2014 depa award for the worst HR in local government

This year we have four councils and, in a bit of a departure from the past, two nominees which are not councils but which nevertheless are a part of the industry. In alphabetical order:


What do these people have in common?

None of them like to apologise, regardless of how badly they have done things. They are HR Manager of the Year 2014, Simone Cook, ex PM John Howard and GM Matthew Stewart. But first, some history.

In December 2005 under the heading “Dealing with dreadful Bankstown”, depaNews reported that we had been pursuing Bankstown for breaches of the Local Government (State) Award on the size and composition of the Consultative Committee and their failure to develop a proper salary system.

Sprung by us for breaching the Award by constructing a Consultative Committee and adding representation beyond the minimum required by the Award but without the agreement of the local union representatives, Council claimed in a dispute in the IRC that they hadn’t breached the Award. But nevertheless, they would reconstitute the consultative committee as the Award requires. Funny way of looking at it really.

But the Council was more reluctant to acknowledge that they had never had a salary system that complied with the Award. We filed 13 prosecutions in the NSW Industrial Court for breaches of the Award for our 13 members who hadn’t received annual reviews and the progression based on the acquisition and use of skills required by the Award. Deputy President Grayson at the time in the IRC described the Council’s behaviour as “unhelpful and impractical” and in depaNews it was observed “we have not dealt with a more obtuse, offensive or imaginatively dishonest Council before. While local government often plumbs the depths of poor industrial relations and human resource management practices, Bankstown goes so low that their responses beggar belief.”

In that year as well the Council sacked a member who lost his licence when they could have easily accommodated other travel arrangements; made changes to the organisation structure, refused to have a meeting of members affected but offered individual meetings where management could easily stand over individual employees;  and refused, ultimately unsuccessfully after the filing of a dispute, to allow a member part-time work (even though they enticed him to come and work there on the basis that he could do this and even though he would do full-time hours) to accommodate his family needs. This dispute ended with the Council collapsing and the story reported on page 3 of the Sydney Morning Herald weekend edition with a lovely picture of our member and his two beautiful daughters.

In April 2010 under the heading “Bullying, bastardry and belligerence at Bankstown (and that’s only the b words)” we said:

Bankstown seems to oscillate between ignoring award requirements and treating people poorly, a period of benign employment practices and then back to giving employees a bit of a kicking.

At the time the GM and the HR Manager had decided that the Council would start enforcing their rights under the Award to direct employees to take annual leave in excess of eight weeks. It was unclear who made this decision, it was not recorded or minuted, wasn’t referred to the Consultative Committee for feedback, wasn’t advised to staff, nor was it sent to the unions. The unions first became aware of it when a member of ours on Thursday 25 March, about to head off on leave at the end of the following day for four weeks overseas, received a direction that she remain on leave for a further 9 ½ weeks.

In the IRC the Council was directed to withdraw their direction about the taking of the additional leave and to raise this for discussion on her return and to take steps to consult with the unions and staff over this new proposal.

2005 had been grim, but then a benign period until, five years later in 2010, where things got grim again. Is this potentially a five year cycle or are they capable of getting malignant again before 15?

A different GM and HR Manager saw an issue with the Consultative Committee where the GM wanted to supplement the union representation but couldn’t get the agreement of the local union representatives - as the Award requires. Yes, the old issue which we had disputed in 2005, and they still hadn’t learned. The GM thought all he had to do was keep asserting he wanted it and everyone would just give in. Attrition and repetition wins, he thought. Constant dripping does we are away stone, and so the GM constantly dripped.

No-one gave in and the Committee remains unchanged. Maybe he just doesn’t like unions.

But this year the Council conducted a clumsy, sub-professional investigation which cleared a member of ours but which revealed what could be about the worst letter ever written in local government. The letter conveyed to the member that the allegations were not substantiated but based on the report the Council was concerned about the way the one-on-one interview was conducted. The Council “deemed the manner in which you conducted the meeting” was somehow unsatisfactory.  The interview was only one-on-one, without someone from HR, because the member sought assistance from HR, they refused it, and said he should do it alone. How could they “deem” anything? How can we be satisfied that they weren’t just making it up?

And if a meeting is one-on-one, in a private room, it’s hard to imagine that anyone could make a finding or even an observation. The Council insisted that an apology be provided and that the employee do some training. They refused access to the investigator’s report, although it remains uncertain whether it’s their policy (although the GM says it is their policy not to do this) or relates to the arrangements with the investigator.

In an exchange of emails with depa their HR Manager Simone Cook (who by coincidence and, based on this experience, somewhat inexplicably) had just been announced as some magazine’s HR Manager of the Year, withdrew the requirement to apologise but then decided to add that the purpose of the training would be to “assist his understanding of human resources processes”, which was not an issue that had ever been raised. HR Manager of the Year simply added that.

