Liverpool GM Farroq Portelli and Mayor Ned Mannoun

Liverpool GM Farooq Portelli and Mayor Ned Mannoun


It’s official: Liverpool Council treats everyone with contempt.

Contempt for their existing managers, contempt for their duties and obligations under the Local Government (State) Award, contempt for the unions asking for “all relevant information” and contempt for the processes of the Industrial Relations Commission.

LCC isn’t Liverpool City Council, it’s Liverpool Contemptuous Council.

This morning was the sixth occasion that the USU’s dispute about the restructure (joined enthusiastically by depa and the LGEA) was dealt with by the IRC and those six occasions were punctuated by a meeting of the parties in the offices of the LGSA. Fruitless, of course, someone wasn’t listening.

Clause 35 of the State Award creates significant duties and obligations for a Council in a restructure. People affected need to be told, as do the unions to which they belong, the parties are to meet as soon as possible, Council is obliged to provide “all relevant information” and the Council is even obliged to think about reconsidering.

The questions the unions were asking remain unanswered. The Council has not provided information like the individual salary ranges of the existing 23 manager positions, how many manager positions are merged to create the eight Group Managers and therefore it’s impossible to judge whether the “bigger jobs” created in the restructure are paid the same, more, or even less than the original positions. That sounds like relevant information.

And at no stage has the Council been prepared to say why it is critical to their vision for the future that the eight Group Managers, the third level of management in the organisation, need to be Senior Staff under the Local Government Act and, as a result of that, employed on term contracts.

It’s constantly being reinforced in the industry that the inadequate and inflexible Standard Contract for Senior Staff allows employees to be sacked without reason being given. A power misused by the Council at Camden late last year and last night, at Auburn. Two general managers doing the right thing and terminated under the terms of the contract without reason. The latest in a long tradition.

(And don’t, as an aside, expect that the Division of Local Government is going to do anything about it. They prefer to be spectators watching the infamy unfold at Camden and Auburn than actually doing something to prevent it. It’s beyond their own self-imposed restrictions.)

It seems a relatively simple question to ask “why?" the Council would exercise their discretion under section 332 of the Local Government Act to determine, in a decision unprecedented in the two decades since 1993 Act was made, to make the third level of management Senior Staff. After all, there are more and better opportunities for flexibility in remuneration and reward for performance, under the Award than the unimaginative and restrictive Standard Contract.

The DLG hates flexibility on remuneration because they think it’s “open slather” - based on an expectation that elected councillors regularly shower general managers and senior staff with largess and riches beyond their wildest dreams: an expectation which underpins their reactionary role but which would elicit only derision and laughter were they game to announce it to the industry.

But Liverpool refuses to say why. Given the opportunity on six occasions in the Commission, they only wanted to say they could, or the jobs were strategic, or something else which carefully avoided dealing with the complications which arise from making positions term contracts and removing the protections and safety of permanent on-going employment.

And GM Portelli insisted “I do not believe that employment under a term contract exposes people to a disadvantage”. Uh oh, there is increasing number of general managers in the industry who would happily tell him otherwise.

But while the GM may not have been game to disclose their real motivation in the Commission, Mayor Ned Mannoun was quite happy to do so - boasting what a progressive Council they were with their current restructure, but they’d been taken by the nasty unions to the Commission, at a Urban Taskforce Forum conducted in conjunction with the Daily Telegraph. Gee, developers and the Murdoch press - how could you lie down with that lot and get out without fleas?

But Councillor Mannoun, manning up to the job of seducing the developers (who he described as “the engine room of our economy”) answered the question “why?”

Because “it takes us a year to performance manage a staff member out of the workforce”.

First of all, this is factually incorrect. The Council is extremely good at performance managing people out of the workforce and, if there were an award across the industry for this process, the Manager of Ejection from the Workforce and Liverpool would win it.

But more importantly, doesn’t that just say it all?

