Oh no, more “independent” LGS directors

In November last year we emailed members to explain how an “independent” Chair would be appointed to the LGS Board. Historically we’ve made our view known in depaNews that we don’t believe there is a role for directors on the board other than representing the employers and the employees in the industry. The Superannuation Industry Supervision Act 1993 requires that directors act independently (so what’s the point?) but the major regulator of superannuation funds, the Australian Prudent Regulation Authority (APRA) despite getting a bit of a serve from the Royal Commission, sees it as desirable. And if APRA thinks it desirable, funds had better get with the program.

In November last year we stressed to members that our director on the LGS Board at the time Sam Byrne had opposed this, as had I at the meeting of the shareholders, both Sam and I being rolled 7-1.

For reasons that can’t be explained fully, the expectation that this “independent” person would be appointed Chair of the Board by February 2019 was not realised. Only last week were members advised that two “independent” directors had been appointed, one as Chair, Kyle Loades, and one other as a director, Sandi Orleow. In the material sent to members and shareholders, there was no reference made to whether these directors had any interest, experience or passion for the concepts of responsible and sustainable investment that underpins LGS and its reputation.

During the year, and again being careful, there was a majority view of the Board and the Shareholders that there should be three employer directors and three employee directors, meaning that one employer director and one employee would need to resign. In the circumstances, the depa Committee of Management accepted that we’d had enough and our director Sam Byrne resigned effective 31 July .

We thank Sam for his service on our behalf and his commitment to responsible and sustainable investment.

The LGS Board will now be comprised of three employer representatives, three employee representatives and three “independent” representatives, one of whom will be the Chair. Someone’s mission is accomplished.

But despite our reluctance, the Sydney Morning Herald today announced these appointments in its Money section, under the heading “Local Government gets new chair, director”. Significantly, the article said:

The moves come after the $12 billion fund amended its constitution in June to make board changes following a probe into its governance by the Australian Attentional Regulation Authority (APRA).

And the incoming chair (incorrectly described as a “chairman”) is quoted as saying:

The board sees opportunity to enhance member value in the future. In line with APRA’s expectations, this will be an active consideration for the board and the leadership team.

We will provide an explanation for this next issue.

Finally, on the crisis in construction...

Last month we provided a report on our evidence to the Legislative Council Public Accountability Committee into the regulation of building standards etc. You know, the David Shoebridge Committee.

We had an outstanding obligation to provide a written response to two questions provided on notice that day and you can see our response here.

Uh oh, time to change feet

On Monday night, 30 October, the Public Accounts Committee grilled the Building Commissioner, David Chandler, about his role and expectations.

As he disclosed that he had identified another 200 apartment building with “significant issues” which remained “incomplete” despite being certified for occupancy and another two yet to be announced , he said it was the purchaser’s responsibility.

He said people “should go and spend a little more time having a look (at their apartment) before they settle” and “if people were prepared to do a little bit of research to work out who might be risky and who is less risky” there would be fewer problems. One of the members of the Committee Courtney Houssos MLC described his observations as “remarkable” and pursued Mr Chandler to confirm if his “advice is that homeowners become experts themselves” and whether there was a role for government to regulate.

(Ms Houssos is also an ALP member of the Shoebridge Committee and, from our experience, well-informed on the extraordinarily well-funded and well-staffed Building Commissions in Queensland (in particular) and Victoria.)

Mr Chandler responded to Ms Houssos there was “a role for everyone to do what would be appropriate”.

That includes you, Building Commissioner.

So, buyer beware, if you buy an apartment, it’s all down to you and your judgement.

That’s not a monumental step, this is a monumental step

When NSW Better Regulation Minister Kevin Anderson announced the Design and Building Practitioners Bill last week he said it was a “monumental step in the reform of the building and construction industry”.

Oh, please, no it isn’t. Many critics responded that it was more likely the first step of 100 necessary to restore confidence but a monumental step would have been rolling back the option for a developer to pay their own certifier and restoring building and development control solely to local government.

The Minister’s announcement entirely ignores the steps that could be taken to ensure that buildings are built properly - right from the moment construction begins - that there can be proper inspection and control all the way through the construction, that there can be on-site quality control people like the old-fashioned clerk-of-works, and that a properly resourced and massively funded Building Commission could make sure it all worked.

Ignoring the construction and focusing on the potential that at some stage in the future, consumers who have bought something that turns out to be flawed or requiring remedial action or falls down, will have a range of people against whom they can initiate legal action doesn’t really help.

Interestingly, while legal action can be taken against a range of “building practitioners”, they don’t include the developer, who escapes (again) unscathed.

