GM and Mayor tell everyone to get Farooqed

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.

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