Things weren't quite going that well at Bayside

Bayside started out looking like it knew what it was doing. People were working from home, a triage team was established in their WHS area, they published regular newsletters keeping everyone in the loop but someone, and no one is really owning up to who that was, decided and published on 29 June a return to work message to all staff headed “Congratulations! We made it to the other side...” Very premature at the time, and even more premature as we watch the second wave role on.

This was their response to the 1 July easing of restrictions in NSW but out at Bayside they got very excited about “how proud we are of our response to COVID-19!”, so without further ado, or even another week or two or three to be sure we were out the other side, they decided that all working from home arrangements and approvals would expire the following day. You’d have to reply under new rules.

They prepared a new approach to working from home that would see anyone with a leaseback car paying more for it because they believed that more days at home really meant more private use. It was demonstrable that we had members working from home who use their cars for work purposes on inspections over that period of time but clearly someone thought if you’re working from home, you’re driving your car around the place for private purposes, just generally skiving off.

The document itself, with proposed changes for RDOs was drafted as if it were hostile to people continuing to work remotely. No one understands why.

But it was the preparation of the workplace for the return of staff where the proverbial hit the fan. The triage team, led by the looked-up-to Ben Thompson, Manager Business Improvement and Organisational Development, was absolutely convinced that the 1.5 metre requirements didn’t apply if you were seated back-to-back. So they set about measuring all the workspaces to provide appropriate social distancing.

But, many of the workstations didn’t, so sneeze screens were erected and we then entered into what became an interminable argument about the 1.5 metres with the GM coming back and saying she had never said it didn’t apply if people were sitting back-to-back. Of course she hadn’t, but her people had and were continuing to do so..

That created untold anxiety amongst staff busy adhering to social distancing requirements while they were working remotely and in their normal lives, finding that they are being required to return to work, with very short notice, with social distancing requirements not being respected.

Our members were the most vigilant about this, and that resulted in an email from Ben Thompson, the Manager BI&OD on 29 June under the heading Floor Plans for seating availability for return to work safe and in response to concerns members had raised about desks facing in opposite directions, said this:

This will be fine for use. Where desks are facing each other we are installing sneeze shields but there is no requirement when desks are facing opposite directions.

In fact it is actually safer than desks side-by-side as breathing/sneezes are in opposite directions.”

Uh oh, a real FFS moment and a quotable quote for posterity.

It was all well and good for the GM to be saying it wasn’t her fault, that she’d never said that, but it was being said and was being said by the people she had made responsible for work, health and safety in the return to work.

We even bet the GM that she couldn’t provide us with evidence from any reputable source, like NSW Health, that this was right and Meredith, you couldn’t do that, so lunch really is on you. Isn’t it.

But more importantly, when eventually the GM confirmed to us that the following week the Council would publish a clarification , ”just to clarify, no matter which direction your desk or the desks around you face, you must always observe the 1.5 m rule. Keeping that space between you and others is an important part of staying safe”, and they did, there really needed to be an acknowledgement of the conflicting advice that had both horrified and confused indoor staff.

And, as we try to teach our kids, “if you make a mistake apologise for it, and it’s over” we said “decisive action is required to clear the air, please”.

We put that to the GM, but still there has been no acknowledgement of the dismay and anxiety that the confusing and inaccurate information created.

We’ve acknowledged it now but it does need to be acknowledged by those in charge at Bayside. Over to you again.

Finally, and despite publishing that the WH&S team is there to help and even saying “don’t be afraid to contact the team. No issue is too big or too small!”, when our members did so because there were still problems with spacing of desks, the Manager BI&OD responded “rather than sit in a desk being concerned, I’m not sure why the employees themselves or the leadership group are not moving the employee to another desk? If we were at full capacity I would understand the lack of action, but there are free desks every day.”

The best advice the Manager has given, don’t just sit there being concerned, fix it yourself.

It’s the COVIDiots’ fault

If ever we needed a demonstration of the capacity of us humans to be stupid, selfish, ignorant and totally irresponsible, the behaviour of all those taking advantage of the relaxation of the isolation requirements, after the worst of what we now know to be the first wave, are demonstrating it now.

In New South Wales it was the Ruby Princess, simple failures of process releasing COVID-19 holidaymakers into an unsuspecting state to pass on this easily transmitted virus; in Victoria a government not normally known for its fondness for privatisation contracts out the security of quarantined international travellers returning to Melbourne to private security companies, who subcontract it out to others and away it goes, some kind of sex holiday for both those in quarantine and those meant to be protecting them and then out they go back into the community; nursing homes, run for profit rather than care with inadequate protection and staffing, and idiots ignoring the fundamental rules of hand washing, the 1.5 metre rule in social distancing and the protection of our own 4 m².