It was precisely what the unions suspected. Term contracts allow good employees to be treated unfairly by not being offered a renewal, or by termination under the “for any other reason” provision with the payment of 38 weeks pay. And they allow an employer off the hook on any obligation to properly manage the performance of someone who isn’t up to scratch. And that’s neither responsible stewardship of public money, nor good public policy.

So we wrote to the Mayor congratulating him on being prepared to be so open and honest about the motivation underpinning the restructure and the placing of the third level of management on term contracts when representatives from the Council in the Commission were not quite so game. We invited him to come to the Commission on the next occasion, and tell the Commission that as well.

The Mayor said no.

So, if Farooq wants all of his strategic managers capable of being removed without notice, he’s got it. If he wants his entire Executive Team removable without proper process, capriciously or unfairly, he’s got that too. After all, if it’s good enough for him, it’s good enough for everyone. Or realistically, if it’s bad enough for him, it’s bad enough for them too. Funny thing to do with public money, though.

So, be warned. These Group Manager jobs are likely to be advertised on the weekend and only the overly self-confident, the deluded, and the risk takers need apply. For anyone suicidal and attracted to the scenario of creating a fuss and inviting the police to shoot them, this is the job for you.

Unfortunately in the Commission this morning Justice Staff refused to make two directions sought by depa and supported by the USU and the LGEA. He refused to direct that the Council provide comparisons of the existing rates for managers alongside the proposed new rates, so we could tell whether people can be paid fairly for these new and bigger jobs, and he refused to direct the attendance of the Mayor on the next occasion we fought this out to say what he is apparently only prepared to say while flattering and sucking up to developers.

Liverpool wants to get rid of people without fair process. The Council’s own external consultant found that the overwhelming emotion amongst the workforce was fear and now the Council can extend that emotion right through their Executive Team.

In a thorough profile in News Review in last weekend’s SMH, the Premier not only claimed boring was good but that boring meant “that we’re focusing on real issues, making tough decisions around complex issues that hopefully are focused on the public.”

We are not so sure. A boring approach to local government reform won't do anyone any favours and a continuation of the previous Government's reluctance to bite the bullet and amalgamate what are clearly financially unsustainable councils, means a continuation of councils trading insolvent, less money for training, less money for market rates etc. Please, this is an area where being boring isn't the solution.

The announcement last week of a Local Government Review Panel to "investigate and identify options for governance models, structural arrangements and voluntary boundary changes for local government in New South Wales" perpetuates two decades of failed social policy trying to convince those with the most substantial vested interests ( general managers and councillors) to ignore the self-evident. Sweet talking hasn't worked.

Here is an area crying out for something a bit less boring. Come on Barry, do something challenging when you appoint the three members of the Review -  ask depa for a nomination!

Let's not get distracted. We are going to happily celebrate Barry's anniversary with some exciting news because we try not to do boring.

The State Electoral Office wrote to all financial members calling for nominations and at noon on Friday 23 March, the Electoral Office declared elected nine candidates for the nine available positions. The election was uncontested and all positions were filled. Move along Barry, nothing boring to see here.

Two new young women planners will join the Committee.  Joanne Dunkerley is a planner and our delegate at Great Lakes and Selina McNally is also a planner and our delegate at Nambucca.  Both nominated and were declared elected and will join a Committee with considerable experience and expertise in managing the policies and action of the union. And with Jo Doheny, a woman, our delegate and a planner from Gosford elected as a Vice President, (Jo was appointed to the Committee in September last year to fill a casual vacancy) and Kerry Hunt, a long-serving member of the Committee in a variety of positions over many years, we at last have female representation proportionate to the number of women amongst our members.

Four women in a Committee of ten and with a nice range of ages that more appropriately reflects the demographics of our members too.

The new Committee takes office from 1 May for a two year term.

Over the past couple of years Andrew Spooner and Les Green have acted as our representatives on the Food Regulation Forum - established by the NSW Government to improve consultation and feedback between all the parties involved in the regulation of food and food premises.

