He said what?

The December “Worst HR in Local Government” issue gets around. Even to councillors at MidCoast. Our reporting on the alarming collapse in the morale of staff at Mid Coast since 2018, and a report to the Consultative Committee last year identifying 300 resignations in 12 months, attracted the attention of one councillor. Yes, only one councillor out of 11, and considering that section 8 The Council’s Charter of the Local Government Act provides amongst other things that the Council be “a responsible employer,” that seems an indictment of the rest. What do they think constitutes being a responsible employer?

Councillor Peter Epov’s concerns were reported in the Daily Telegraph Newslocal last week after he had placed questions on notice to the GM to answer at the Council meeting on 7 February. According to the news report he was concerned because he understood “it costs approximately $20,000 to replace just one staff member so when you get hundreds resigning in one year this equates to many millions of dollars in lost productivity. And this converts to a failure to deliver services” he said.

He asked “can the GM confirm that depa, for the second year in succession, conferred the Golden Turd Award” to Mid Coast Council for ‘the worst HR in local government’”. And whether the claims were correct that “MidCoast Council has had 300 resignations in the past 12 months, as stated in the last report to the Consultative Committee” and “Almost 500 of Council’s USU (United Services Union) members meeting and rejected the proposal to the salary system proposed by MCC with not one person supporting them?”

Those three reasonable questions were clear and unequivocal and could all be answered with a yes or no. Because they were true, they should have been answered with yes.  But while the questions might be reasonable, the GM’s response wasn’t. He said the matter was confidential due to “personnel matters concerning particular individuals (other than councillors)”, even though the questions sought whether the allegations were factual, and made no reference to any individual or any personal matters.

What does “personnel matters concerning particular individuals (other than councillors)” actually mean? A reluctance to answer the question, or to fob off the questioner, or some unwritten rule to protect the guilty?

There needs to be some proper explanation of how a Council can lose more than 30% of its staff in a 12 month period, so we will ask for one, and clarify in our next issue.

MidCoast running sore settled

It’s more than two years now since MidCoast Council looked at options for tampering with the salary system that had existed for years without complaint, and which provided annual progression for employees who “met standard”, albeit an increase of only 1.25%. It was predictable, and any council that has all its employees meeting expectations is a lucky one. But the GM and his HR/industrial adviser thought it tantamount to automatic progression, which it wasn’t.

Two years since options were canvassed, and perilously close to two years since an industrial dispute was filed and we had the opportunity of arguing with the Council about just about everything.

The Council executive endorsed the recommendation. The USU and LGEA have had joint meetings this week and we provided our members with an electronic vote which overwhelmingly returned acceptance of a compromise solution. The unions were recommending acceptance of a proposal drafted by Commissioner Webster after two hearing days and then further conciliation trying to settle the dispute. This was a dispute which would be understated to describe as interminable.

The Council’s first proposal was that no one would progress beyond entry level any longer for what had been the historic test of “met standard”. None at all. But the compromise solution provides continuing progression but where employees will need to meet standard for a couple of years. There are a range of options, all of which are a long way from the loss of that progression. Plus an opportunity for more relaxed requirements to progress based on “exceed standard”, which the unions will be strongly enforcing.

We return to the IRC on 23 February where the unions can advise the Commission that we also have accepted her recommended solution. The Council has a problem with the Commissioner’s words “excluding the arrangements for the Water services existing salary system arrangements introduced in 2019”, which the unions think means everyone currently on those arrangements, but where the Council thinks it means hardly anyone…

Having won the prestigious and authoritative Golden Turd award in 2022 and 2023, it could be someone else’s turn this year. But...

What have you blokes been doing?

Appointed on a Wednesday and my heart stood still,
Do-do Ron Ron, do it Ron
We can’t wait until he tables the Bill
Do-do Ron Ron, do it Ron 

Yeah, my heart stood still
He’s got nothing else to do
But when he tables the Bill
Do-do Ron Ron, do it Ron

(with apologies and acknowledgement to the Crystals)

You all know the story, it’s notorious.

On 15 October 2021 the LGNSW Board, spurred on by a second recommendation from another ICAC investigation (Operation Dasha) to get rid of the “no reason” sacking of senior staff, unanimously resolved to do precisely that. LGNSW would now support the views we and the other unions have been expressing for decades. This was an historic consensus.

The consensus was to amend section 340 of the Local Government Act 1993 to ensure that the only Senior Staff positions, on term contracts and denied access to the Industrial Relations Commission would be the general manager. And to amend the Industrial Relations Act 1996 to lift the remuneration level for access on unfair dismissals.

All we needed was the OLG and Government to cooperate. That was close enough to two and a half years ago. 

There was some venal opposition from the usual suspects, but the policy was overwhelmingly reaffirmed at the LGNSW Special Conference on 1 March 2022. That was close enough to two years ago.

In April 2023 a Labor Government was elected in NSW. We all had a reasonable expectation they’d be more supportive of employment changes that reduced the risk of corruption and provided fairer working conditions. They say they are.