Let’s not mention the drunks, the parties, the self-confidence and indestructability of the young, the 25% of Melbourne’s COVID positive people who weren’t at home in quarantine as they were required to be on the two visits in one day, and the two surgically enhanced (but clearly not intellectually enhanced) young Queensland women and their litany of offences and ignorance because it’s all so distressing to see this level of social and community irresponsibility. Open up Manus! Put your mask on idiot, or keep out of Bunnings.

Through all of this, councils in New South Wales have been remarkably prudent, setting up remote working arrangements, embracing Teams and Zoom (as we all have) and still getting the work done and keeping the essential services provided by councils going during this awful time. Facetime inspections, providing their public and environmental professionals’ services to the communities and, let’s face it, anyone who is an EHO has the perfect opportunity to demonstrate those skills and qualifications in a pandemic no one could possibly contemplate. We know people in essential services who can’t believe their luck that, after all that training, at last there is an opportunity to be working in a real public health emergency.

Sure, councils like Clarence Valley and Sutherland were slow getting people working remotely and Sutherland responded badly to encouragement from the unions to get it happening quicker to provide proper protection for staff - famously responding to an email from depa encouraging the speedier implementation of 50:50 in the office and other arrangements, the CEO’s immediate response was to grab our poor delegate, who didn’t even know the email had been sent, and march him up the street to show him the queues outside Centrelink. Take that Comrade, apparently the CEO was trying to avoid that happening, not threatening that you were lucky not to be on the queue...

Nearly everyone moved quickly into safer working arrangements, the Splinter Award provided a comforting safety net and, with Stage 4 restrictions in Victoria, boundaries of other states closed and the risks from developing new clusters and hotspots in NSW, and particularly Sydney, we are far from a happy ending to this public health calamity.

If there is a positive, councils now have a better understanding of the benefits and productivity available from employees working from home. Real evidence that that will allow evidence-based decision-making next time employees ask to continue to work from home, or to start working from home. That will make the old managers/reactionaries look for new excuses, or go with the evidence...

But, while everyone’s social distancing and acknowledging the 1.5 metres and the 4 m², things weren’t quite going that well at Bayside...

If the NSW Ombudsman comes to your Council to ask you questions, look out...

We have much more experience with the ICAC in the way it does business than the NSW Ombudsman. If either are investigating at your Council you need advice, and no more so in the last couple of weeks when the NSW Ombudsman took an interest in a 2015 DA at one council and started asking some questions.

And not just asking questions where employees could have the opportunity of responding in writing, but talking up their power to require interviews and employees providing “oral” evidence. In documents to members they cited their powers under section 18 of the Ombudsman Act to interview and require “oral” evidence.

Members sought our advice and what do you know, when you look at section 18, there is no reference to “oral” evidence at all. All that section 18 refers to is the ability to require the provision of documents. Another valuable lesson in checking whether what is said to be a power, is in fact a power.

And in a happy development, both for the employees concerned and the Council, in response to our resistance the Ombudsman’s office agreed that while they do have advice that they can require oral evidence, if the employees concerned would prefer to do it in writing, they can...

NSW Industrial Relations Commission makes the 2020 Local Government State Award

Commissioner Murphy of the NSW IRC made the 2020 State Award following a brief hearing on Friday afternoon, 26 June. The Award was made by consent of the parties, meaning that it was an agreed document reviewed and accepted by the IRC as satisfying a range of legislative obligations.

In a climate where unemployment levels are spiralling and people are lucky to have jobs; public sector employees generally are struggling for a pay rise; where the NSW Government is trying to impose a pay freeze for their public sector employees (currently being arbitrated by the Full Bench of the IRC); where the combination this year of drought, floods, COVID-19 and an economic recession made things looked decidedly grim, Local Government NSW and the three local government unions were able to reach agreement, not just on pay increases for the next three years, but visionary and far-reaching changes to the Award for the benefit of both councils and employees.

So concerning was the state of the economy and the surrounding glum economic circumstances that the employers and the unions acknowledged the obligations of the IRC to consider “the public interest … the state of the economy of New South Wales and the likely effect of its decisions on that economy” and we both separately sought professional economic advice to present to the IRC, in a clear and cogent way, that the economic benefits of pay increases for local government employees and the impact of that money flowing into regional communities supported the prudent and sacrificial 1.5% increase from the first pay period after 1 July 2020 and the 2% increases due in July 2021 and 2022. (Agreed in the context of expected increases in SGC those years.)

