How hard is HR? Part 2

There is a high correlation between being nominated or winning our Worst HR in Local Government Award and improved processes, some derailed career paths and even some people being moved out to try their luck elsewhere. Some councils try harder. The Awards are intended to be rehabilitative and encouraging of change rather than simply punitive. There is no progress or improvement if things are punitive only. Philosophically, depa believes everyone is capable of learning and improving.

One of our nominees last year has already made an effort to improve and two of our nominees are the subject of new disputes with us filed this year. Clearly we weren’t just sitting around at the beach.

Because we always like approaching a new year with enthusiasm and optimism, let’s deal with the good effort first.

Our winner last year, Shoalhaven, responded to the award with a commitment to try harder next year. That’s all well and good, because the proof of the pudding is always in the eating, but when payroll gave bad advice to a member of ours about her entitlement to progress on the trainee scale (incorrectly saying that time on paid leave delayed her annual progression - durr) General Manager Russ Pigg stepped in immediately and fixed it. We like to give credit where it’s due, so good one Russ. One small step …

But two other nominees haven’t fared so well. And one of them, we don’t dare mention. But we can mention Sydney, or the City of Sydney as they like to be acknowledged but, for reasons we will explore below, we can’t mention Bankstown.

Sydney was nominated because they are just so hopelessly slow. We committed to helping them with a timeframe in two areas in 2015 - the development of a proper policy on section 353 Other Work, that they agreed they would redraft a year ago and a review of term contracts.

So, we wrote to the Council on 14 January 2014 asking for them to commit to a timeframe for both of those things to be completed and nominating Friday last week as a deadline, just to help them with their motivation.

But they are very busy at Sydney. For a Council with high environmental credentials, building a sophisticated city with a vibrant and safe nightlife, accessible by public transport and bikes, committed to renewable energy and sensible waste disposal, a fabulous small bars program that has transformed the city at night, fabulous quality food from food trucks and brilliantly conceived and executed seminars on Small Business 101 that on a monthly basis attract more than 160 people to assist small and medium business getting what they need from the Council. But down in the body of the beast, things work very, very slowly.

Sure enough, the timeline sought of the review of term contracts was not responded to at all and on the development of their Other Work policy, the best they could do was send to the three unions a copy of their most recent attempt at reviewing the policy dated August 2014, and something which we had responded to at the end of the year. None of the proposed changes had been adopted and they continued to spell Human Resources as Hunan Resources, raising issues about whether they were thinking about contracting work out to China.

So we filed a dispute, which was listed in the Commission on 21 January to set up a timeframe for the resolution of both of these issues. Wouldn’t you know it, the city has other priorities, can’t make anyone available for the date set and have asked us to delay it a week!

We rejected the request and when it was made to the Commission, they rejected it too.

When the dispute came on before Justice Boland on 21 January, the Commission was convinced sufficiently about the need for some sort of hurry up to be applied and Justice Boland made recommendations on both matters.

The Commission recommended that there be an agreed policy between the Council and the unions by 10 March 2015. The people we deal with in HR couldn’t get a lunch order in by that date but if there is no agreed policy then we go back to pursue the matter further. We hope, because the recommendation also included reference to the City receiving assistance from LGNSW, that we can reach agreement by this time. It’s not that hard.

In relation to the Council’s commitment to review their policy on term contracts, the Commission recommended, again with the assistance of LGNSW, that the City and the unions have an agreed policy by 21 April - three months away.

These are reasonable timeframes which any competent organisation could comply with. The grumpy advocate for the Council may not like them but we could happily sit down with the him and develop an appropriate policy, even based on the dog’s breakfast prepared already over almost a year.

Maybe the solution is simply to leave the City and its astonishingly busy managers and executives out of it. Too much managing, too many meetings, not enough doing.

They could contract it out to Grumpy and me.

But at some stage the City has to put some people into HR who are not constantly at meetings and can allocate sufficient time and energy to get these relatively simple things done.
The State Award has ruled out term contracts in particular circumstances now for more than a decade. Term contracts are simply inappropriate for employees who are doing continuing work. The 2010 Award, with no disagreement between the employer representatives and the unions, identified those areas where term contracts were allowable and these provisions were, again with no dissent or concern, continued in the 2010 Award. They have prevented councils putting people on term contracts which industrial tribunals would subsequently find unacceptable.

Bankstown GM Matthew Stewart

We don’t want to mention Bankstown Council because they found their nomination and the commentary too distressing for words. So, because we don’t gratuitously offend or distress people and because we have started the year flowing with the milk of human kindness, we have decided to edit the story in a way that contains no offence.

Bankstown was so distressed with depaNews they had their solicitor email the office (after we had closed for the year) making a whole range of allegations, demands and generally derogatory observations but most importantly claiming that the commentary may have been contempt of the Commission - an offence, not really provided for in the Industrial Relations Act and certainly not something that has been an issue at all in modern times.
It is, after all, all around the world, an issue these days of freedom of speech.

They then wrote to the Industrial Relations Commission suggesting that we may, yes may, be in contempt. No assertion of confidence about the offence, if it is one at all, but prevarication, uncertainty and, maybe, confusion. What, no better advice than dunno?

We’ll let you know how it all pans out later.

The council really does need to have a look at how they deal with organisations representing the interests of their employees. General Manager Matthew Stewart ignored a succession of emails over a number of weeks inviting the Council to develop an investigations policy in conjunction with the unions and suggesting, because this exercise had already been done in a cooperative way with Campbelltown, with the assistance of the IRC, then the Campbelltown investigations policy would be a good start.

But they can’t keep ignoring us because the Industrial Relations Act allows employer and employee organisations to seek their assistance to make things happen when one of the parties is reluctant to negotiate.

So, we filed a dispute which is listed in the Commission on 30 January.

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