We know it’s been in the Minister’s office but nothing’s happened. We’ve put a clock on our homepage so we can count how long since 5 April 2022, when the Government was appointed following the election, and the Hon Ron Hoenig was appointed Minister for Local Government.

https://depa.au/ and you can also count the days.

As an aside, the CBD column in the Sydney Morning Herald on Wednesday this week, in an article about who NSW politicians had been meeting with, said this:

"Finally, a shout out to Local Government Minister Ron Hoenig, who held just 16 meetings in the final quarter 2023, the fewest of any government Minister."

It’s not good enough, this is a burning issue.

“I am a passionate person and if on occasion I don’t get it quite right, I am always willing to acknowledge it”. Always?

We’ve had two examples of Sutherland Mayor Councillor Carmelo Pesce abusing our members. The first, in 2017, expletives and anger about a member dealing with non-compliance under both the Food Act and building regulations of the Mayor’s cafés where the GM at the time, Scott Phillips, secured an apology and a handshake from the Mayor within 24-hours. And encouraged the manager who had made the complaint to always bring this kind of unacceptable behaviour to the attention of the GM for a remedy.

The second, in June 2020 where another member was chasing the Mayor to comply and received a similar serve, expletives and anger again about his cafés, but when the complaint was escalated through the organisation the GM Manjeet Grewal didn’t secure an apology or a handshake and we needed to file an industrial dispute to try to get the Mayor behaving.

We gave up on the GM and wrote to all the councillors asking them to agree to commit to better standards of behaviour and cutting out abuse, and only the ALP councillors did so.

The positive out of that awful experience is that there is now a Memorandum of Understanding between Sutherland Shire and Georges River Council (both councils have had issues with councillor behaviour) for compliance issues concerning properties or businesses owned by councillors, to be dealt with by compliance staff from the other Council. Hard to threaten them.

Councillor Pesce, is now favoured for Liberal Preselection to replace the disgraced member for Cook the Hon(!) Scott Morrison. The question is what do the electors in Cook think are important values and qualities in their local Federal member?

Given our experience with the Councillor’s behaviour to our members, it was only a matter of time before investigative journalists, scrutinising the pretender to the crown and finding plenty to investigate, contacted us.

See the ABC News article here


Part 1 - OLG confesses - “OLG would have been aware of multiple cases of alleged (and now proven) misconduct when Deputy Secretary Hurst made a determination on 5 February 2021”

OLG has confessed at last.

“OLG was aware of the September 2020 incidents you have flagged very soon after the conduct occurred. This means OLG would have been aware of multiple cases of alleged (and now proven) misconduct when Deputy Secretary Hurst made a determination on 5 February 2021.

By the time the determination was ultimately made OLG was clearly aware there were a number of other incidents, while (and unfortunately), the determination implies there were none…”

Our November issue updated our dogged pursuit of the Office of Local Government since the former CEO Tim Hurst got it wrong in paragraph 20. The infamous paragraph 20 which, as a reminder, (because we are allowed to wallow in our vindication a bit after all this time) said this:

20.         I have considered and taken into account that this conduct occurred in a single episode, in the absence of any prior offending or post event conduct in the past two years and the  lack of previous incidents of misconduct on the part of Clr Funnell

depa immediately called that as demonstrably untrue. We knew of prior offending, and post event conduct and previous incidents of misconduct. Everyone did, but paragraph 20 makes the former councillor sound like a clean skin, when he was anything but.

We did everything we could: made an FOI application with the OLG which they rejected so quickly that our cheque in the mail would not have even arrived in Nowra; we made, and lost an application to NCAT trying to understand how OLG had got it so wrong; we appealed that NCAT decision, and lost that. OLG keeps its secrets better than the Kremlin.

Then OLG made an application to NCAT to have the former councillor prohibited from nominating as a councillor for five years. They based their application on two examples of behaviour. The two examples predated Hurst’s infamous paragraph 20. His incorrect observation was made on 5 February 2021, and the two examples of misbehaviour were on 14 and 18 September 2020, predating his monumental fail. Choosing those two examples when they now concede there were many, was almost a gift for us.

There is a cluster of people working in OLG who were complicit in this. We don’t know who they all are, but there are people in their legal branch or “the team”’ who monumentally failed and, up until this moment, got away with it. And others still working there, not in the legal branch knew it was incorrect at the time and have participated in the cover-up as well.

No one in the industry can match our dogged determination and, in a letter dated 12 December 2023, Brett Whitworth Deputy Secretary, Local Government confessed that OLG would have been aware of misconduct and Hurst’s statement was wrong.

There are significant concessions in the Deputy Secretary’s letter, we’ve only quoted two sentences above, and for those of you who have followed this as we pursued the regulator for their appalling behaviour, here are our two letters pursuing this and the OLG’s 12 December response.

The 12 December confession makes satisfying and highly-recommended reading. The letter still provides some justification for misleading everyone, “the team wanted to protect the integrity of the process” and we reject this as nonsense - the last resort of “the team” claiming their commitment to integrity when what they were doing destroyed the integrity of the process in a way that undermines the general integrity of OLG.