The three unions jointly funded a report from Equity Economics, an independent group of economists that you can see here, and LGNSW provided advice from their Chief Economist. Both reports and the Commissioner’s significant involvement in negotiations over the past six or so months were sufficient to convince Commissioner Murphy that he could proceed to make the Award on Friday.

Unlike 2014 and 2017, where the Award negotiations were difficult and adversarial (substantially reflecting internal issues in LGNSW with CEO musical chairs) this time was different. In a process starting with logs of claims from each party back in August and with the assistance of the IRC when necessary, 34 changes were agreed and the Commission had assisted the parties to agree to a number of things including issuing directions the Council is to furnish information on their compliance with award obligations on training plans and salary progression.

And of course our critical triumph, the new clause 9 requiring at 9(i) the employer to “provide adequate staff and other resources to enable employees to carry out their duties and functions over the course of working hours that are not unreasonable and support the implementation of the employer’s community strategic plan and operational plan”.

This has created both a new right and a new obligation in the industry: the right for employees to have proper resources and to be able to do the job in reasonable working hours, and an obligation on employers to provide that. Potentially this clause can be used everywhere.

Here is the recommendation from Commissioner Murphy 16 March 2020 when we had a formal hearing of the claim.

We’ve always been obsessed with disciplinary procedures and investigations and the Award will provide more assistance to councils on when they should, or shouldn’t, conduct an investigation. Driven by poor management and HR decisions at Sutherland and Canada Bay, clause 36C Workplace Investigations at (v) adds two more considerations of when investigations shouldn’t proceed:

  • whether there have been concerns, threats are allegations made against the employee previously by any complainant, and
  • whether the complaint itself has been copied to others, thereby indicating that any allegation about work performance or conduct may be vexatious, punitive or harassment.

This is how Award negotiations should work - see a problem in the life of one Award, fix it in the next one. Out of two bad decisions comes better protection.

Plus, annual and long service leave can be taken by agreement with the Council at half pay or double pay, annual leave can be paid out, there is a new focus recognising the prevalence of bullying in local government, better protections on whether your leaseback car is a condition of employment, focus on term contracts requiring each term contract to identify how it can be a term contract under the requirements of the Award and much, much more.

The Award will operate from 1 July (with pay increases from the first pay period after 1 July each year) and will be on our website that day.

Local Government State Award 2020 - are we there yet?

The State Award is invariably made late in June for three years and operating from 1 July. We are all used to the idea of pay increases from the first pay period after 1 July and, as we get perilously close to needing to get a final document together, there are significant “in principle” agreed changes already, and only really two issues to finalise.

The USU in September last year convened a roundtable in Parliament House, opened by the Minister for Local Government, and involving everyone with an interest in bullying and mental health in the industry - LGNSW, the unions, workers compensation insurers, Local Government Superannuation, the Office of Local Government etc. Everyone got on board philosophically with the need to dramatically address what was acknowledged to be a widespread problem in the industry.

Unlike the Fair Work Act, the NSW Industrial Relations Act 1996 does not have specific provisions about bullying and the capacity for employees to seek orders preventing bullying. And it seems remiss, in this climate of a greater recognition across the industry, that the State Award doesn’t specifically address bullying either.

We are working on appropriate wording to provide protections for employees in the industry from this pernicious and difficult to manage phenomenon. Bullying can damage employees’ lives just as much as physical accidents and injuries.

And the second issue, is money. Just as there are GMs around the place looking at forfeiting their 2020 pay increases, and thinking that others should do so as well, that influence is being felt by LGNSW when we look at what sort of pay increase there should be from 1 July.

The complication of agreeing to take a fall on salary increases (which are really only economic adjustments catching up for cost increases over the preceding twelve months) in the interests of continuing people in jobs is that money not spent on pay increases isn’t then automatically spent keeping people in work.

And we know of many councils where any savings are just as likely to find their way into improve catering for councillors, and other less worthy spending.

More news, next month.

The lucky group enjoying fewer constraints under COVID: developers

While we’ve all been isolated, working from home, taking leave or whatever, it’s been better than business as usual for development and construction. There have been a few positive effects from the pandemic, reduced traffic, no one much getting traditional flu because of social distancing, clear skies, clean water and even a chance to meet our Paris emissions targets.