When the Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced on 10 July that private certification “hasn’t worked” and conceded “there’s a gap in legislation. We allowed the industry to self-regulate and it hasn’t worked. There are too many challenges, too many problems and that’s why the government is willing to legislate”, she could have done something about the adequacy of construction so that at the time someone buys a property, or an apartment, there can be absolute certainty about the quality of its construction and whoever built it, fixes it. But she didn’t. The developers win again.

More a monumental fail, than a monumental step.

Narrabri GM wants more bloodshed

What kind of GM would want to prevent the Supreme Court exercising jurisdiction to review the standard senior staff contract to test whether it is “unfair, harsh or unconscionable or against the public interest”?

What kind of GM hasn’t been horrified at the “no reason” 38 week payouts used to remove a succession of competent and successful colleagues, whether they be sacked as general managers or other senior staff?

What kind of GM wouldn’t know that the ICAC in their report after investigating Mid-Western in 2016 recommended that something be done about “no reason” termination for senior staff?

And what kind of GM wouldn’t know that these issues are still the focus of the ICAC in their investigation of the former Canterbury, and the smart money is that they will do something in their final recommendations about how the “no reason” termination can allow councils to bully the GM, a GM to bully directors and generally create a lack of confidence in local government management?

Stewart Todd, is that kind of GM.

On 15 November the Supreme Court will consider his objection to our section 106 application that the standard contract is unfair and that the Court should step in and vary it. Mr Todd’s response as the GM who sacked our member at Narrabri, is to try to avoid the matter being dealt with on its merits by arguing the Court doesn’t have the jurisdiction. And if he is right, then no one has the jurisdiction to deal with a contract and employment arrangements that were abandoned by the New South Wales Government for their senior executives in 2013. More bloodshed ahead.

When the Local Government Act 1993 was made, it introduced an arrangement to employ senior staff based on the model operating in the New South Wales public sector - term employment creating vulnerability for employees when it comes time for the contract to be renewed and good employees can find themselves with the Council, for no good reason, simply not renewing. A termination of employment by any other name.

But in 2013 the NSW Government of Mike Baird announced fairer and more secure employment for the State’s Senior Executive Service by transitioning most of them to ongoing employment. And while there remained the possibility for a public authority to terminate one of these executives with 38 weeks’ pay, this required a written report to the Public Service Commissioner, detailing the steps that had been taken and the reasons for the termination. And by amendment later, a requirement that the Public Service Commissioner consent as the technical employer.

But the Government, having renounced these historic and unfair practices didn’t do anything at all to change the model operating in local government - to the detriment of many senior staff.

We can blame the Government generally, and a number of ministers for Local Government in particular for retaining this anachronistic approach. We would have preferred to see them take the “necessary decisions” (OLG joke) to retain parity with practices in the Government Sector.

Local government employment for senior staff should be fair, transparent and sackings examinable. What kind of GM, coming up through the ranks, would not want that?

Stewart Todd, is that kind of GM.

Senior Staff are being invited to respond to some questions about their job security

We don’t think senior staff should have to spend their working life sitting on the brink.

Is the GM happy today, or getting a bit too pompous and self-important and wanting you to bow, or scrape? Or approve that DA that doesn’t comply with the planning instruments? Or go soft on the breach of environmental/PoPE, or other legislative requirements for an influential local? Or any other of a multitude of risks.

The three unions are asking senior staff, other than general managers, to respond to our concerns about their vulnerability and what sort of steps they would like to see followed by the Government.

There will be a circular from the three unions headed Senior Staff and the Local Government Act and there is a special link, if you are a depa member, to allow you to respond.

Please do so. We are looking for an authoritative survey of senior staff about their vulnerability as part of our campaign to provide better employment protection and fair treatment for everyone.

We start negotiating a new Local Government State Award this month

Yes, it’s that time again. Every three years it’s here before we know it, another seven to nine months of negotiation between the three unions and LGNSW and the normal posturing to get things started by LGNSW with a range of issues they raise every time including wanting indoor staff to work a 38 hour week. This claim gets dragged up each award from either their HR/management consultative group, or some of the members of their Board who want to demonstrate their interest in stripping away entitlements and conditions of employment.

We like Delacroix’s 1830 depiction of “Liberty Leading the People” in the battle against the forces of reaction and privilege to remind us that the forces of reaction need to be dealt with in these discussions as well.

Given that the original Award was made in late 1991 by agreement between LGNSW and the three unions, and has been varied every three years or so since by agreement, those kind of claims get pushed aside fairly quickly so we can get on with those things where it’s possible to reach agreement. This year will be no different.

You may see petitions around the place being circulated via the USU urging signatures to protect employment and while we ignore the posturing by the bosses, we encourage you to sign the petition.