Neither does the letter deal with why they continued to cover it up. We can guess why they did (because they are miscreants) but we are now dealing with a new CEO managing a regulatory body who has learned lessons from this experience. The OLG still contains people who got it wrong and compromised their integrity.

depa’s actions and inexhaustible commitment have been vindicated. OLG will never do this again.

We accept the 12 December confession as resolving the matter - thank you Brett - although there are some people we look forward to seeing pursue employment interests elsewhere.

And speaking of miscreants…

Part 2 - 2023 depa awards for the Worst HR in Local Government

How’s HR been this year?

Names are often changed to protect the guilty. We are familiar with bad businesses, unfortunately often builders or developers being bankrupted, and re-emerging with a new name but continuing as they had. Sometimes people do this over and over again, same old, same old, a new identity but the same dodgy or unacceptable practices.

Looking at HR, it all began when Personnel became Human Resources. A name change intended to present a new identity, more touchy-feely, less a fearful cluster of people busy justifying and assisting bosses to do things their employees don’t like. The title was criticised for legitimising that people at work were resources, just like plant and equipment. That was a bit dehumanising, but it was still the fearful cluster of people busy justifying and assisting bosses to do things their employees didn’t like.

Now it’s People and Culture, presenting as more accessible, holistic even, concerned about the whole person not just the resource, but it can still be the same fearful cluster of people busy justifying and assisting bosses to do things their employees don’t like.

For us, it’s a couple of letters more at risk than H and R, of being misused. Critics or dismayed employees might think P and C are more appropriate as the first letters for a range of unacceptable words (never seen in depaNews) that can more easily apply crudely to bodily parts. Luckily for us, while some are worse than others, we’re sure that none of them can be described that way.

So it remains our HR awards, at least for this year. Feel free to tell us what you think for next year.

We have a not-quite-bad-enough-to-be-nominated category – on probation for 12 months


This year, we had some councils doing things that looked like they were begging for a nomination. But then, for a variety of reasons, goodwill and reason prevailed and they pulled back from the brink. Both of the councils below started badly but improved remarkably, and a probation period will keep them committed!

Like the City of Ryde, where an eavesdropping snitch made allegations against three planners in a late afternoon discussion about their despair over the NSW Government’s intervention in the Council’s plans for Macquarie Park. Not a planner, the content of the discussion amongst professionals was misunderstood, potentially malicious and in a lesson to the Council, just because allegations are put in a stat dec, doesn’t mean they’re more likely to be true or legitimate. This could have been resolved by the Director without fuss. And without losing three good planning staff who decided they didn’t want to work in a workplace where this could happen and went elsewhere.

Like the City of Sydney. The City (as they like to be known) has had more nominations than any other Council, seven between 2014 and 2021, missing out on nomination only once in that time - and with hindsight it was clearly more oversight in the 2021 awards than a reflection of good behaviour.

It was always surprising that the City, with its progressive and benign political leadership, didn’t match that in their approach to employment. The Awards were old-fashioned; salaried staff work 38 hours instead of 35; there was no overtime available over a certain salary level; and over that level there was an expectation that employees work unreasonable hours, and they resisted falling into line with the more progressive and flexible arrangements under the State Award.

We argued with the City to provide clause 9B from the 2020 State Award, obliging them to provide adequate resourcing so that work could be done in hours that were reasonable, but the Council HR rejected that, arguing they had policies that covered it. They always say that, we asked for the policies, repeatedly, but when they did provide them they had nothing to do with what we were looking for but everything to do with trying to fob off acknowledging an obligation to provide adequate resourcing and reasonable hours.

That was the old guard in HR, this year a new broom was able to reverse this and a provision was incorporated in the City Award this year. But as good as the new broom is, he couldn’t shift some of the Executive leadership to agree to introducing the Right to Disconnect clause from the 2023 State award - although he remains hopeful that can happen when we negotiate the 2024 Award next year. I hope he keeps his expectations realistic, they will say they have a policy but an award entitlement to disconnect is much more valuable, and enforceable.

After almost a decade we can now be optimistic about the future for employees of The City. The new broom stopped the City from being nominated.

Or like Randwick City.  The GM took extended leave and, in his absence in June, an acting GM wrote a clumsy message to all staff instructing them that they were all to “return to working from the office full-time … Commencing Monday, 31 July 2023”, five weeks away.

We were onto it with thirteen questions they were going to struggle to answer, like did they have any evidence of a drop in productivity or services when working from home. The Herald ran the story under the headline “Disrespectful and out of step; Council staff revolt over end of flexible working”, based on our letter, some anonymous emails from staff feeling betrayed and an interview with the Greens Deputy Mayor. With a bit of assistance, the real GM found a form of words that calmed everyone by removing the deadline date and proposing discussions when he returned. In doing so, he made it abundantly clear how easy it is to work remotely, by drafting the wording while on extended leave visiting family in Dubrovnik!