But proposals by the NSW Government to ease restrictions on construction on weekends and development restrictions won’t be one of those positive effects.

Here is a link to an opinion piece by the inestimable Elizabeth Farrelly in the SMH on 25 April 2020. No one ever says it better.

And some good news for old council certifiers

In our 17 February issue we reported an acknowledgement by the BPB that we had “identified an unintended problem with the current provisions of the Building and Development Certifiers Act 2018”.

This was an “inadvertent” arrangement that would mean Ordinance 4 building surveyors working doing certifying in councils could no longer do so using their existing qualifications.

The advice from the BPB was that this unintended problem would be addressed in the new Building and Development Certifiers Regulation, and it has been.

There is now a “grandparenting” provision for all people who hold accreditation immediately before the rescission of the Building Professionals Act. Clause 23 of Schedule 2 of the Building and Development Certifiers Regulation 2020 provides:

23   Additional pathway—all classes of registration

(1)  In addition to any other pathway set out in this Schedule, a person has the qualifications and experience required to be granted registration in a particular class if—

(a)  immediately before the repeal of the Building Professionals Act 2005, the person held a certificate of accreditation in a category that corresponds to that class of registration, and

(b)  the person has held a certificate of registration in that class continuously since that repeal with no period since the repeal during which the person was not registered that is longer than 3 months or such longer period as the Secretary may allow in a particular case.

(2)  For the purposes of this clause, clause 4 of Schedule 1 specifies which class of registration corresponds with a category of accreditation.

“Shoebridge Committee” hands down final report

The Final report of the NSW Legislative Council’s Public Accountability Committee Regulation of building standards, building quality and building disputes has been handed down and here is a link.

The Report contains significant recommendations addressing building certification and encourages the NSW Government “as a matter of urgency to provide the NSW Building Commissioner with new powers to ensure building standards”.

Significantly for us, the Chair observes in the foreword:  

“this report also focuses on the concerns surrounding private certification. It is clear that the experiment of the last 20 years of private certification has not worked. Many participants and stakeholders told the committee that the conflicts of interest inherent with private certification were not able to be remedied. They pointed to years of attempted reforms that so far have failed to restore confidence or integrity in the system of private certification. Others suggested that it was possible to conceive of further reforms to make the system work better. Whilst it is clear that the status quo is broken, and that public control of certification needs to be strengthened, the Committee did not at this stage recommend building certification revert back to local councils. The committee has instead recommended that this proposal be considered in a further inquiry we plan to establish at the end of 2020 to continue to review the NSW Government’s reforms into the building and construction industry.”

Recommendation 17 proposes “the Legislative Council’s Public Accountability Committee as part of its foreshadowed inquiry to review the NSW Government’s reforms into the building and construction industry and consider as one of its terms of reference the strengthening of public control of certification, such as returning certification to local councils.”

Recommendation 18 proposes implementing the recommendations, where practical, put forward in the report by Mr Michael Lambert “to improve the certification system as soon as possible and no later than within two years” and recommendation 19 includes the observations about considering returning building certification to councils as quoted above from the Chair’s foreword.

LG Professionals (sic) to the rescue!

The last time LG Professionals (sic) or as we like to call them, Local Government Poseurs, thought they should get themselves involved in employment and industrial issues did them no favours at all. Not sure at the time whether they were an employer organisation looking after the interests of the boss or trying to be an employee organisation looking after the interests of employees, they retired hurt.

But, LG Poseurs supremo, Narrabri GM Stewart Todd, has now launched an initiative to press GMs and CEOs to forfeit their annual pay increase under the standard contract.

The standard contract provides that senior staff annual pay increases are determined by the NSW Government’s Statutory and Other Offices Remuneration Tribunal like senior executives in the State Public Sector. There is also an opportunity for an annual increase for performance or other reasons.

But the President of LGP confidentially wrote to all GMs and CEOs (whether they were members or not) on 22 April claiming there was a ground swell that:

“Senior Officers, not subject to the Award, should ideally have some consistent and agreed to position. I have been approached by a number of metropolitan and regional General Managers/CEOs who strongly believe that in this COVID-19 climate and as leaders of our respective councils, there should be a wage freeze for senior staff. Given that we apply the NSW Remuneration Tribunal’s SOORT determinations, there has been a lot of reorientations(sic) that collectively we should agree to apply a zero increase for Senior Staff for twelve months, owning it and leading it.”

And that LGP could act on their behalf, you know, just like a union would.