Here’s a link to the LGNSW log of claims and here’s a link to our log, endorsed by the Committee of Management this week. You will see we’ve incorporated in it some suggested changes to the Award based upon experiences we’ve had in disputes with councils over the past few years.

Like the other parties, we reserve our right to any other claims as well, so if there’s something you’d really like to see added, let us know.

As a procedural step LGNSW filed an industrial dispute to allow a role for the IRC when we come down to those issues we are struggling to resolve. It was listed before Commissioner Murphy on 28 August and we agreed that we would start negotiating for a day on 23 September at the USU office, 28 October at the LGNSW office (after some good-natured banter about whether they could afford to provide lunch given their embracing of a new austerity) and back to the USU on 2 December.

Commissioner Murphy set eight days starting on 6 November and with a final date of 22 June where, all things being equal, the 2020 Award will be made by consent of the parties to operate from 1 July. And, because optimism is always a good thing to embrace going into an exercise like this, 9 June has been set as well - and wouldn’t it be nice if the bosses drop off their stupid claims and we reach agreement on a new improved award and have it made nice and early in June.

More good directors sacked - a real bloodbath at Snowy Valleys

We’ve reported already to members about the decision by Narrabri GM Stewart Todd to sack our member Tony Meppem from his position of Director of Development and Economic Growth in February this year - another victim of the dreaded “no reason” termination with 38 weeks’ pay in lieu of notice.

It is poor public policy, dreadful opaque governance and a waste of public money to have an employment arrangement that allows a GM to sack other senior staff without reason. We’ve been arguing this with the Government for decades now and it’s unarguable now that the standard contract allows employees to be unfairly sacked. We’ve lodged an application under section 106 Unfair Contracts of the Industrial Relations Act in the Supreme Court, listed for hearing on 15 November.

The first argument will be a challenge by the GM at Narrabri of the Supreme Court’s jurisdiction to hear our application. The GM is an all-or-nothing kind of bloke but you do have to wonder why a first-time GM who has come up through the ranks, would want to deny senior staff the capacity to challenge their contract or their sacking.

And as the GM is also the President of Local Government Professionals (sic) it’s hard to imagine that they don’t believe there should be some jurisdiction somewhere to test the fairness of contracts and the appropriateness of sackings. LGPA is the old Local Government Managers and an organisation we’ve ridiculed over the years for not really knowing whether it’s an industrial organisation when it wants to dabble in award negotiations, or a professional lobby group when it wants to do something else.

The unions have more members who are general managers than LGPA and general managers themselves are in a distinct minority within the organisation and make up only four of the ten positions on the Board of Directors. We wonder, again, how this reflects on any policy positions about fairness in employment and job security. Time will tell but we see a potential conflict of interest here, don’t you? It is an important issue, because they will lobby the Minister and OLG about employment arrangements if they want to and they will be conflicted in developing a policy approach with GMs potentially wanting to retain unfair sacking of those below them, and those below them thinking it is appalling…

This is the GM’s quandary - wanting fair treatment of senior staff (and particularly GM’s) but at the same time wanting to retain the right as a GM to sack other senior staff unfairly and without reason.

Then, only in the last two weeks, Snowy Valleys GM Matthew Hyde (and surely it can’t be just a coincidence that he is also on the LGP Board) sacked all three directors, appearing on local television with some bushie councillors justifying the sackings on the basis that at some stage in the next nine months they will have a new structure to replace them. Blood everywhere and lots more than $300,000 spent with three lots of 38 week payments.

There are complications with Snowy Valley - there is a serious rift between councillors from former Tumbarumba and others on the merged body, there are public meetings at Tumbarumba (the last attracted more than 300 locals) calling to secede and the Council with a vast capital works budget will find doing it properly without three directors and their history and corporate knowledge will be a challenge.

We’ve had unfortunate experiences before with Mr Hyde. We had to file a dispute for a member with pre-merger entitlements on training from his days at the former Tumbarumba. It was a totally unnecessary dispute with totally unnecessary pressure (and even oblique threats from an acting Director) but Mr Hyde was not prepared to resolve it by making one phone call or email.

All he needed to do was contact the former GM of the former Tumbarumba and ask her about the entitlements of staff to training. She would have told him she developed a policy that provided serious funding of all costs of traineeships which meant that Tumbarumba may well have been the only Council in the state without any vacancies in its professional positions. Snowy Valleys were unable to find any of the multitude of documents about our member’s entitlements, the agreement signed with the GM, memoranda from the director supporting the arrangements or anything else.  