It then became a pleasant and benign process (as we would normally expect from that GM) where the unions agreed to a process where anyone who wanted to continue working from home made an application, providing reasons why it’s in the interest of the Council and committing to comparable productivity and service. Often, it’s all about answering calls.

We’re all in the process of developing a policy now but the formula has those who are working from home is two days a week at home and the remainder in the office, and RDOs to be taken on a home day. It’s accepted that this will be a dynamic policy document so that if we can provide evidence about things working well, there are possibilities of more home days, and obviously on the other hand, if they’re not, fewer.

Sutherland, no nomination, not even close, whatever happened?


We have four nominations - and too many procedurally unfair investigations  

Hawkesbury City Council


This is Hawkesbury’s first nomination in our 13 years, but it has been worth the wait.

It starts with a relatively normal health/building/planning Department but with a Director from none of those professions, and a background in community work. That’s unusual.

One day the Director overhears a conversation taking place between two of our members about resourcing and the need to get some evidence together to pursue a claim for resourcing to fill a gap created by the reallocation of some work. The discussion took place in a closed meeting room (with soundproofing as effective as the legendary Cone of Silence) and then continued in the general office area and virtually outside the Director’s office.

Without raising the issue with either of our members, the Director made a formal complaint to HR. She told our member that she believed his behaviour was unacceptable (although it wasn’t clear whether that was because she thought the conversation loud, or conspiratorial, or anything else) and when he asked to sit down and talk about the issue because he didn’t understand the problem, she refused to do so, stating she was committed to a disciplinary process. Charming.

It’s at this stage this will look like a treatment for a comedy set in a poorly-managed office. The Director was the complainant and when we met for an interview where the employee had the opportunity to respond to the allegations, it was Director who conducted the interview as the investigator. This is unacceptable, depa made the point in the discussions, but they continued.

Then the Director, having heard the response and explanations, made a finding that the allegations she had made were not sustained.

That’s a real FFS moment. The complainant is also the jury and the potential executioner but then finds that her own allegations were not sustained. As improbable as it sounds, this is precisely what happened.

The Council refused to apologise but grudgingly recognised in a letter responding to depa, stressing  those things they believed were procedurally fair but then conceded at the bottom of the page that we were right, it could have been done differently.

It was a farce. The circumstances recited in this nomination would more likely found in an episode of The Office than in a professional workplace where employees and their views are respected.

Alarmed about the new culture in the organisation, our member, cleared of having done anything at all, was astonished at the lack of disrespect and found greener grass elsewhere. A tragic loss of valuable employee, well-regarded, committed to the Council up until this fiasco, and now a gaping hole they will struggle to fill.

MidCoast Council

This nomination was clearly foreshadowed in the earlier issue of depaNews this month where an update was provided about the dispute which earned the Council the Golden Turd last year. The dispute continued without respite all year. Periods of conciliation in the IRC failed, two dates were set for arbitration in Newcastle in November, and we were all back in the IRC on 13 December with the expectation that if we couldn’t settle it, final submissions would be made and the Commission would resolve it by arbitration.

The dispute is about an attack launched on the salary system by the GM, Adrian Pannucio, appointed in 2018 and, up until a point, based on advice from his HR Coordinator. If you look back on how the dispute was reported in August and December 2022 in depaNews you will see the redaction of the name of one of those. This report will be sufficiently polite that no one will feel obliged to pursue defamation against us this time, even though as ineffective as it was, and inconsequential other than the redactions, it was good fun.

This was all about the GM trying to wreck the salary system. Originally developed at Great Lakes, to provide 13 steps of 1.25% each, requiring only that the employee “Met Standard”, because the GM at the time preferred to spend his money rewarding employees for their loyalty and service and doing the job properly, rather than on the apparatus necessary to manage more complicated progression. There were also options for more than one salary step for people performing beyond expectations.

It’s impossible to understand why this is a cause the GM is pursuing with such vigour. He claimed in his evidence to the Commission that this was not because of the costs but we don’t believe him. It is the only way you can understand an initiative to erode the progression of employees and prevent them getting access to the pay increases available. We have three members who provided statements and evidence about the financial losses to them from the Council’s proposal - anywhere from $30,000 up over the next 10 to 15 years.

Morale at MidCoast has never been lower. This is a dispute that affects most employees who see a ferocious attack on their standards of living and their expectations.

It’s also a dispute that tests clause 8(xii) in the State Award which everyone knows means that if the employer introduces a salary system that negatively affects your pay or progression, then you can remain on your current system. This has been notorious in the industry, supported by both LGNSW and the unions and everyone has understood and interpreted that provision as meaning any disadvantage, but the Council is pursuing whether the individual words used in the Award say what everyone in the industry says they mean.

It’s a black letter law argument, when it’s all about intent and context and how it’s operated without any assault like this one, for the last 13 years since that provision went into the Award.

The dispute is not yet resolved. But the obsessive and bloody-minded GM has rejected a series of significant concessions being made by the unions in conciliation, disregarded the dreadful morale at MidCoast (32% of employees resigned in the last recorded 12 months - when the industry average in the area is closer to 12 to 15%) as if it didn’t matter at all, and he ploughs on.  