“we are also no different from (sic) our community members when it comes to an expectation for a wage freeze at this time. Again I have had strong representations that this is the right thing to do, and what we should proactively do rather than in reaction to us doing nothing, and of course it would be better if we were united in an approach to this issue.”

Go, Comrade! That’s the way a union operates.

Sadly for the heroes of LGP, owning it and leading it wasn’t embraced wildly by the GMs and CEOs, and of the 93 votes recorded (remember there are 128 Councils), there were only 57 in favour - well short of a majority and effectively just over 40% of all GM’s. And if they intended no senior staff to get an annual increase this year, they should have asked other senior staff as well...

A bit presumptuous really but the President was big enough to acknowledge “there are also those that (sic) shunned the survey and were quite negative about the association even asking the question”. Yes, we agree, get back to doing what you do best...

Let the money flow!

The announcement by the NSW Treasurer and Minister for Local Government on 26 April of $112.5 million to match the Federal Government’s JobKeeper program may have missed the publicity it deserved but it was a revelation for the industry with a cautious optimism about how councils would qualify. It was provided to complement and work alongside the Splinter Award and was a sign that if local government needed financial support, the State Government would provide it.

A lot of councils are desperate for a cash injection to keep services going but it’s clear that the requirements attached to JobKeeper don’t necessarily open the doors to financial assistance for councils. The Government needs to move quickly to announce how the money will be available and the funding needs to be significant and universal.

As this issue of depaNews is published, we’re not aware of any Council confident it will get enough of the $112.5 million and there are lots of GMs pessimistic about getting any.  Neither have we heard, after the first flush when Sutherland dumped casuals from Council services closed by State government proclamation, of anyone stood down in the industry drawing upon the Splinter Award for income maintenance.

We’re all geared up ready, optimistic for easier access to the drastically needed funding to keep services flowing as the restrictions start to come off.

The good news is that the industry has almost universally accepted that it is an essential service and that even those employees who can’t be given useful work in their normal jobs can be transferred across to other areas of the Council’s operations where they can. This has meant, as far as we are aware, continuing employment despite councils encouraging employees to take leave at short notice, or even to start working shorter work weeks.

Next month we should have a better picture of how the money flows and whether the industry has managed to continue to protect the normal levels of employment.

In related news, on 12 May the NSW Parliament is scheduled to consider two important initiatives as part of a COVID-19 Emergency Measures Bill – titled COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures) Bill (No 2) 2020 NSW.

The first, which is not before time, is found in Schedule 3 Amendment of other legislation where at 3.1 Annual Holidays Act 1944 No 31, the government proposes to allow cashing out annually of annual leave, with protections, and extending the opportunity for long service leave to be taken at half pay or full pay by agreement with the council, to accumulated annual leave.

It will be about bloody time, LGNSW and the unions have been pursuing governments for about fifteen years to allow half pay or double pay for annual leave but both the cashing out, and the double pay will only be available for two weeks of every twelve months. While employees will have more options than they do now, they don’t go anywhere near far enough. Double pay annual leave by agreement will fund superb holidays and other things and dramatically reduce annual leave accumulations at those councils which have failed to properly manage it over the years.

And the second, which seems like a grossly unacceptable restriction on local government’s authority, imposes a limit on expenditure on council administrative buildings above $1 million for the next two years, unless it’s an emergency or maintenance. Cramped, unsuitable accommodation is typical in local government and councils should not be prevented from doing things to provide suitable accommodation for staff to get the job done properly.

And we’re absolutely convinced that one of the reasons Cumberland keeps crying poor and asking staff to sacrifice and forfeit entitlements is that they run two administrative centres from the olden days of Holroyd and Auburn when they’d be much better off in one. And they could stop harassing staff by passing the hat around.

Finally, the Splinter Award has now been varied twice since it was made and there are now only Balranald, Blayney, Broken Hill, Eurobodalla, Georges River, Kyogle, Lake Macquarie, Maitland, Murray River, Northern Beaches, Richmond Valley, Strathfield and Wollongong not parties to it. Goulburn-Mulwarree is not a party but has a more beneficial Council Agreement with the unions.

Something to balance all the bad news, we have a new Committee of Management

All members would have received advice from the NSW Electoral Commission in March calling for nominations and at midday on Tuesday 24 March, we were advised that there were sufficient candidates for the six positions being filled and that those six candidates had been declared elected. The new Committee of Management will operate the two years from 1 May.

As Secretary, I am the seventh member of the committee, and the new committee has as close as we can get to 50:50 gender representation, and representatives from planning, health and building, and environmental health - all the major professions and qualifications covered.