A simple phone call would have done it, but the GM wouldn’t. And then when we did and the former GM provided us with a letter endorsing our member’s entitlements, Mr Hyde lived up to his name and got all stroppy with the former GM about breaching confidentiality (which she hadn’t done) because the policy and processes were transparent and available. Threatening confidentiality of documents and processes when they are no such thing must be close to the last refuge of the scoundrel.

No Matt, it was a public policy available for everyone and a simple question would have saved the discomfort and angst for the employee, our time, your time with those ludicrous letters getting longer and less comprehensible every time, and the time of the IRC. For a bloke whose “Vision” on the LGP website is that he wants to “give back” to the industry and the profession, he wasn’t trying very hard.

So when our Director at Snowy Valleys was invited to meet with the GM, who is going to travel from Tumut to Tumbarumba, at 6pm on 13 August, and asked to bring his laptop, he asked what the meeting was about. He was told “various or a number of matters”, he asked again and he was told it was about his “future employment”. That’s always a warning, when someone who can sack you wants to meet and talk about “your future employment”, what they really mean is “your future unemployment”. Beware.

And then bang, at about 6pm he was provided with a letter terminating his employment under the dreaded 38 weeks and no explanation. An option available for the GM only because the unfair contract provided for it.

Both the sacking GMs appear to relish the process and emphasise they can do it, so they will.

The next day he sacked the other two directors, one at a time, and again without reason. There is a hostile way, and a less hostile way of going about a process like this, and when you sack your three directors, with no notice or discussion and don’t tell them that you’re doing it to the three of them, and why you’re doing it, Mr Hyde chose the hostile approach. The directors discovered they’d all been sacked when it was announced to staff and became a hot item on ABC Local Radio and then Prime7 Local News. Totally unnecessary for three good directors.

We are about to start renegotiating the current 2017 Local Government State Award and the three unions have included in their logs of claim the return of senior staff (other than general managers) to proper protection under the Award and the abolition of term employment. This is something that has been discussed with representatives of LGNSW and the Office of Local Government, and even raised with the office of the Minister for Local Government, and there is general consensus not yet formalised but the time is ripe. Everyone is recognising the unfairness of some of these sackings and regretting that while the system was always modelled on how the NSW SES operated, when the SES changed four years ago to transition the overwhelming majority of senior staff to continuing employment, no one flowed this into local government. It might have been the model when it was set up, but the model has changed to remove term employment.  

Yet, the relevant Minister for Local Government at the time and the OLG haven’t reflected the widespread transition to continuous employment in the State, to local government. They should have done that already.

And when the ICAC in their report into Mid-Western Council in October 2016 raises their concern about “no reason (that is terminated by the councillors without a reason being given to the employee”) creating the possibility of GMs being forced to do things or be compromised by councillors and, equally, senior staff being forced to do things or compromised by the GM, that should have given the OLG a nudge.

Everyone’s expectations are that when the ICAC hands down its report into the former Canterbury in Operation Dasha later this year, they will address the corruption and compromising risks that accompany contracts that allow termination with “no reason”.

It’s time this was fixed.

Evidence to the Legislative Council Public Accountability Committee into the regulation of building standards, building quality and building disputes.

 

The PAC invited depa to give evidence and be examined by the Committee on our submission - which we forwarded to you all on 29 July. We did this on 27 August, invited to start with an opening statement and then to answer questions of members of the Committee, which happened in a pleasant process with even a joke or two.

Here is a transcript of the evidence. It is marked “Uncorrected” but those who give evidence are allowed a week to correct errors but restricted from making themselves sound better than they were or more articulate. Or for the AIBS and AAC representatives, when questioned about penalties, or the appropriateness of struck off certifiers still running a business employing other certifiers, a little less evasive.

So the link is to our suggested corrections in red pen (as suggested) which are things that were not properly transcribed. For example, when one of the members of the Committee pointed out that Mascot Towers was certified by the Council, I described it as a nya, nya, nya moment for private certifiers and not, as the transcript showed, naa naa naa. Given the way politicians behave in what they still like to call the Bear Pit of the Legislative Assembly, you would have thought those responsible for transcribing the recording would have heard nya, nya, nya before.

It’s clear already from that experience that the representatives of the Government, both Liberal and National party and the representatives of the Labor are more interested in applying more lipstick to the pig and are likely to be recommending a bigger, better funded, better staffed Building Commission than one bloke as a Building Commissioner and a few helpers. You never really know how courageous the representatives of political parties are in examining something their forebears did which is turned out to be hopeless and unmanageable.

But you never know, there is considerable merit in recreating the role of the Builders Licensing Board within a properly staffed and funded Building Commission and seeing how it goes. A more attractive looking pig.

Not as good as our submission to return it all to local government.