Amongst other things, the Forum is the primary source of advice and guidance to the Food Regulation Partnership and it evaluates and provides advice to the NSW Food Authority. Falling within the responsibilities of the Minister for Primary Industries, the new Minister,  Katrina Hodgkinson MP has expressed a desire to try to even out the genders in what has been a uniformly blokey group.  And we are happy to help. After all, look what's just happened to our Committee.

So, we are calling for expressions of interest to be considered by the May meeting of the Committee of Management to be one of our representatives. If you are a woman who is a member and involved in food regulation, then here is an opportunity to have a higher level involvement in policy than your current job will allow.

If you are interested, ring the office. It would be a bit embarrassing if, having women representatives on the Committee proportionate to our women members, we can't find someone.

Last week the Federal Parliament endorsed progressive increases to compulsory superannuation that will see an eventual increase from the current 9% to 12% in 2019. SGC will go to 9.25% in July next year. Compulsory superannuation is a piece of social policy admired across the globe. Originating in a relationship between the ACTU and the Hawke Labor Government, ACTU Secretary Bill Kelty and Treasurer and then Prime Minister Paul Keating created something so obvious and compelling that you wonder why compulsory superannuation didn't exist earlier.

Well, you don't wonder for long. Compulsory national superannuation was initially proposed as part of the 1972 Whitlam initiatives but up until the 1980s superannuation was solely the privilege of predominantly male professions, clustered in the public sector or available after a long qualifying period in the private sector. It was a system that meant there was no proper strategy to improve and protect retirement income levels and this disadvantaged wage earners in the private sector and particularly, women workers. It was pension or nothing.

And superannuation funds were only run by the big banks and insurers and were usually available through company funds with impenetrable governance, questionable decisions about investment and anonymous trustees.

So how can anyone be opposed to a system that introduced compulsory superannuation for everyone, managed through funds with equal representation of employers and employees and with no profits being skimmed off to the big banks?

In 1985 the then Leader of the Opposition was John Howard. Howard said this:

"That superannuation deal, which represents all that is rotten with industrial relations in Australia, shows the government and the trade union movement in Australia not only playing the employers of Australia for mugs but it is also playing the Arbitration Commission for mugs".

Howard was commenting on the deal between the government and the ACTU which saw the trade union movement forfeit a claim to 3% productivity improvement as wages to instead be paid in compulsory superannuation - endorsed by the Arbitration Commission and managed by superannuation funds with equal representation of the unions in the industry and the employers.

Howard went on to describe it as a "Chicago racket", referring to the corruption and gangster years of Chicago in the 1930s. But Howard's view was not a lonely one in the Coalition - which has steadfastly opposed every increase in compulsory superannuation since that time, whether it be from 3% to 6%, or the 6% to the current 9%. Antagonistic, moi?

How dare the employees in an industry and the employers run a superannuation fund for people on a not-for-profit basis when the Coalition's mates in banks and finance could have been skimming off the cream investing the money themselves without the employees having any idea where it was being invested, by whom or who were the Trustees managing it on their behalf?

Now there is around $1.4 billion managed in the compulsory superannuation pool in Australia - a figure expected to increase to $3 billion in the next decade.

But the Conservatives who opposed equal access to superannuation still do so. In an article in The Australian on 14 March in anticipation of the increase in compulsory superannuation, Tony Abbott attacked industry super funds creating a "gravy train" for union officials to sit on the boards.

The current Opposition Leader foreshadowed that the Coalition doesn't easily forget their mates losing access to money being made in this area and that they will pursue this at some stage in government.

But the problem for the Coalition is that industry/government funds that exist only to fund retirement incomes for the members rather than create profits for corporations have, in the past eight years to June 2011, delivered 49 of the 50 strongest performances. Corporate funds are regularly at the bottom of the barrel on returns, the fees are invariably higher, the directors and trustees are the real faceless men, and existing solely to provide a profit to the companies that run them.