Port Macquarie Hastings Council

Nominated in 2021, and this year watching a handful of their environmental/building professionals go to better offers, they abandoned all of the concepts of procedural fairness in a clumsy and heavy-handed investigation of a grievance that had our member off for two weeks with elevated blood pressure. A new HR employee was allocated the role and clearly had no concept of procedural fairness, nor how to properly conduct an investigation. She should not have been given the responsibility without oversight.

The first meeting would normally be brief, the Council would give the employee a letter containing the allegations and the option of responding if they thought they could, and a further meeting arranged for a response or in writing. The Gestapo would have handled it with more sympathy and respect for procedural fairness. This person demanded that our member respond immediately, asserted this was the opportunity for responding and harassed and cajoled our member, and our delegate, for three hours.

After hearing of the fiasco we intervened, stopped the process and demanded the Council to start again. They agreed and contracted a capable and professional external investigator to do just that and start again. This should not have happened at all, and apparently now all the Council’s HR people are doing training on workplace investigations through LGNSW. Better late than never.

Our member reported that when he was contacted by that same unreasonable interrogator to pass on the news that there would be a new investigation, she sounded like she had been “scolded”. Not scolded enough given the appalling treatment handed out to our member …

Shoalhaven City Council

We’ve had two industrial disputes with Shoalhaven this year. The first over an investigation we regarded as lacking objectivity and impartiality. It was not obvious they had had failed to speak to the relevant Manager and a Team Leader until the investigator had made a range of findings. Allegations had been made that we believed reflected the responsibilities and authority of both the manager and team leader positions, and our member wasn’t being provided with procedural fairness while ever these employees were not involved in the investigation. We asked that the investigation be reopened and those two employees interviewed.

The Council refused. We filed a dispute, the Commissioner made a recommendation supporting our request and requiring depa to outline the reasons why that we believed that to be essential, and the Council acceded to that request. They had little option to do otherwise, it was such a glaring error. this. 

HR already had the result they wanted and didn’t think it needed to go any further.

One of the principles of natural justice is that you can nominate people that you would like to be interviewed because you think they will assist your defence. This was not offered to our member, and it was contested by the Council until the IRC persuaded them to do so. This was not fair to our member and this experience, and a preceding experience, made it look like the Council conducted investigations convinced that the role of the Investigator was to nail people.

We shared a redacted version of the investigator’s second report to the Manager (who has now retired from the Council) and he identified six or seven areas of what he believed to be inaccurate recording of his statements. But on revealing this to the Director, advice was sought from HR and the Manager was threatened with code of conduct breaches if he were to proceed any further. He chose not to. The Council thought it more important to prejudice the integrity of their investigation, than do the right thing. Lovely.

Then later in the year, as we reported in the earlier issue in December, the Executive Leadership Team decided that they would roll out new template email signature blocks that would require anyone with a Council phone to have their mobile phone number on their email.

This alarmed members in compliance and a whole range of other activities where they know the risks that can arise when people who are already aggrieved by your actions and decisions, get access to your mobile phone. One member had a previous experience at another Council where she was harassed so significantly on her mobile phone, that the Council changed her phone number.

But at Shoalhaven, there was no consideration of the likely impact on employees with difficult jobs making decisions that invariably result in someone being aggrieved. There was no complaint from the Council, or anyone else, there were assertions about enhancing the customer process, there was no evidence about the current process and projections for that improvement. A director “floated” the idea, and all the compliant directors fell into line - astonishingly none of them, despite their local government experiences, were conscious that this might be an issue. Or if they were conscious, failed to act on it.

We won the dispute, the Council agreed to provide a choice of templates so that employees had the opportunity to choose whether to reveal their mobile phone number or not, but when we subsequently conveyed a request to HR that members who send a lot of emails were finding it a nuisance to have to do this for every email - making them less productive - and whether or not IT, if they could change the template to set up a default without the mobile number, why they wouldn’t.

Apparently the majority of employees were choosing the Council’s preferred template and in those circumstances we wouldn’t have pressed the request. But instead of telling us that was the case in a professional manner, our request was branded “unreasonable”, said twice in one quite small paragraph, and then it was asserted “we feel we have been very accommodating of your request to date” when multiple requests to stop the rollout to allow us to confer had been rejected and their decisions after the filing of the dispute were all made on the back foot with pressure from the Commission. When that could not possibly have been true with the GM refusing our requests to stop the rollout while we met.

Then the Director to whom HR reports, the Director of City Performance, launched an attack upon us, our correspondence  was “disrespect of our senior staff”, she was “appalled at the way you communicate with staff... disrespectful and we will no longer be communicating with you”. Take that depa!

It’s a bit hypocritical to be alarmed about disrespect when we were adversaries in an industrial dispute which was filed because the GM had repeatedly refused our requests to stop the rollout to allow us to confer without pressure - three or four times in fact - but that’s apparently not seen as being disrespectful. A Zero Tolerance “for communications that affect the wellbeing of our staff” should have stopped the Executive moving until they were certain there were no staff whose wellbeing could be affected by being more accessible after publishing their mobile phone numbers.