A hapless of Building Ministers announcing bugger all in Sydney

There are now four heavily publicised residential apartment buildings in Sydney which are either totally uninhabitable, or largely uninhabitable. The subsequent collapse of confidence in the residential apartment market and revelations about flammable aluminium cladding created a crisis for certifiers of apartment building unable to obtain professional indemnity or building insurance.

It’s no coincidence that the collective noun for a group or flock of Building Ministers is a hapless, because no one looked more hapless than those ministers faffing around about an industry that has been deregulated now for more than 20 years, scratching their heads, and wondering what has gone wrong.

While the meeting reached an agreement between the states and the federal government to pursue national building standards, fund an implementation team to carry out the recommendations from the recent Building Confidence report and tried to do something about insurance companies acting properly by refusing to insure things that are too high risk, so what? What about the elephant?

The NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian was the first to throw her hands in the air. On 10 July she admitted “it hasn’t worked”. While she wanted to “assure the community that we know there’s a problem” she said the problem was “there’s a gap in legislation. We allowed the industry to self-regulate and it hasn’t worked. There are too many challenges, too many problems, and that’s why the government is willing to legislate.”

This was before the fourth vacant development was identified - having remained uninhabitable following a private certifier signing off that the developer had done remedial work, which apparently hadn’t been done and the toxins on the former industrial site were not remediated before the development was constructed. Sydney City is preventing its occupation because it’s too dangerous to health but where the developer had told the purchasers that the delay in occupation was due to a “planning issue”. Oh yeah.

In the Sydney Morning Herald on 13-14 July the front page ran the headline “Developers to Berejiklian: Fix building laws now” but it’s 20 years of governments doing what developers have wanted that put us precisely in this situation: less regulation, less compliance with regulation, certifiers paid for by the developers, corner cutting, cost savings, lightweight untested materials, inadequate BCA standards on flammability and on, and on.

The Premier was right. It hasn’t worked and while she’s been a member of the NSW Parliament since 2003, so coming in right at the time of the Campbell Enquiry into the Quality of Buildings that identified multiple failures of the private certification system, and a variety of other investigations, consultations, discussion papers and other reports, only now has she acknowledged It hasn’t worked. Too late Gladys, you’ll say better late than never, but what you do now, having acknowledged the folly of government lawmakers for decades, will be a test of your commitment to evidence-based policy-making. Want to fix it, or just try to get yourself off the hook for a few more years?

On 17 July the property development industry got in on the act wanting strong government action. What a hide! In what was described as an “unusual joint statement”, the Property Council of Australia, the Master Builders Association, the Insurance Council, AIG and the Building Construction Forum called for the Premier to “fix the building safety crisis” but their immediate concern is insurance for building surveyors signing off on the residential apartment buildings members of those organisations have constructed. And before we move off this group, the Insurance Council of Australia, when private certification was first proposed in NSW more than 20 years ago, opposed it because of insurance risk.

On 18 July, the morning of the Building Ministers’ Forum, the CEO of the Master Builders’ Association, Denita Warn, was interviewed on ABC News Breakfast begging for more regulation and compliance over the buildings her members built. Really, that’s a bit of an embarrassing admission isn’t it. She spoke of “systemic problems” and said “we need that safety net and that confidence that the rules are being enforced by our regulators”.

Quite an admission from the Master Builders Association but only after the indefatigable Virginia Trioli had said “I do want to pause there and get a straight answer from you” and was told that she agreed they needed a new level of “re-regulation back into the building industry as well as compliance and enforcement. The industry supports that.”

Then the hapless of Building Ministers focussed solely on flammable cladding on residential buildings, insurance woes, and at no stage acknowledged that 20 years of deregulation did us no good. Made lots of people rich but they would have done better letting the CEO of the Master Builders’ Association inform their deliberations.

This morning, the front page of the SMH lead with “Councils condemn building codes” with Independent Sydney City Lord Mayor Clover Moore describing the state government’s regulation of the building industry as “breathtakingly irresponsible” and “that a lack of independent certification had paved the way for buildings that were ‘unfit for occupation’”.

“This has resulted in arrangements that have allowed buildings unfit for occupation to be released to the market and certified for occupation”. Cr Moore called for “Independent on-site construction inspectors” and said that “engineers and building professionals working on those sites needed to be adequately qualified and registered, and all buildings should be assessed by independent, third-party inspectors.” Go, Clover!

It wasn’t just the Independent Lord Mayor. The Labor Mayor of the City of Ryde , Jerome Laxale, said  “industry-wide changes were needed, but rethinking the role of private certifiers was a ‘good place to start’”.

“I think it’s a deliberately under-regulated industry and that needs to change”.