In the Commission, the Council conceded that the words the HR Manager of the year had added, should not have been added and there were some words in the letter clearing him that should not have been there either. Yet another stumble in an abjectly flawed and sub-professional process where almost at every step, the Council made a mistake, or did something wrong, and should have apologised.

Our dispute proceedings in the Commission forced the Council to withdraw all reference, documentation and any other record relating to this clumsy and inept process from the employee’s personal file. And they withdrew their direction to do training - instead accepting that the employee, who had never received any training at all at the Council, should be able to identify some suitable training, request it, and the Council will agree.

That’s depa 5 - HR Manager of the Year nil.

One of the gratuitous observations in the email exchange between us (which you can read here) was at that “we would have anticipated… would have recognised the effect his behaviour had on a junior officer, and apologised in any event.”

They might concede that “the letter could have been better drafted”, they had agreed inappropriate wording had been introduced which shouldn’t have been, they had withdrawn the requirement to apologise and the requirement to be directed to training, but they still claimed they had nothing to apologise for and there would be no apology.

Five nil down, you would think that losing this so fundamentally on every contested point and acknowledging that a number of things could have been done better, to clear the air with the employee concerned, the HR Manager of the Year would apologise as we both left the Commission. We gave her for the opportunity but she refused.

Was it just her, or was it a corporate approach? We all make mistakes, decent and reasonable people acknowledge them, apologise and get on with it. It’s all about the good manners our mums taught us, after all.

So we wrote to the GM Matthew Stewart and he said:

I understand that when you left the proceedings you inappropriately and with inappropriate language sought an apology from Council. As I advised my staff, and for your information, thematter is closed and I have no interest in pressing the issue further.

No apology need be made to Mr Crossan as the issue was handled in accordance with Council policy and procedure.

But the only policy we could find makes no such reference to issues like withholding access to investigator’s reports or refusing to apologise for fundamental miscarriages of justice and simply getting things wrong. We asked if there were other policies and he has ignored us.

The GM keeps saying the matter is closed, we’ve now written to him asking him to agree to sit down with the unions and negotiate a proper investigations policy and we await his reply.

It’s not closed Matthew, is it.

The Division of Local Government

Well, are they the Office of Local Government or the Division of Local Government, it does keep changing and no one ever really knows. Whatever it is, changing their name doesn’t protect them.

They get a special nomination this year for the steps taken in the Standard Contract for GMs and Senior Staff Working Party by defending the right of councils to sack employees for no good reason, by denying proper financial payments and compensation on termination, by prohibiting the payment of a cash bonus because no one in the NSW public sector gets one, so why should people in local government, and, in documents only just received, further proposed amendments trying to remove entitlements and protections for senior staff on termination.

But we still don’t understand where this savage and antagonistic attitude comes from. Who let the dogs out?

The DLG, or OLG, or whatever it calls itself now, in 2005 developed the first standard contract by excluding the unions and focusing on the input of LGNSW (the peak body of councillors) and the LGMA (an organisation that never really knows what it is or what it does) and created issues not remedied for years.

So, they get a nomination.

Local Government Managers' Association

LGMA, LGPA, Professionals or Poseurs, whoever they are, 2014 was the year where the Board of Directors of the organisation launched an inexpert and hostile foray into industrial relations by attacking the State Award, by dabbling like dilettantes in an industrial process for which they had no expertise nor skill, nor any interest beyond ensuring that they could underpay people under a federal award rather than comply with the provisions of the State Award.

And who could forget their opposition to the provision of a discretion for Councils to provide half pay sick leave for chronically ill or injured employees.

By what could only be coincidence, the 2014 elections for LGMA/LGPA witnessed two of the advocates of these punishing initiatives not contesting their positions. Long-time President Paul Bennett (GM at Tamworth in his real job and in the process of trying to strip away the nine day fortnight from staff) and director Andrew Cackenthorp (Director of Planning at Wagga Wagga) and acknowledged for his fear of establishing a precedent for our member with secondary cancer in the August issue of depaNews this year, decided they wouldn’t stand again.

It would be coincidence only, wouldn’t it?

Good riddance to them both and we all hope this is part of the process of LGMA (or whatever) acknowledging they should never have got themselves involved in the industrial process in the first place.

It would be coincidence only, wouldn’t it?


GM Russ Pigg: “let me know how we can improve …”

Shoalhaven, Shoalhaven, Shoalhaven,
That’s where I want to be,
Shoalhaven, Shoalhaven, Shoalhaven,
Rorting employees’ JE*
*JE is the abbreviation for job evaluation, never really used as an abbreviation in the industry, but at least it rhymes.

2014 was punctuated by our long-running dispute with more than ten compulsory conferences in the IRC. A restructure by GM Russ Pigg, aided and abetted by Director of Planning Tim Fletcher and a moving feast of HR functionaries, led to us filing a dispute because the Council had failed to comply with their obligation to advise employees affected and the unions to which they belonged. But then, it just got worse.

