Shellharbour shows why you need to be a member of a union

Computer and Carey say no

Last year Shellharbour Council restructured and dislodged a couple of our members who, when it became clear there was no alternative job that didn’t involve being paid less, decided to take redundancies.

The process rolled out over a number of months, commencing with a Q&A “to keep staff informed” and asserting it was in compliance with the provisions of the Award,  but under the heading “Who can I talk to? the council listed only management and HR representatives. No mention of the unions, why would you need to talk to them?

Being made redundant, or even choosing to be made redundant when there is no alternative position for you, is one of the great traumatic experiences of working. In local government the Award is explicit with entitlements but Shellharbour took the view that while the Award prescribed termination payments based on years of service, the prescribed five weeks’ notice, or payment in lieu thereof, was an opportunity to save some money.

As a general rule, anyone made redundant in the industry, either against their will or at their choosing, gets the payment plus the five weeks’ pay in lieu of notice. That uniform arrangement across the industry exists because those provisions have been part of the Award for more than 25 years.

There have been a few councils over the years which tried to argue that the employee had plenty of notice, so they had worked out the five weeks, but invariably when the unions have pushed back (most recently for us at Willoughby last year, one of the reasons why they were nominated in our HR awards) the Council falls into line with the industry practice.

But not Shellharbour where there HR Manager Paul Kiley famously responded to depa, “common practice in other Council’s (sic) does not constitute an entitlement”. We hadn’t, of course, we just said it was a common practice because everyone interpreted it the same way.

But having reached agreement with the employees concerned, neither of whom had been made redundant anywhere previously and believed they could rely upon the Council doing the right thing, nominated their final date of service and the Council seized upon this as allowing them to work out their five weeks’ notice and not receive payment as part of their termination. Nya nya, you lose, in other words.

This is a disgrace and it’s reasonable to say that had these circumstances existed at any other council, both would have received the full payment without fuss. Many councils where we are involved in negotiating redundancies have agreed that employees can take accumulated leave to get them to critical dates like 1 January for taxation purposes, or 31 December for defined benefit superannuation purposes, and then be paid their termination payment and the five weeks in lieu of notice. They do this, because they care for the wellbeing of their employees, particularly when they are losing their jobs. – unlike Shellharbour.

This was our second dispute this year and a Deed of Release was signed by one of the members which contains a confidentiality provision, so nothing to see here.

The second part of the dispute however was we wanted the Council to sit down with the unions and negotiate a protocol about how they would do this in the future. It would allow for a proper discussion with the employees about what they wanted to do with those five weeks pay, did they want to continue working at the Council and forfeit them as part of their lump sum payment at the end, would they work a couple of weeks and take the remainder as a lump sum, or what.

However, in the Commission the council made it clear they were not interested at all in a protocol regulating this because if people being made redundant don’t take advice from their unions to understand how it all works, then more fool them. Not in those exact words but that’s what it meant.

We think that appalling and we have a nice early nomination for our HR awards in 2019. But, we’re going to press on with developing a protocol and just for fun, we prepared one which the GM Carey McIntyre should have little trouble agreeing to, because it’s based upon how they like to do business now. It’s a joke of course, but doesn’t it damn them.

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