Any attack on the not-for-profit sector will be driven solely by hatred and envy and puts at risk the retirement incomes of members of those funds. Beware.

Sometimes things just slip under your guard. Even though we hadn't been consulted when Upper Hunter Shire Council introduced its drug and alcohol policy a few years ago, nor when they reviewed it last year, we knew there was some extremism at play. Without having seen the policy, we thought the extremism was the introduction of random drug and alcohol testing - something we don't like because it fails to properly target workplace risk and too often can pick up employees who are working well and enthusiastically and not doing anything wrong or creating risk.

(And it's hard not to make the aside, because often we see councils that take ages to do the simplest of tasks, many think this is an industry crying out for some performance enhancement.)

depa has had a policy for years that we are opposed to random drug and alcohol testing and, after we filed disputes with Hornsby, Sutherland and Wollongong about policy issues generally, we were pleased when the USU took up the challenge. As a result, through 2009 and 2010 the three local government unions and the Local Government Association and Shires Association developed Industry Guidelines, agreed by the peak employers organizations and the three local government unions in an admirable consensus, for the guidance of the industry.

In the August issue of depaNews we reported that we had written (our letter of 25 August) to the Department of Local Government requesting the review of the anti-discrimination provisions in the Local Government Act. These provisions were drafted in 1993, had not been reviewed, and specifically required councils to act to eliminate discrimination in employment "on the grounds of race, sex, marital status and disability".

Our concern was that since 1993 the Anti-Discrimination Act had made unlawful a number of additional areas of discrimination (in particular, being discriminated against because of an employee’s responsibilities as a carer) which were not acknowledged in the Local Government Act and, because section 346 provides that in the event of any inconsistency between a Council’s EEO management plan and the provisions of the anti-Discrimination Act, then the Council’s management plan prevails. We thought this had the potential of rendering invalid those areas of unlawful discrimination included in the Anti-Discrimination Act since 1993

We said in August that because the Division of Local Government likes to put the clock on local government performance, we would put the clock on them.

Our letter was dated 25 August and their response to us was dated 9 February and without getting too particular, that’s just over 23 weeks - or about 115 working days. Just as well the Minister’s Committee on Women in Local Government encouraged them to be quick about it!

Anyway, they tell us that we were wrong and that we needn't worry. See their response here.

Well, we are reluctant to get involved in this debate too heavily because observations we made last year about the inappropriateness of a Council assessing its own development applications drew some criticism. Some of it was very vigorous - we had no idea how things work in the bush, we didn't care about how council costs would blow out if they had to get someone else from another council to come and look at the job, etc.

We understand now that it is cheaper for a Council to use its own staff to assess its own applications and certify their employer complies with the conditions of consent. We think it still makes the industry vulnerable to attacks from private certifiers who we complain are prejudiced when they accept money from the people for whom they are doing the job.

We also know that there are employees in the industry who would welcome prohibition in this area because they had been pressured to approve and certify things they would have rather not approved or certified. It's a bit of a two-edged sword really.

The BPB has temporary guidelines in place and has written to all councils, and e-mailed every council employee who is an accredited certifier and put five options:

Option 1: No exemption for any council

Option 2: Exempt regional and rural councils only

Option 3: Exempt all councils (for work) up to a certain value

Option 4: Partial exemption to allow councils to act as the Principle Certifying Authority

Option 5: Existing exemption (permit Council accredited certifiers to undertake Council and council employees’ certification work), or

Option 6: Another option.

The Committee of Management considered this potentially no-win question at the meeting on 11 February and we will be advising the BPB that we believe it appropriate for Council employees to certify applications filed by other employers of the Council and that, when it comes to assessing and certifying the Council’s own Development Applications, we encourage regional cooperation to ensure the proper management of conflicts of interest.

depaCup Winners CanterburyFour members from Canterbury Council have won the depa Cup at the 2011 Union Picnic Day Golf Day at Blackheath on Friday 11 March. And by a handsome margin too.