And the Labor Mayor of Canterbury Bankstown, Khal Asfour, called for national standards and highlighted the “over-relaxed guidelines governing private certification”.

The Independent Mayor of North Sydney, Jilly Gibson wanted tighter regulation, “I think (buildings) are being certified that shouldn’t be”, she said. And the Liberal Mayor of The Hills Shire, Michelle Byrne, wanted better oversight of structural designs and a better system to monitor standards during construction.

The NSW Legislative Council Public Accountability Committee has established an inquiry into the regulation of building standards, building quality and building disputes including the role of private certification, the adequacy of consumer protections, the role of Strata Committees in responding to building defects, case studies related to flammable cladding on NSW buildings, the defects discovered in Mascot Towers and the Opal Tower, and the current status and degree of implementation of recommendations of reports into the building industry including the Lambert report 2016, the Shergold/Weir report 2018 and the Opal Tower investigations final report 2019.

The inquiry will be chaired by the David Shoebridge as Chair, Robert Borsack from the Shooters is Deputy Chair, two Liberals, two ALP and one member of the Nationals. Here’s a link. We’ll be putting in a submission by Friday as well.

The NSW Liberal Government in the late 1980s introduced amendments to the Local Government Act to allow Councils to contract out (that means, privatise) building and development approvals, with no considerations of risk, no insurance protections and one of the most flawed pieces of legislation that the Minister for Local Government at the time, David Hay, had the pleasure to introduce in 1989. Not one Council ever used this option.

That’s 30 years ago. Governments of both persuasions have supported this and it’s time to bring all of development control, regulation and compliance back to local government with a new Building Commissioner established to operate exactly as the historic Builders Licensing Board operated from 1971 to 1987.

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.

A new Minister for Local Government - let’s see what we can do about those unfair standard contracts

We wrote to welcome the Hon Shelley Hancock MP as the newly appointed Minister for Local Government, delighted to have a minister who has spent decades of her life devoted to local government as a councillor on Shoalhaven and understands the industry and its needs.

In her inaugural speech in the legislative assembly on 28 May 2003 (always a good way of getting to know people) she spoke fondly of her years as a teacher at Ulladulla High School. Nice to think that she had a career beginning as a teacher in state schools. Even nicer to note that in acknowledging her father’s contribution to her development, having “planted the Liberal seed“,  the Minister noted “Dad and I argued very little, except perhaps about trade unionism”. As good a confession as any that she was a member of the Teachers Federation at Ulladulla and we note her recognition of responsible unionism. She will like what we have done by cooperation between the unions and the employers in local government over the last three decades.

We met her Senior Adviser who already had a significant depth of knowledge, particularly about the things that concern us - private certification, the value of the cooperative approach in negotiating Local Government State Award for the last quarter of a century and our historic view on the blatant unfairness of term contracts for senior staff and how they facilitate unfair treatment.

We’ve already seen too many examples of councils getting rid of GM’s without explanation but also of GM’s sacking directors using the 38 weeks’ pay provision of the Standard Contract which doesn’t require explanation. What the ICAC describes as “no reason”.

We saw it in 2015 when the GM at Mid-Western sacked the Director of Planning and Environment and the Director of Corporate Services in the middle of an ICAC investigation and we saw it this year when the GM of Narrabri Council sacked the Director of Development and Economic Growth. We wrote to him and he responded “the Council makes no admission to any breaches of the employment contract” but then later in the letter remedied one of the breaches by agreeing to pay the SOORT increase but didn’t acknowledge it was a breach.  

This was a messy termination at best. It was concluded with a breach of section 337 of the Local Government Act by not consulting with all councillors before the sacking and commenced with an issue about placing the member on the standard contract for senior staff six weeks or so before the position was made senior staff!

depa has filed a section 106 Unfair Contract application in the Supreme Court.

Interestingly, the ICAC in their report at the conclusion of the Mid-Western investigation, criticises the ability to sack general managers with “no reason”. They said:

.. the “no reason” provisions in the standard contract, however, could create an uncertain employment environment for a general manager. The Commission’s concern is that such uncertainty could be used improperly to influence the actions of a general manager. Councils, Local Government NSW and, given its investigative role, the OLG, should be aware that, rather than a simple issue of employer-employee breakdown, the termination of a general manager of a council under “no reasons” provisions may indicate that councils have attempted to improperly influence a general manager.

And that applies equally to the termination of other senior staff as well.

Significantly, the senior staff provisions in the Local Government Act were modelled on employment arrangements for the Senior Executive Service in the NSW Public Sector. It flowed into local government, notwithstanding the clear differences between the two levels of government and the acknowledgement in the industry of the tendency for councillors to occasionally threaten both GM’s and directors.

