LGNSW and the three unions meet about IPART recommendation 30 and protecting senior staff

Local Government unions to the rescue

The beautiful romance between LGNSW and LGMA continues but if something useful is going to be done about the employment implications of IPART recommendation 30 and the importance of protecting senior staff in amalgamations, it will be done by the three local government unions negotiating with the employers’ organisation, LGNSW. More on the continuing romance, below.

Last month we reported on the romantic initiative and the development of a close relationship between the employers’ organisation LGNSW and the organisation that generally acts like one, the LGMA, or LGPA, whatever it’s called this year. The joint letter to the Minister for Local Government identified what they believed to be two major issues that should be acted upon in the interests of senior staff.

The LGM/PA saw two problems. First, if as a result of amalgamations a general manager was made redundant, then they wanted some certainty that a redundancy would be treated as a redundancy. This was a concern which nearly everyone else in the world thought went without saying. As did the second concern - if senior staff from one council transfer to another as part of Fit for the Future, then their entitlements should continue. Well, durr.

But the Minister happily acceded to the request from these strange bedfellows but has not acceded yet, to the more critical questions - like the one we asked about what happens to a GM if the council is prevented from renewing their contract during the proposal period - something which is clear from the “Guidelines” issued by the OLG. That, is a real problem that demands a response.

IPART in their “Review of reporting and compliance burdens on Local Government” draft report in January left employment largely alone, apart from recommendation 30. They recommended:

Extend the maximum periods of temporary employment from 12 months to 4 years within any continuous period of five years, similar to rule 10 of the Government Sector Employment Rules 2014.

Wow, everyone can be a temporary employee now.

This recommendation was made because “stakeholders indicated the requirements of this section created an onerous regulatory burden by being too prescriptive and reducing workforce flexibility.”

But the only “stakeholder” which has made any observation at all about the 12 and 24 month limitations on temporary appointment in section 351 is LGNSW. Everyone else was mystified about how this could be “onerous” because all it really means is that councils need to be able to count the number of months after they appointed someone temporarily. Not an impossible burden, surely.

But in the LGNSW submission to the Acts Review, LGNSW claimed that the restrictions from that provision had led to a number of industrial disputes and this, apparently by itself, was sufficient for IPART. This sounds far too easy: no examples, no evidentiary burden at all, just a couple of bald assertions without any detail. I wish we could get away with that.

But at least four or five of those industrial disputes have been with us and they have been industrial disputes filed because a Council has breached limitations within section 351. That’s right, the Council broke the law. Either no-one in those councils knew there was a limitation, or if they did, couldn’t be bothered complying with it. Like providing a further 12 months if there was a need, for example. 

More importantly, providing an opportunity to temporarily appoint people for up to 4 years will create significant damage in an industry which provided the stability and permanence that only comes from permanent, on-going employment. We have seen far too much damage in the casualisation of other industries to allow that to occur here.

In a contrary recommendation we put to the Acts Review that while 351(1) allows temporary appointments, and 351(2) limits those appointments to 12 months or 24 months if covering for parental leave, there should be a 351(3) which provides that if the Council is stupid enough to breach those restrictions in the Act, then the employee gets the job by default and is appointed to the position. A bit like squatters’ rights.

And we had much more compelling evidence that a few assertions about industrial disputes caused entirely by Council management running out of fingers or toes.

After the silly LGNSW/LGM/PA letter about the self-evident, the three unions wrote to LGNSW complaining that if issues relating to the employment conditions in local government are to be dealt with between the employers’ organisation as a party to the Award, then they need to be dealt with only with the registered unions and the parties to the industrial instruments in the industry. Apart from anything else, doing so is contrary to the objectives of the Industrial Relations Act.

LGNSW must be a bit embarrassed because the last time they had some passionate connection with the dilettantes at the LGM/PA with the OLG, they created the standard contract of employment with all of its inflexibility and unreasonableness. We now have an agreement (but not an apology, yet, for this thoughtless joint approach) that LGNSW will program a series of meetings with the unions about all of our concerns about employment protections in the current Act and things like recommendation 30.

LGNSW can’t excuse it by saying a group representing people in the industry came to them about the issue and it seemed reasonable because that lets them then do similarly with any group of people in any organisation that happens to have some people from local government as members or participants - what’s next, the Freemasons, the Knights of Templar, the Hell’s Angels?

We all accept that LGNSW has a role in giving advice to councils about performance management or sacking of the GM and advice to the GM on dealing with employment matters of those employees of the Council. But LGNSW does not have a role in representing general managers as employees - that would be far too great a conflict of interest.

On 18 February, the first meeting of the industrial parties considered a range of employment issues affecting all employees, including senior staff - recommendation 30, what to do about stopping unfair sackings of senior staff and whether there is any common view between us on the employment provisions of the Local Government Act generally. There should be, particularly in relation to preventing political sackings like the two directors at Mid-Western, last year.

(And there’s some great news for Catherine and some embarrassing news for Mid-Western below.)

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