A Zero Tolerance policy doesn’t prevent unions and others examining and criticising the decisions of the Executive if they have an adverse impact on our members, and if the decisions were not backed by evidence or consultation. It can never be a policy which makes bad decision-makers untouchable.

Here is our letter to the GM in response. If the Council were to put a ban on a union official, it would be unprecedented in the industry. Good old Shoalhaven, they won the Golden Turd two years in a row, in 2014 and 2015 and have been under the radar ever since. Until now.

And the winner is:

Despite a late surge and commendable effort by Shoalhaven, how could it be any different? Mid Coast had a head start and kept grinding their employees into the ground all year. A policy deliberately developed to stop employees progressing in the salary system and costing them very large amounts of money if they remain at the Council.

And at the time where the statistics show an alarming collapse in the morale of staff, evident in staff turnover since 2018, 300 resignations in 12 months in the last report to the consultative committee and almost 500 USU members meeting and rejecting the proposals to the salary system with not one person supporting them. It’s a sad old place, bring back Glenn.

That’s it for us – looking forward to 2024

The depa office will be closing at midday on Thursday 21 December and reopening on Wednesday 3 January. Sue Burton, our new Office Manager will be returning to the office and will manage anything urgent with access to members of the Committee or our legal team. And if everyone can behave themselves in the meantime, I’ll be back on Monday 29 January.

From the office and the Committee of Management, we wish you a joyful and festive Christmas, however you celebrate or spend the break, and an enthusiastic return to satisfying work, an absence of miscreants and councillors behaving themselves. And a Minister for Local Government committed to speedily implementing the legislative changes necessary to section 340 of the Local Government Act 1993, to bring senior staff into line with their equivalents in the NSW Public Sector, by removing term contracts and, as a bonus, reducing the risks of corruption.

The NSW Coalition government wrecked it in 2016, the Labor government restored it on 30 November!

The Industrial Relations Amendment Bill 2023 was carried by both Houses of Parliament on 30 November. The Bill makes substantial changes to the current Industrial Relations Act 1996 but in a bold gesture, it is the restoration of an institution more than a century old – wrecked by the former Government - which is most significant.

It’s not the most important news for employees in local government, but when you consider that having an industrial tribunal which is accessible and user-friendly, as it had operated for more than a century, its restoration is a triumph for all of us.

You don’t have to understand how it all works, but as an employee you need to be confident that there are tribunals available for unions and their members to pursue improvements in pay and conditions of employment, or resist attacks on conditions of employment, or their wellbeing, or any of what seems a countless list of employment problems.

In 2015 and 2016, in a shady process denied by nearly everyone (including those we know were up to their eyeballs in it) the Government tore the Industrial Court and its judicial role from the Industrial Relations Commission - a combined employment tribunal seamlessly from its origin in the Industrial Relations Act in 1901. The judicial role of the Court was incorporated into the Supreme Court and was a process opposed universally by the union movement in the state and by employer organisations as well.

We broke the news in 2015 that the government, in a process of rationalising tribunals was eyeing off the IRC - housed in what was originally the magnificent sandstone Colonial Secretary’s building and the seat of colonial administration on the corner of Macquarie, Bridge and Phillips Streets, Sydney. The Government had fantasies about selling or leasing it off as a flash hotel - where none of us could afford to stay.

There was a degree of openness about some aspects of the process, like closing down the Wollongong and Newcastle court registries, but it was the split of the judicial role (the same level of the Supreme Court) that was most secretive. Shamefully so.

Since that change in 2016, the Labor Opposition had promised unions that it would restore the Commission to its former role enshrined in the 1996 Act, and the public sector unions (not us in local government) that they would abolish the dreaded wages cap imposed by the Coalition government which removed from the IRC their capacity to make awards for the Public Sector providing pay increases over the wages cap of 2.5%.

While tardy getting moving on it, the Minister for Industrial Relations, Sophie Cotsis, established a review panel of the highly respected Judge (and the final) President of the IRC Roger Boland, and Anna Booth, a former union official, Deputy President of the Fair Work Commission and who at the conclusion of the Panel’s reporting, took up the role of the Fair Work Ombudsman.

Consistent with recommendations from the Panel, the Act will re-establish the Industrial Relations Commission in Court session, requiring the appointment of three judicial members/judges and will return to the Industrial Court the Workers Compensation jurisdiction. And introduce what was apparently, for some, a revelation, a concept of “mutual-gains bargaining”. It’s really “interest-based bargaining”, as it has been called in local government for a couple of decades and is, without the fanfare of those titles, pretty much how we’ve always negotiated the State Award.

The Public Sector has desperately needed negotiation processes like those in local government, after twelve years of a hostile Government and bosses, and we wish them well.