Five years ago Premier Mike Baird resolved to transition the overwhelming majority of the SES employees into permanent positions but this reform hasn’t flowed into local government yet.

The ICAC’s Operation Dasha into the former Canterbury has dealt with issues about employment under the standard contract for both the GM and the Director of Planning and depa made a submission to the ICAC with recommendations on planning and employment to avoid the problem is the subject of the investigation.

Prime Minister announces IR reform - oh no, here we go again

 

Really, is there no imagination in that Federal Government? Clearly emboldened by their unpredicted return, PM Scott Morrison has announced that the government will review the industrial relations system and initiate steps “provoking the “animal spirits” in our economy by removing regulatory and bureaucratic barriers to businesses investing and creating more jobs”.

Speaking to the WA Chamber of Commerce the PM announced this week that they needed “to get Australians off the economic sidelines and on the field again”. And while he did say “industrial relations changes “must be evidenced-based, protect the rights and entitlements of workers and have clear gains for the economy and for working Australians”, it’s hard not to be sceptical given John Howard’s WorkChoices and Tony Abbott’s WorkChoices II.

But while the initial announcement from the PM mentioned protecting the rights of workers, the Industrial Relations Minister Christian Porter has now announced a review of the “better off overall” test in enterprise bargaining, potential changes to unfair dismissal laws and a review of what constitutes a “casual” employee. The first two sound like trouble but a proper review of what constitutes a casual and casual employment is grossly overdue. Casual employment is an area where local government runs a risk, employing people as casuals, who are really part-time permanent employees...

Accompanying this reform is their Ensuring Integrity Bill, making it easier to disqualify lawbreaking unions and officials. Nothing for depa to fear, of course, but there must be a way of initiating another review of industrial relations that doesn’t have in the background their historic hatred of the CFMMEU.

It’s one thing to understand that if a building site has a CFMMEU flag flying from a crane that it’s going to automatically be a safer workplace, but wouldn’t it make all of our lives easier and more comfortable if they can do it without the criminals, sexual harassers and threatening boofheads making the trade union movement look like thugs.

NSW election means we’ll be bashing our heads against the wall with the Coalition Government

No-one knows yet whether the Liberal/National Coalition will govern in its own right or require the cooperation of independents, but we can only hope that whatever falls into place over the next week or two provides some hope for proper engagement about protecting senior staff against unfair treatment. Certainly better than the last few years.

We need a Local Government Minister prepared to listen and do the right thing. Senior staff employed by the NSW Government have been transitioned from term appointments to continuing permanent employment over the past five years, but our pressure on the Office of Local Government hasn’t swayed the Government to do similarly. There is absolutely no doubt that senior staff in local government deal with more political sackings and political pressure than their counterparts employed by the State, and they need better protection.

We love a challenge, and we are committed to getting it moving as soon as possible. This time, there seems to be some sympathy from LGNSW to prevent the unfair treatment that we’ve seen at a number of councils, Mid-Western and Narrabri for two, where our members have been sacked unfairly.

At Narrabri it looks to us like the GM breached the provisions of the standard contract in six areas prior to terminating it. Shameful, really. He has acknowledged one breach which he will remedy but refuses to respond, “the Council makes no admission”,  on the other five clauses he has breached, refusing to talk to us and respond to our correspondence. Hardly inspirational leadership.

Super dispute in the Commission as well

We knew that our dispute filed more than a year ago about the degree of compliance in the industry with requirements in the LGS trust deed for the defined benefit schemes to include a value for private use of a motor vehicle in the concept of superable salary, was going to take a long time to resolve. Now there’s an extremely boring and unenticing opening sentence for people who aren’t in the defined benefit scheme, but unfortunately this has been an issue where members of those schemes haven’t been vigilant individually in ensuring that they received their entitlements, so it was even a bit incomprehensible for those affected.

This has required LGS to have councils focus on the superable salary calculation for 2018 and in the last weeks has pursued those councils which have included a component for private use of the motor vehicle in the superable salary for 2018, to see if they’re done similarly in previous years, and those councils where there was a question mark about how they had done it, to review how they had done it in recent years as well.

The dispute had been listed for a report in the Commission on 14 March and will be listed again to see what has developed from those LGS approaches to councils on 30 May.

More Articles ...