The Committee (with their policy statements submitted with their nominations) will be:

Steven Cook                                                                                                                                                      


I am a Senior Town Planner working in development assessment at Wagga Wagga City Council, having commenced with WWCC in the early 2000s I feel a strong connection to regional NSW after spending almost my whole life in Wagga, moving to the city from Dubbo at the age of 7.

I have been a member of the Committee of Management for the past four years and am now seeking election as President of depa, so I can continue to help contribute to the strategic operation of the union and to achieving positive outcomes for the benefit of the whole membership. Having lived with cancer for the past seven years, I also believe that I bring a unique insight to the Committee, as an individual balancing a serious medical condition with full-time work.

As a delegate, as well as chair of my Council’s Consultative Committee, I am a keen advocate on day-to-day industrial matters. However, I also hold a keen interest in depa’s role providing professional advocacy and support for the various professions represented by the union, particularly to government in these times of seemingly consistent reform within the planning system and local government.

Renah Givney                                                                                                                                                       

Vice President

I have worked in local government for almost 17 years in development assessment roles. I am currently a senior development assessment Officer at Coffs Harbour City Council, where I am the depa delegate. I have also represented depa members on Councils Consultative Committee for the last 5 years, part of this time as the Chair.

While working in local government can be extremely rewarding, it can also be a very difficult environment for those who work in development and environment roles. I firmly believe that depa plays an integral role in assisting members to navigate this environment, while helping to steer the industry in the right direction.

The last 4 years I have served on the depa Committee of Management. I am seeking re-election this year in the position of Vice President. Should I be re-elected, I will continue to contribute to the strategic direction of the union and advocate for the interests of members.

Vince Galletto                                                                                                                                              

Committee Member

I have been a member of this association since the early 80s and have been the chair of the Consultative Committee at the City of Ryde Council for almost 20 years.

I have an interest in preserving the rights and benefits of local government employees and in particular the planning, development and environmental health and building professionals which depa represents.

As a member of the Committee of Management for depa it has provided me with the opportunity to participate and represent fellow members in award negotiations as well is looking after their interest in any dispute that may arise with their employer/organisation.

I would feel privileged to be given the opportunity to continue my association and work with depa as a member of the Committee of Management.

Yael Lang                                                                                                                                                         

Committee Member

I am an Environmental Health Officer at Blacktown City Council and have been for almost 14 years. Coming from a strong union-minded community, I joined depa upon my first few days of starting my career at Blacktown. I found the courage to volunteer myself as delegate some 7 years later, which has allowed me some amazing experiences. In this time I have represented members on the Staff Consultative Committee, participated in policy reviews, and have been involved in negotiating Enterprise Agreements, as well as a range of other activities.

I hold a great deal of appreciation and respect for the work of unions and am especially proud of the role depa plays in local government and its commitment to its members.

Being a newbie amongst a team of experienced and professional members, I can only proclaim to give it my very best!

I very much look forward to this new and exciting opportunity of being elected and becoming part of the Management Committee for depa.

Jamie Loader                                                                                                                                                 

Committee Member

I have over twenty years’ experience in Local Government, working on a range of positions including Building Surveying, Planning, and Environmental Health. I have also worked in a range of Councils including small rural Councils (Bland and Junee Shire), Metropolitan (Parramatta City) and large regional Councils (Wyong Shire and now Central Coast).

I believe that my experience in Local Government allows me to better understand the issues faced by depa members and the industry in general. I have also been the depa delegate at Parramatta City and Bland Shire Councils so I have had considerable experience representing members on various workplace reform committees, consultative committees and in the IRC.

I am extremely proud of the role that depa plays within the industrial framework of Local Government and our reputation, whilst hard-earned, speaks for itself. If we’re involved, there’s a fight to be fought.

I’ve been a member of the Committee of Management for eleven years now, nine of those as Vice President. During this time of been involved in setting the strategic direction of the Association, as well as representing the Union in a number of forums.

I look forward to continuing my role on the depa Committee of Management.

Shona Porter                                                                                                                                                         

Committee Member

I have been a member of depa from my beginnings in town planning as a graduate planner at Randwick Council.

I represented depa on the Consultative Committee at Canterbury-Bankstown, including as chair of the CC. For the first 18 months of the merger the Council operated with an interim consultative committee with delegates from Canterbury and Bankstown, after which I was elected by members to be the depa representative.

I actively participate in the consultative committee, ensuring that all information provided to me in those meetings or by email is distributed to members for feedback. I am able to benefit members through my broad knowledge of local government, the issues faced by newly formed organisations, and other issues where members need support.