The objects of the Act and the functions of the IRC will have some changes described as the “modernisation” of the Industrial Relations Act 1996, and other recommendations of the Panel, which will be handed to an Implementation Group for Industrial Reform which is currently being constituted, and where the Minister wants it to meet before the end of the year.

We will keep you in the loop as things develop in the second phase of reform, in which we also hope to be involved. The restored IRC, back to its former glory, will be an active tribunal of experienced practitioners where, apart from anything else, we can happily take the industrial disputes we have regularly in the industry, and where we can be confident of the exercise of its powers.

These significant changes were all done in a timeframe that dramatically demonstrates the capacity of governments to move fast when they need to. Minister for Industrial Relations, Sophie Cotsis, introduced the Industrial Relations Amendment Bill 2023 into the Legislative Assembly on Thursday 23 November (around 3:45pm to be precise), there are standard steps to follow and it had its First Reading, the Minister’s Second Reading speech, the Second Reading, it was Considered in Detail and then the Third Reading and passed that afternoon and evening.

It was introduced into the Legislative Council on Thursday 30 November and had its First Reading, Second Reading speech, Second Reading, was passed with amendments, its Third Reading and then Passed with Amendments it was returned to the Legislative Assembly which agreed with the amendments, and it passed through Parliament that day. That is faster than a speeding bullet.

And it was “assented to” by the NSW Governor on Tuesday 5 December and we await its proclamation into law.

This reinforces the joy of being part of the union movement in New South Wales as an affiliate of Unions NSW - thank you Mark Morey and Thomas Costa. Neither would it have happened without the courage and commitment of the Minister for Industrial Relations, Sophie Cotsis with her preparedness and stoicism pushing this through Cabinet. Thank you, Sophie.

Governments can move fast when they want to

That should be an inspiration to the Minister for Local Government, Ron Hoenig. The LG Minister was involved in the process as a member of the Legislative Assembly and is now responsible for ensuring that another of the recommendations of the Panel, the recission of section 340 of the Local Government Act 1993, can be dealt with expeditiously in the first session of Parliament next year.

Wouldn’t that be good. A reduced risk of corruption and intimidation of senior staff and general managers, and now it’s all in the hands of a Minister who was part of this, and can make things happen.

Next month

Yes, the year is coming to an end next month will see our prestigious HR awards. There are two nominees mentioned in this issue who will be seriously considered by the Judges, but are there more?


We apologise for the irregularity of depaNews this year

We’ve had a bit of a churn with Office Managers since Margaret’s retirement and this year that has meant depaNews has not been its normal monthly publication. We had issues with the June issue, and the September issue which we are very, very confident won’t happen again.

This is a picture of our new Office Manager Sue Burton, only three weeks in, Sue liked us as a candidate for the job because she found what we did and how we did it interesting. This is Sue’s first issue of depaNews, please welcome her next time you ring or email.

We stop Shoalhaven inserting mobile phone numbers into employees’ email signature blocks

Shoalhaven provides their Call-Centre phone number only on email signature blocks and business cards. The Centre (and its eight staff) refers calls to our members at their desk, or automatically from their desk to their mobile phones without complainants having access to individual mobile phone numbers. The Centre records the calls as well, which is a very effective disincentive for all but the very worst complainants to be more civil and polite. It allows the Council to keep statistics on calls, good for checking customer service, duration of calls, unanswered calls.

For no good reason the Executive Management Team decided that would change but asserted it would enhance customer service – something never explained or supported. IT began the rollout simultaneously with advice to employees that if they had any questions, they should ask their manager. When the GM refused our request to stop the rollout pending consultation with employees (where there had been none) and the unions (enthusiastically aided and abetted by HR/P&C, of course), we filed a dispute - our second with Shoalhaven this year.

Commissioner Sloan in the IRC recommended that the Council stop the rollout and deal with the legitimate concerns that were being raised by depa and the two other unions. Some of our members had previously experienced harassment on their mobiles at other councils and found the whole process both unacceptable and inexplicable.

In the discussions recommended by the Commission, we were told that there had been no incident, nor complaint by a councillor, nor any trigger for this other than one member of the Executive “floating” the idea and everyone else thinking it made sense - they were the Council’s phones, the Council should be able to do whatever they wanted with them, was the view. A bit like landowners and developers arguing that it was their property and they could do whatever they wanted with it!

We argued about who the unions would need to meet with, rejected the idea that it be only HR (because they are never the decision-makers and were complicit in rejecting the request to stop the rollout) and either the GM or the EMT nominated the Director of Planning, probably because that’s where most of our members were. The Council had rejected the Commissioner’s recommendation but proposed four alternative options as a temporary solution which would give an employee the opportunity to retain the current arrangements, their desk phone, mobile or whatever.

And in-principle agreement was reached between the representatives of the three unions with the Director of Planning that we would accept the four arrangements temporarily offered as the permanent arrangement. It was stressed at the meeting this would be at individual’s aggression discretion, something not opposed by the Director, and not a peep from the mute HR/P&C reps.

