Wagga Wagga stumbles with dangerous precedents

One of the agreed changes in the 2014 Award was to encourage a more sympathetic approach when employees run out of sick leave. Previous Awards empowered Councils to exercise a discretion and provide more sick leave for employees (with more than ten years’ service) who, for reasons of bad health, disease or injury, needed additional sick leave. A response, to the “but for the grace of whatever, go I”.

The 2014 Award, with a variety of other improvements in the area of compassion and caring, reduced that ten-year requirement to five. Employees with chronic illness or injury are now getting more support under the Award than they ever have. An employee with a disease that threatens to end their life doesn’t need their head clouded worrying about running out of sick leave.

But all this seems to have missed Wagga Wagga. Too many concerns about establishing dangerous caring precedents.

Last year our delegate at Wagga Wagga, Stephen Cook, had surgery and chemotherapy for bowel cancer. Something he will happily tell you was a real bummer.
He was comforted by colleagues at work and the Mayor, Councillor Rod Kendall told him “I’d like to think we would always look after you.”

This year they discovered secondary cancers in his lung and scheduled surgery with an uncertain result and prognosis.

Before his surgery, Stephen asked the Council to exercise their discretion under the Award to provide him with additional sick leave to cover the surgery and, if he needed it, whatever may follow.
GM Phil Pinyon, Director Planning and Regulatory Services Andrew Krakanthorp and the HR Manager Laurie Flack thought long and hard – this really tested both their imaginations and their compassion. They were worried about establishing dangerous precedents. Like, caring and supporting.

Pinyon and Krakanthorp decided that Stephen had long service leave and annual leave credits, so he could use that first. He needed to exhaust his long service leave and run his annual leave down to eight weeks first, which would cover his surgery and recovery and most of any subsequent chemo - and then the Council would provide him with four weeks sick leave.
Effectively, they offered nothing.

A caring employer would be providing whatever it took to ensure that the employee could face the challenge without having to worry about whether they would have enough sick leave or not. The Mayor clearly understood that.

We emailed GM Phil Pinyon supporting Stephen’s request and pointing out that the Award doesn’t make any suggestion that employees need to work down leave they have accumulated for other purposes, before Council can exercise their discretion to provide additional sick leave.

The GM responded “I don’t intend to rise to your provocations or respond to your inaccurate presumptions and comments” and in his response to Stephen said:

It is unfortunate that Ian Robertson chose to become involved in such a confrontational and provocative way yesterday. Despite Ian’s approach and certainly not because of it, I have revised Council’s formal response to you which was previously provided by way of Andrew’s email to you dated 9th July.

You can read our exchange here and decide for yourself whether it was confrontational or provocative. Or just right.
But, despite the GM’s assurances, or for whatever other reason, the GM and the Director had thought again and decided that Stephen didn’t have to use all of his long service leave up, only down to a balance of four weeks. Then, when annual leave is down to eight, the Council would provide four weeks additional sick leave.
Again that meant that even though we didn’t have to use up all his long service leave, his annual leave and long service leave would cover most of his anticipated surgery and recuperation time. Again, offering nothing.

Annual leave and long service leave are provided to give people a break from the pressures and rigours of work, time for rest and recuperation so you can return to work recharged. Sick leave is there for when you’re sick.
Chemotherapy is something you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. From his last experience, Stephen reckons he will need three days sick leave per treatment, so despite the Council knocking back his application for additional leave before the surgery, he tried again.

And again, the application was rejected.

That means that the 36 or so days of leave Stephen will need for his chemotherapy will all come out of his long service leave and annual leave and he won’t get down to the minimum level required by the GM Phil Pinyon and his team to trigger the four weeks sick leave they think is sufficient to offer.

He really needs to get sicker for the Council’s extra sick leave to apply. Nice.

When asked by staff to send flowers while Stephen was in hospital, Krakanthorp said, “aaah, it’s just the bloody precedent”.
Wagga Wagga’s website boasts of their “excellent reputation”, their “high ethical standards” their commitment to “deal fairly, honestly and ethically” but they have refused to do what is intended by the Award, to exercise their discretion and provide additional sick leave to someone seriously in need of it.

So, GM Phil Pinion expresses his best wishes, his Group Manager Andrew Krakanthorp does too but neither of them thought it appropriate to do what others would do and provide the additional sick leave.

A couple of real bustards

Krakanthorp is also a member of the LGPA Board that resolved to oppose the provision in the 2014 Award to provide half pay sick leave for the chronically ill or injured who need it. Do you see a pattern emerging here?

If the Mayor still believes he’d like to think the Council would always look after Stephen, he had better share the compassion with the GM and Director.

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