I think depa provides value for members in providing professional and capable advice and would like to be re-elected on the committee to further increase my knowledge of employment related issues so that I can better represent my fellow colleagues/depa members.


COVID-19 update

LGNSW and the three unions, the USU, LGEA and depa, have published two Joint Statements as a guide to the industry - one on 17 March and a Revised version on 20 March.

We expect these Joint Statements will continue and so far we’ve seen councils that have responded quickly and decisively to the need to get those who can be working from home, working from home, as well as councils stumbling around and failing that challenge - Clarence Valley, for example, has done little more than warn their staff not to travel between the two Council offices, and to prevent people opening the windows to get in some fresh air. Always a laggard, Clarence needs to move much, much faster.

One of the USU’s big issues in the current award negotiations is the need to survey and establish levels of casualisation in the industry - especially the misuse of “casual” arrangements of people who really are doing systematic and regular hours and are more appropriately described as permanent part-time. The IRC in proceedings directed all councils to supply this information and one of the councils which has failed to comply with the direction is Sutherland. The sort of occasion when you regret that there are no penal provisions in the Industrial Relations Act.

And it eventuates that at Sutherland last week they planned to advise more than 300 employees they classified as “casuals” that there won’t be any more work offered. Obviously councils need to work out what to do about workplaces like swimming pools, gymnasiums and leisure centres when the Government has closed them down, but the heavy-handed approach taken by GM Manjeet Grewal entirely ignored that many of the 300 staff had been employed for five, ten and even twenty years and were not really casuals, but permanent part-time employees who would be entitled to redundancy payments.

And this is the same GM who thought it appropriate, on receiving a request from us through their HR people to focus their attention on having those who can work from home, working from home, thought it appropriate to approach our local delegate (who was unaware of our email) and walk him up the street and point out the queues outside Centrelink - something the GM asserted she was avoiding but then, only two days later was sprung sacking all her casuals! Lovely. A handful of degrees but none of them remotely involving caring or compassion.

We are interested to hear from members at other laggard councils so we can assist in getting people working from remote locations and away from cramped and higher risk offices. Let us know.

Local Government Poseurs want to stand you down –

“Let me at ‘em”

Yesterday, amongst three videoconferences with the other parties to the State Award trying to resolve the 2020 Award, we wrote to the Minister for Local Government and the Office of Local Government.

In the Award negotiations there had been a general discussion about what appeared to be a lack of action by Government to respond to the COVID-19 crisis in local government (something more positive than the more bloodthirsty general managers who keep shaking their fists at LGNSW demanding the right to stand staff down) so it seemed a good idea to write to people critical to the financial survival of local government.

It seemed obvious, although it hadn’t been explicitly said by the Prime Minister on Monday afternoon announcing the “JobKeeper” $130 billion package, that local government would struggle to get any of the wage subsidies being funded. We knew that the State Government looked like keeping all of their staff on normal pay, even if they had nothing to do, or twenty days special leave if they needed to mind their kids, as part of a process of riding the crisis out. But local government looked like it had fallen between the cracks.

Amongst other things we said:

Something needs to be done and it needs to be done by you two. Why can’t you do things like this:

  • whatever is required to make available councils’ financial reserves/”unrestricted assets”,
  • provide grants to continue employment to encourage councils to initiate “shovel-ready projects” and provide meaningful work to employees across the state as well as making improvements to local communities and community facilities,
  • commit to allowing councils funding continuing work and services to the community with the guarantee that these monies can be recouped with rate levels beyond the pegging limits,
  • pursue the Federal Government to extend JobKeeper to local government - which, as businesses, can satisfy the requirements,
  • do whatever is required to encourage councils to retain their staff levels and services to the community with the authority that only the Minister for Local Government can provide, and
  • find ways to ensure that local government employees can be guaranteed the protections of special leave where a workplace is closed “to be paid as normal and are (sic) placed on paid special leave”.

But while we were busy making suggestions aimed at keeping everyone employed and doing all those good things that councils do, the infamous Local Government Professionals (sic – AKA Local Government Poseurs) were off on a different tack. The Poseurs’ President Stewart Todd, almost at exactly the same moment that we had emailed our letter to the Minister and OLG had emailed out a “PRESIDENT UPDATE” (sic) to his “Fellow General Mangers”(sic) advising that he had flagged their intention to have LGNSW apply to the Industrial Relations Commission to include stand down provisions in the Award and make a variety of other changes making it easier to change people’s hours, reduce their hours or force them onto leave”.

