect the demands of the market to pay to attract and retain good staff, can't afford to train staff etc etc.  Clearly someone needs to put a rocket up the amalgamation process and the last people to ask would be the people who have the big jobs and the most to lose – mayors and GMs.

How about 50 councils across the State? What was wrong with the recommendation of the Sproats’ enquiry what, 15 years ago? Who wants to change something that puts them out of a job?

50 councils, suddenly 100 fewer general managers and 1000 fewer councillors. What’s not to like?

As the news was absorbed by the industry (to the sound of mayors and general managers preening) the USU launched an attack on the one-dimensional nature of the invitation list and our own discussions with the Government revealed that they really did intend the invitations to go broader rather than restrict the Dubbo talkfest to asking the cat.


On 15 July, Canterbury GM Jim Montague presented the depa Cup to the triumphant team of three Canterbury and one ex-Canterbury members and provided a sumptuous lunch with an invitation to all depa members to attend.  We have 27 members at depa, so thanks, Jim.

It’s been a long time coming.  Originally planned to be presented by the Mayor and local Lambourgini test driver Councillor Robert Furolo, this became too hard to manage when the mayor was also elected as the local member at the NSW election.

But Jim was happy to step in. One of the old breed of general managers (and we do mean that in the nicest way) Jim has always understood the importance of protecting staff against councillors behaving badly and the sort of fiasco at Wagga Wagga last year, and Blayney this year, would never happen under his watch. Nice to see a general manager prepared to remind councillors of their proper role. There are plenty who aren't game.

Jim complemented depa and acknowledged our tradition (okay, so eight years isn't much of a tradition yet) of a sporting competition that allows all members to participate as part of the rich cultural life of local government.

Roll on Union Picnic Day Golf Day 2012.

How many times do some people need to be told? Already this morning in the office we have had two e-mails from different councils about ambitious HR/financial whizzes who think they can change the way they are calculating leaseback payments to recoup FBT increases and get around the 10% maximum fee increase provided in clause 15 of the Local Government (State) Award.

They can't.

Let's repeat that for those HR/financial whizzes who are a little bit thick or unimaginative. No, you can't.

Here is item 11 from Local Government Weekly 22/11 of 10 June. This is the old General Circular sent to all councils by the Local Government and Shires Associations.

Please note that the LGSA agrees with us. We are having continuing discussions with the LGSA about what constitutes a new contract when the increased FBT needs to be charged and we will keep you advised.

You might find this useful to forward to those of whom we might reasonably ask, "what part of no don't you understand"?

"The general manager of Blayney Shire Council, Aaron Jones, has quit suddenly in the middle of a stoush between councillors and the union over staff treatment."

So began an article in today's Sydney Morning Herald by their esteemed local government editor Harvey Grennan. (View complete article here)

We reported on the bans imposed by depa members in May and the dispute has gone from bad to worse.

After the Council meeting where the Deputy Mayor behaved badly, the general manager advised staff that he would be referring the behaviour for investigation by the Council’s external Review Panel. But actually getting the general manager to do that became more complicated than it should have.

Referred to a "Sole Reviewer" from their panel, there has been confusion about whether it was a referral by the general manager of unacceptable behaviour for their investigation, a complaint by the employee the subject of the attack by the Deputy Mayor or a complaint by depa. Apparently there was some concern that the Code of Conduct required a complaint to be "in writing" and a reluctance by the general manager to be the complainant. We think a complaint can be made by the general manager as a result of receiving complaints from staff and we have already raised this with the DLG as part of a review of the Model Code of Conduct - just to accommodate the general managers anxious not to upset councillors.

The referral of the investigation/complaint was sufficient for members to resolve to withdraw the broad part of the ban which involved services to meetings of the Council at which Councillor Radburn may participate.

At the next meeting of the Council on 13 June, rather than adopt the draft minutes prepared by staff, two councillors amended them by inserting words that certain things had occurred at the meeting in this incident which had not occurred. The seconder of the motion was the Deputy Mayor, Councillor Radburn. The motion to adopt the minutes in that form was carried and now the minutes of the meeting record something that did not occur.

History has been rewritten and the general manager announced his resignation on 28 June and left the following day.

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