The eighth depa Golf Day was contested by 17 teams (including two teams from Shoalhaven and the longest drivers of all, a team from Bega Valley) and the Canterbury players - Steve Arnold, Greg Liddle, George Kalivitis and our delegate Stephen Pratt, triumphed. Greg also won the prize for closest to the pin on the second shot.

The longest drive was won by Alex Williams from North Sydney and the closest to the pin by Stephen Cullen from The Hills. Stephen was actually second closest to the pin – and Ross di Mauro from Liverpool, who was closest to the pin, learns the hard lesson that you have to be there for the presentation to win the prize.

Local Government Super provides some sponsorship towards the event and the prizes were awarded by LGS CEO Peter Lambert. To view all photos from the day click here.

Tactical Response Group?Wow, who wouldn't want to join the Tactical Response Group? Those hot, body-hugging overalls identifying you as TRG tucked into your butch boots, the big guns, the reputation of being an action person? “I work for the TRG darl’, bit hush hush”, who’d miss out with a line like that? Phwoarr!

We got quite excited when we received a letter from the BPB asking us to nominate someone for their TRG. Our relationships with those at the BPB get better by the day but here was an opportunity to dress up too!

But when it was clear that their TRG actually stood for their Technical Reference Group - a committee which provides feedback to the Board on issues with proposed changes in legislation or that require changes in legislation or areas to improve the certification system, the euphoria vanished like a smile off Benji Marshall's face - as SMH wine writer Huon Hooke descriptively observed in the Good Living section yesterday. Nice line, Huon.

The Committee of Management invites expressions of interest from members who may be interested in participating in this less glamorous but nevertheless essential and valuable role. We need to have a nomination to them by 30 March and we need a summary of your qualifications and experience.

Victor Lampe delivers pizzasEmployees are entitled to join a union or not to join a union. In the olden days in local government and other areas there used to be a preference of employment clause for union members that provided, all other things being equal, if two candidates were applying for a job, then the union member got the job. This reflected the preference at the time for employers to deal with registered organisations of employees.

The Preference of Employment clauses were deleted from the Local Government Awards more than a decade and a half ago and now whether an employee joins the union or not, is purely a voluntary decision. We can't make people, we can only encourage them. That keeps us on our toes, working hard and telling people what we do.

Sometimes encouraging people to be a member isn't easy. After all, whether employees are union members or not, they get the benefits that result from negotiation by the unions of the Awards or Enterprise Agreements, the benefits of the precedents set in industrial disputes like our recent dispute at Wagga Wagga, pay increases and progression under the provisions required in salary system etc etc.

Every benefit inserted in the Award when negotiated between the LGSA and the unions flows through to everyone - whether they contribute through fees to the appropriate union or not. Sometimes there is no limit to how much the freeloaders are prepared to accept.

“… the question now is whether it would be unjust or unreasonable for the company to implement the urine-based random testing regime with its wide "window of protection", with all that implies for interfering with the private lives of employees, when a much more focused method is available, where a positive test is far more likely to indicate actual impairment, and is far less likely to detect the use of drugs at the time that would have no consequential effect on the employee's performance at work."

nurse holding urine YUK!This is an extract from the decision of Senior Deputy President Hamburger in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission in Shell Refining v CFMEU. The Commission, in a decision which is now the Federal authority, found that it would be unjust or unreasonable to move beyond the existing saliva testing regime to the less effective and more intrusive urine-testing.

We couldn't have put it better. The most effective method of testing for impairment at work is saliva because urine gives no indication of how recently a drug was taken. While it might let you know who-did-what two weeks ago, it doesn't let you know who-did-what just before they came to work. As the AIRC appreciates, it fails to be an effective test of impairment at work and is overwhelmed by the negatives of invading the privacy of employees with findings that have no effect on the employee's performance at work.

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