Not quite the same approach that we and the other unions are looking for. LGP had an online meeting of GM’s which apparently had some “generally agreed” positions. And while they mention stimulus packages and other options for local government, it’s the reality that the only immediate idea they have is to stand down staff and reduce their hours of work, that reveals LGP at its most depressing.

You can read what should have been described as a “President’s Update” (and we’re always happy to give Stewart advice on his grammatical and spelling skills) but it’s the final paragraph that is so appallingly hypocritical:

This is not a time for local government stakeholders to be obstinate in their thinking and position - all involved will need to make sacrifices - we are all in this together.

Are we? The sacrifices needed to be made won’t see the GM’s stood down, only those well below them out there being seen in the community providing services.

Finally, something about us - it’s election time

Elections for the Committee of Management take place every two years, and for the position of Secretary every four years. This year will see the NSW Electoral Commission conduct an election for us for our new Committee of Management, other than the position of Secretary which was elected for a four year term in 2018.

Last year the Committee acknowledged the reasons why a Committee of ten was simply too big for an organisation our size. These days, with electronic communications, everyone is in contact with each other, and our structure needs to respond.

So the Committee resolved at its November meeting to amend our rules to move from a ten person Committee of one President, two Vice Presidents, and six Members (plus the Secretary) to a more compact group of seven, one President, one Vice President and four Members, and the Secretary.

depa and the NSWEC have agreed on this timetable for the election:

3 March               depa provides electoral roll to NSWEC

9 March               NSWEC posts election notices to all financial members and on their website calling for nominations

24 March             Nominations close

If there are sufficient candidates for the vacant positions, they will be declared elected. And if there are more candidates than there are positions, an election will follow.

There are three members the current Committee who have chosen to not re-nominate. President Jo Doheny will retire from local government this year, Vice President Joanne Dunkerley has been hit with the often-impossible logistics of managing a school age daughter and Brendan Hayes, in his new job at Parkes, will focus on that and EDAP.

We note and appreciate Jo Doheny’s contribution over the last decade. A great delegate for us at Gosford initially, a member of the Committee of Management, a Vice President and for the last few years President. Thanks Jo. Joanne was on the Committee for almost that long as well after a long period as our delegate at Great Lakes. Thanks Joanne.

And thanks Brendan.

There is a democratic process to be followed and all financial members are able to nominate. Sometimes it is a struggle for us to fill the nine positions and those most interested in what we do are active delegates or members of the Consultative Committee, and there is a limit to what can be asked of a volunteer.

If anyone is interested in standing for election, give the office a ring and we can talk through what’s involved. Otherwise we have enough current members re-standing not to worry. Relax, nothing to see here.


Sydney City can’t help being nominated for our HR awards

What is it with Sydney City? The City, boasting its progressive credentials in employment, has been nominated more than any other Council in our annual Worst HR Local Government awards. This progressive stuff is simply a façade, inclusion is gorgeous, we all support it, but getting a finger out and dealing with an application by your own managers for the introduction of nine day fortnight for their staff, consistent with the provisions in the City Award allowing this process to be considered, shouldn’t be sitting around ignored for almost a year.

We had members involved in the drafting of that submission to which there was no proper response, then members resolving that we do what we could to get some action happening under the terms provided expressly in the Award, which we did, to be confronted with the City’s Impossible GoSlow. A phenomenon where all HR issues can go to die.

And when our dispute is listed in the IRC, the City admits it doesn’t have a “process” to consider such an application, the latest in a series of attempted fob offs which included refusing to respond to our request about which policies or procedures should be addressed in an application - with some HR flunky saying they couldn’t be specified because it could be all of them.

In the IRC on 28 January, Commissioner Sloan was able to squeeze from the City’s lawyer an undertaking that they would identify the policies and procedures that needed to be addressed by the end of the following week. And just like the City, we received their advice at 4:50pm on Friday afternoon! That really is taking literally the concept of the end of the week.

But the letter contained no surprises, they identified the Code of Conduct, Leave Guidelines, their Work Health and Safety Policy and their Overtime Guidelines. These were not just four basic obvious policies that had been considered by those managers who drafted the proposal in March 2019, they were damning evidence that the City’s response to us was nothing more than BS. Our first 2020 nomination, will it be seven years of nominations for the City?

Six nominations for the Golden Turd since 2014, every year in fact, so there must be some common factor, something bogging stuff down to an Impossible GoSlow, and frustrating everyone since 2013...

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