  1. And we’re in dispute with another Council too
  2. Shellharbour shows why you need to be a member of a union
  3. We file our first dispute of the year with Snowy Valleys Council
  4. NSW Government doesn’t understand why they lost the High Court case
  5. We still hate term contracts for senior staff
  6. Opal Tower fiasco raises opportunity to review everything
  7. Kaldas review released in December
  8. "Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer; You'll wish that summer could always be here"
  9. And that’s it for 2018, but here’s some good advice
  10. What about the High Court challenge?
  11. Richmond Valley is the winner
  12. How's HR been this year?
  13. How has HR gone this year?
  14. Speaking of issues of principle, the Government appreciates us, but doesn’t want to meet with us
  15. High Court to hear union challenge to electoral funding laws next week
  16. Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays depa from the swift completion of depaNews …
  17. Slowly getting somewhere on “superable salary” dispute
  18. NSW unions challenge NSW Government in the High Court
  19. Oh no, now the NSW Government has asked whether we think "there is a greater risk for conflicts of interest to arise in private certification work and result in poor certification …"
  20. But what do the regulators do?
  21. Don’t think banks should be involved in Super?
  22. No wonder this lot didn’t want a Banking Royal Commission
  23. Councillors on interview panels
  24. “I need to see you at the gym”
  25. Nick Kaldas to audit corruption risks in New South Wales planning
  26. The BPB is not just using “intelligence”, it has “intelligence cells”
  27. Next time you have a disagreement about professional opinion …
  28. Farewell Ernie, thanks for everything
  29. You’ve moved house or Council? Don’t let it be a secret
  30. We make a submission to ICAC Operation Dasha
  31. Look out the BPB is coming after you
  32. Government sends IRC to Parramatta
  33. We may find ourselves in an unusual position
  34. Former Canterbury demonstrates to ICAC why councillors should be removed from development assessment
  35. Electoral Commission declares 2018 depa elections
  36. 2018 depa elections – lucky Lord Buckethead isn’t a member
  37. How to not lose your leaseback car
  38. Government decides to move the IRC out of the Sydney CBD
  39. Some people think they can get away with anything...
  40. Going down like dominoes at Tweed
  41. Okay, we don’t mind a challenge, but …
  42. Welcome back
  43. Well, that’s it for us
  44. Tweed Shire is the most hazardous workplace for depa members in NSW
  45. depaNews HR awards will be out Wednesday or Thursday...
  46. depa elections next year
  47. Code of Conduct
  48. LGNSW CEO Donna Rygate proudly launches their game changer
  49. Is that the time?
  50. And look out for this...
  51. Had a look at the Draft Code of Conduct yet?
  52. We still don’t know what this thing is
  53. LGS agrees it’s their responsibility, and they will fix it
  54. BPB nails idiots at Griffith City Council
  55. Andrew Spooner resigns as President
  56. What is this thing called, love*?
  57. And members respond brilliantly
  58. Like getting blood from a stone...
  59. depa's responsibility to look after our members’ social interests without discrimination
  60. Are you okay?
  61. Look out, the ******** and ********* might be back...
  62. “Like a dog returning to its vomit…”
  63. Get your own ideas!
  64. I’ve got a Deed of Release - lessons to be learned from Amber Harrison
  65. Enough is enough – it’s time to cut councillors out of development assessment
  66. Do yourself a favour
  67. Uh oh, …
  68. We accept LGNSW offer for a new State Award
  69. Courts nail clumsy and secretive handling of Council mergers
  70. We don’t like being gagged and we pull the pin on the EMRG
  71. Nine days to go …
  72. The Hills Shire embraces commitment to health and wellbeing in 2017 Enterprise Agreement
  73. A Tale of Two Cities
  74. LGS restores uranium nuclear screening
  75. Cripes, where was the compassion?
  76. Ex-Mayor of Hurstville exits with his tail between his legs
  77. OLG forced to state the bleeding obvious on employment protection
  78. LGNSW backflips on decades of cooperation
  79. It’s hard not to feel sorry for Gladys
  80. Next month ...
  81. What would Mike Baird have done?
  82. Uh oh ...
  83. The sharks are circling
  84. And that’s pretty much the end of the year for us...
  85. Who has the worst HR in local government in 2016?
  86. Who has the worst HR in local government this year?
  87. Are things going any better at Sydney City with their asbestos contamination?
  88. We give OLG’s Employment Reference Group another chance
  89. The Ascension marks the death of the historic IRC
  90. depa’s prestigious HR Awards will be announced next month
  91. BPB gets their fingers out on what should happen with PINs
  92. Ignore Henny Penny, there has been progress in State Award negotiations
  93. Sydney mishandles asbestos contamination in Town Hall House
  94. A facade, is always just a facade...
  95. Who would have thought! Private certifiers need better regulation …
  96. Government dismantles Industrial Relations Commission
  97. We stop Government’s secret processes in merged councils
  98. What are “workplace representatives” for on Consultative Committees?
  99. Government picks up the pace on dismantling IRC
  100. Get ready, we’re about to start negotiating the 2017 State Award
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