How hard is HR?

When the Local Government (State) Award was finalised in 1991 to operate from 1992 it contained, for the first time in local government, a requirement that employees would only progress based on the acquisition and use of skills. Those of us who negotiated the Award believed that covered nearly everyone but negotiations were regularly punctuated with observations that if there were a group of employees in the industry who never learned anything, nor acquired new skills, it had to be HR.

That was a bit harsh because there are HR professionals in local government committed to improving job satisfaction; developing flexible work to allow better work and family balance and systems to accommodate the child care and educational needs of employees’ kids; having fair and transparent job evaluation; treating people respectfully; interpreting the Award and policies correctly; facilitating broad access to health and well-being days; ignoring HR advice from the dilettantes at LGMA; conducting investigations, when they need to be conducted, fairly, assuming the innocence of the employee being investigated, and concluding those investigations promptly.

Investigating allegations of poor performance or unacceptable behaviour is one area where many, many councils simply get it wrong. Councils often don’t have reasonable or realistic policies to guide their staff or external contractors on how to conduct investigations that treat employees fairly. Some councils struggle to develop them. Some don’t care.

In 2006 Campbelltown City Council undertook to develop an investigations policy as a result of an industrial dispute we had filed where two clumsy and inexpert directors had stumbled their way through an investigation of one of our members. There was no useful policy to guide them. Eight years later, again in an industrial dispute we had filed simply because we couldn’t wait any longer, we were able to reach agreement with the Council on what we would like to think should become a model for councils in the industry. An investigations policy underpinned by the presumption of innocence and requirements for procedural fairness.

We revealed a conga line of incompetents at Gosford in 2011 in another of our disputes where six employees, from the acting General Manager down, simply couldn’t get their act together sufficiently to properly conduct an investigation and to speedily conclude it. And given that the issue was over right of access, none of them even bothered to ask anyone who knew how right of access worked. Durr.

They were nailed by the President of the IRC (no less) who, amongst other things, recommended the Council develop an investigations policy cooperatively with the unions. And then that didn’t happen until a new GM, three years later made sure it did - by which time only one of the six in the conga line was still doing the same job – of the remaining five, one had been transferred and the rest were gone.

Last month we filed a dispute with Bankstown over a clumsy and subprofessional process where allegations were made against a member of ours in a supervisory job. An employee already on a final warning and sprung again for failing to do the job properly had been interviewed in a one-on-one and then lodged a grievance about the style of the interview.

Bankstown thought it made sense to contract an external investigator to conduct the investigation. Having seen the draft record of interview and the corrected version by our member, it’s hard to believe they were at the same meeting. But while our member was cleared of any wrongdoing, the Council, claiming that this was the modus operandi of the investigator, would not provide a copy of the investigator’s report so that our member could read it and be satisfied with the process.

An investigated employee is always entitled to see a copy of any findings or reasoning used by an investigator and upon which Council might make a judgement. To do otherwise is to deny the employee the subject of the complaint the accepted principles of procedural fairness.

Bankstown says their policy doesn’t require the provision of the document and this is something we will fix in 2015. But, at the same time, they have said that SINC Solutions insist that the report not be provided because witnesses and others gave evidence confidentially.

Imagine that, someone is charged with a crime or an offence but the prosecutor in the investigation refused to disclose the evidence and the person is unable to test it. Unfair, unfair, unfair.

We have engaged with SINC Solutions trying to understand whether it was the Council’s fault, or SINC Solutions, or a collective unfairness in which they both shared blame.

Still no reply and you can see how hard we tried here

So, until we clear this up and they respond to us, if you are to be investigated at your Council, the investigator had better be someone else or you won’t ever be able to examine the findings.

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