Look out if your Council wants to review your nine day fortnight


Councils regularly review their flexitime, or nine day fortnight arrangements or whatever, and generally do so trying to provide better flexibility for staff while at the same time protecting services to the community. We’ve been dealing with two councils where management took the opportunity to try and remove an entitlement for staff at the same time.

Clarence Valley has had a rigid nine day fortnight arrangement for more than a decade where, over the years,  different managers had agreed to flexible starting or finishing times to meet employee needs - but continue high levels of service. So when they announced to staff that they wanted to look at introducing a flexitime system with flexibility on start and finishing times, it should have been a relatively easy task. Who could say no?

The union representatives on the Consultative Committee were delighted to participate in the development of a more flexible system based upon the nine day fortnight but this wasn’t what management wanted - they talked up the flexibility, introduced the possibility that the nine day fortnight may not be as regular as it had operated in the past but, without really announcing it, proposed changes to the way hours were counted so that if the new system came in, every employee would need to work an additional 47 minutes for every public holiday. And 47 minutes added up over the year makes it pretty close to a full working day.

Then management battened down the hatches. They ignored the cooperative approach available on the consultative committee; argued that the consultative committee union representatives didn’t reflect the view of employees generally; ran information sessions where they discouraged questions from employees, particularly about the dreaded 47 minutes; and when the USU filed the dispute, uniting the three unions in opposition, the Council organise a rigged survey of staff providing a choice between the nine day fortnight (but threatening to remove any existing flexibilities that existed) or the flexitime system they were promoting.

All the while, not being open about the dreaded 47 minutes and complaining that they didn’t understand what it was the unions wanted.

The dispute had two compulsory conferences in the IRC before Commissioner Murphy in Sydney but one of the complications with the new IRC at Parramatta is that the courts have the technology to allow parties to phone in. And this means that with examples like Clarence Valley, the bosses can sit in the general manager’s office, rolling their eyes, being uncooperative and feigning ignorance about the unions’ concerns.

But when the Commissioner turns up in Grafton on 3 June he gets us all agreeing in a very cooperative process to dropping off the theft of the 47 minutes and adopting the flexibilities proposed in the new arrangement without compromising the nine day fortnight.

And then three of the managers gave testimonials to how good their bosses were and entertained us all. Not quite the fat lady singing, but it was over.

The details are being worked out in a cooperative manner now with Council having finally understood what it was the unions wanted and having agreed to it. It’s hard to understand what people want when you don’t listen.

And at Queanbeyan-Palerang, new software in payroll had apparently required changes to the way the flexible working hours system there had been operating. It’s always a problem buying new software that doesn’t accommodate your current circumstances but it was presented as forcing a need to transfer to a two week settlement period .

But, management use the opportunity to pursue the forfeiting of the 13th RDO in the year. Blatant, impossible to properly justify and, just like Clarence, not listening or trying to find a solution. But again, just like Clarence, under pressure they withdrew the proposal so that the new accounting arrangements could operate alongside those preserved entitlements.

The lesson in both these councils is that if management wants to review flexible working hours or RDO arrangements, always read the fine print.

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