Senior staff jobs go in amalgamations and the hero is Viv the Vivisector

Viv the Vivisector

It all hit the fan on Thursday 12 May when the NSW Government by proclamation amalgamated 42 councils into 19 new local government areas. The proclamations included the appointment of administrators to be the Council until election in September 2017, interim General Managers and, depending on how many GMs of the existing councils remained standing, one or more deputy GMs to provide certainty and continuity of their employment.

There had been a consensus view amongst the three unions and LGNSW that there needed to be some form of protection provided to senior staff beyond the 38 weeks’ payout under the standard contract. The Government, through the Office of Local Government and Department of Premier and Cabinet, was also working with the parties to the Award to provide comfort to local government employees at the time of high uncertainty and dramatic change. It was all about happiness generation and protecting morale.

So, when the new Cumberland Council Administrator Viv May met with a displaced Auburn GM and an undisplaced Auburn Deputy GM on the morning after the proclamation, he revealed quickly and dramatically that being named as a Deputy GM in the proclamation provided no certainty or continuity, and those contracts were terminated that day.

(In the interests of full disclosure, the Administrator’s evidence before the Auburn Public Inquiry stated that while he terminated the employment of the Auburn GM, he did so “at his request”.)

But the Deputy GM hadn’t asked to be sacked and, the current tally of senior staff gone is five. It’s not so much the number (because Georges River has seen off one GM, three directors and one IT Manager and Inner West has seen off two GMs, three directors and one other Director position temporarily filled) but the unseemly speed with which it all happened in an environment the Government was carefully constructing to avoid frightening the horses.

In all the amalgamations, those staff who watched their GM disappear felt the loss - and it didn’t matter whether it happened fast or in some sort of agreed way over time. It is reasonable to say that the removal of some much-loved GMs, and some much-respected GMs, poisons the water from which all other employees drink.

But you have to hand it to Viv. The Vivisector started spilling blood before the proclamation was even 24 hours old and provided a role for us to get the DLG to intervene and at least reference in the termination letters a regulation scheduled for the following week that ensures the termination payment is a redundancy, but not quite the “bloodbath” with the unions the Vivisector was hoping for.

Interim GM Merv Ismay, ex-GM of Holroyd (both much-loved and much-respected) decided that it was a pretty good time to take his retirement and Cumberland is the first Council, within a month of the proclamation, to have appointed a second interim GM. The quinella - the first sackings the first interim GM pulling the pin.

Viv has always been a polarising person. As GM at Mosman he was inspired on a managerial study tour to the UK in 1980 by the Thatcherite model. He came back to Australia enthused about the joys of privatisation and contracting out and successfully contracted out all of Mosman Council’s outdoor staff. A model that the employees of Cumberland are well-aware of and, were it not for their three years’ protection, would be a real prospect.

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