The Director would put that to the next meeting of the EMT “as a good solution for both employees and the Council”. We even agreed on the wording that should be put and that we would vacate the report back listed in the Commission, requesting another week for things to settle. Sounds like a deal, doesn’t it.

EMT rejected that proposal coming from the person they had delegated to negotiate with the unions, coming back with a reduced number of options, and the insistence that the employee secure the agreement of their supervisor and their manager. Shoalhaven loves their employees having to grovel.

It’s not making much sense is it, but it does get even more compelling.

Back in the Commission we encouraged Commissioner Sloan to continue to conciliate (it is the primary responsibility under the Industrial Relations Act, after all) and he set the dispute to return in Parramatta, where we’d all need to attend, and that he expected a “decision-maker” for the Council to be in attendance.

That was sufficient for the Council to settle. Not just having to leave the security of Nowra where you are in charge, but having to be accountable before a member of the Commission you couldn’t ignore, or stand over, and where you might need to justify a decision that sounded like it was made by a group of stoners. They agreed it was the individual’s discretion to choose from three options, the third added option being continuing with the Call-Centre.

This is not just unbelievable, and a complete failure in good faith bargaining and reasonable behaviour, it’s so ludicrously illogical we shouldn’t have been surprised to discover later that the email system actually provides five options!

A failure to consult, a failure to provide a proper explanation, obstinate, illogical, nominating one of their own to negotiate with the unions and then betraying that person and rejecting the in-principle agreement is all pretty unimpressive behaviour for a crowd calling themselves the “Executive Management Team”.

More Articles ...

  1. Mid Coast salary system dispute arbitrated
  2. OLG continues the paragraph 20 cover-up
  3. LGNSW stand-off with the Unions on senior staff transitional arrangements
  4. ICAC Operation Galley nails three notorious crooks
  5. What’s the fuss? It’s only a bloody consultative committee
  6. NCAT disqualifies former Wagga Wagga councillor from holding civic office
  7. Department of Planning creates its own Sagittarius A
  8. Quo Vadis OLG?
  9. A new NSW Government, and some new Ministers to make our lives and work better - yes, hope does spring eternal
  10. Do you have to be a union member to get the increases and benefits?
  11. Let the good times roll, 2023 State Award made today
  12. Let the good times roll, 2023 State Award made today.
  13. Humpty Dumpty inspires management at Mid Coast
  14. OLG opposes our application to join and support them in NCAT
  15. How are the Award negotiations going?
  16. Not sure who to vote for the Legislative Council on Saturday?
  17. SafeWork nails councillors behaving badly at Parramatta - and makes OLG irrelevant
  18. Councillor Misconduct Framework Review
  19. Thank you Margaret, and welcome Raelene
  20. 2022 depa awards for the Worst HR in Local Government
  21. Councillor Misconduct Review released
  22. That’s it for us
  23. ‘Tis but a scratch - mixed fortunes at the High Court, and later …
  24. What’s happening?
  25. How has HR been this year?
  26. Randwick GM’s bold move to protect senior staff
  27. NSW unions challenge NSW Government in the High Court – again
  28. We file a dispute with Waverley for failing to have a Consultative Committee operating for 30 months
  29. The NSW Building Commissioner is interested in the big picture with local government certifiers
  30. 2023 Award discussions have begun
  31. LG Professionals invite members for a little bit of consensual S&M
  32. Minister for LG releases the much-awaited “Discussion paper - Senior staff employment”
  33. Uh oh, the Building Commissioner is concluding the investigation into certifiers at nine councils …
  34. Not too late if you’ve got any good ideas about the next award
  35. depa’s appeal over OLG denying access to information heard in NCAT on 19 August
  36. Interested in the past? What were the issues depa dealt with between December 1984 and September 1997?
  37. Central Coast goes hard to establish best practice in health and wellbeing leave
  38. Greg wins, Lake Macquarie loses, but don’t tell Liz
  39. Speaking of corruptibility, how are OLG and the Minister moving to implement the industry's consensus on “no reason” sackings? Part 2
  40. What a refreshing change. A crook confesses at ICAC
  41. Speaking of corruptibility, how are OLG and the Minister moving to implement the industry’s consensus on ”no reason” sackings?
  42. depa appeals NCAT decision supporting unnecessary and unacceptable OLG confidentiality
  43. Fair Work Commission increases the minimum wage by 5.2%
  44. The last pay increase in the 2020 Award is from the first pay period after 1 July
  45. NCAT smashes depa and the OLG can keep their secrets
  46. If the senior staff contract is a corruption risk, unimaginative and a shortcut instead of proper performance management, who’d be mad enough to put more people on it?
  47. This has to be the final nail in the coffin for the standard contract
  48. Ponderously slow, unexaminable, discouraging and disadvantaging of complainants, the OLG process must change
  49. New COVID Splinter Award to be made to operate from 8 April
  50. depa has a new Committee of Management, and we welcome Bryce

It’s in the Minister’s office but nothing’s happening. It has been:

since the Government and the Minister were appointed on 5 April 2023. We are still waiting for the legislative changes required.

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