Proceedings in the Commission revealed that the Council had a corporate policy of evaluating positions for health, building and planning professionals to keep them out of 3/3. The restructure involved attempts to laterally transfer or redeploy two of our members into Team Leader positions artificially evaluated to be 3/2 so they could be transferred because they already were 3/2.

The dispute resulted in the positions being acknowledged to be 3/3 and the two members concerned, pretty fed up with the antagonistic and hostile attitude of the GM, Director and assorted HR flunkies, decided that they would both take the opportunity to take a redundancy. That was a good strategy wasn’t it, Tim.

Then it was revealed they had tried to remove condition of employment cars from other employees they wanted to transfer into promotional jobs and we were able through the proceedings in the Commission to have them reinstate those entitlements.

Underlining all of this was the Council’s use of Version 19 of Wyatt/00Soft, which had been replaced as obsolete and not properly evaluating the authority and accountability of 3/3 employees, amongst other things, in 1995. Clearly it was more “manageable” for the Council’s purpose. 

We identified Shoalhaven as an unbackable favourite in our July issue. At that time the dispute had been in the Commission on five occasions and when it ended, it had been there more than double that. Few disputes in the industry ever have that sort of history.

The restructure provided additional rewards for the rationalised Directors and Managers and clearly the Council was trying to save some money as the restructure cascaded down the organisation.

Obviously that hasn’t worked, losing two good employees with ten year plus histories at the Council to redundancies that would have never been factored into their costing, and now a long history of getting nailed in the Commission for trying to remove entitlements from others and revealing a supersensitive Tim Fletcher convening staff meetings to criticise depa for its activities and publicising the Council’s failures. He didn’t ring me up to mention it and I offered to come to a staff meeting with him and we could debate it.

What sort of management thinks it makes sense to keep salary levels down and to behave in such an antagonistic and unfair way that the Council’s reputation as a fair and reasonable employer suffers irreparable damage?

The last three building surveyor positions appointed by the Council were employees not accredited by the BPB, because employees already accredited wouldn’t apply for the jobs. Now the Council needs to train them to the level denied them because of their salary and recruitment strategies.

Stupid, short-sighted poor management.

Sydney City Council

What, a nomination for the competent, progressive Council of elected people cooperatively transforming the night-time economy of the city, and developing a more accessible, public-transport focused and sustainable city with a massive financial surplus to be invested in infrastructure and improvements in the quality of the city for residents and visitors alike?

But the underbelly reveals industrial instruments that haven’t progressed or developed much beyond the mid 20th century. Term contracts for employees doing continuous work that, if they were employed under the State Award would not be allowable, 38 hour weeks for administrative/professional staff where the State Award provides for 35 and an overtime barrier to ensure that those people employed on contracts who wouldn’t be employed on contracts under the State Award, don’t get paid for their additional hours either.

In 2014 we discovered that the Council had a policy on “other work” under section 353 of the Local Government Act which went beyond the requirements of that section of the Act by requiring all employees to declare other work, whether it related to or conflicted with their work or not - an unannounced return to a policy that they had unsuccessfully tried in 1994 and 1995 until we disputed it and make them stick to their obligations under the Act.

And not just a broader unacceptable policy beyond the obligations in the Act, but one with a blanket approach to rejecting all applications and, when we advocated for a member with a carefully-crafted application that anticipated the need to manage all risks and which had the sign off and approval of their manager and director, the GM refused it. And at the meeting told us, that she refused it for fear of how the Daily Telegraph may deal with that if they ever found out. What?

Everyone is entitled to feel paranoid about the evil of the Evil Empire, but there really is a limit and, after filing a dispute, the GM recognised that was the case and approve the application.

In February this year they agreed to redraft their policy to better and more accurately reflect the requirements of section 353 that employees only need seek approval for work which relates to or conflicts with their Council job. On 5 March we sent them 26 observations about the inadequacy of their policy to help them review it – a process that other councils have done in a month or so. But, eight months later, still nothing had been produced.

And then when it was provided on 27 November it was so deeply flawed and embarrassing (for example, it didn’t even specify that employees should not do other work in council time!) we again responded, this time with 15 points that needed to be dealt with.

In the Award negotiations this year we had unsuccessfully argued for the introduction of a prohibition on term contracts like that which exists in the State Award - provisions which do no more than recognise that industrial tribunals in other States or Federally have made many findings about where it is in inappropriate to employees on term contracts and it makes sense, if Council is going to be rolled by tribunals for putting people on term contracts who shouldn’t be, that the Award should ensure that it’s not allowable.

We couldn’t convince them, clearly we should have arbitrated it, because within months, one of the problems of term contracts was revealed. Term contracts need to be properly managed, obligations about telling people whether you intend to renew the contract need to be complied with and, if you are a Director and you tell a Manager that they will get another three-year term, then that needs to be something you deliver on - not, as the City did by trying to provide 12 months instead.

As part of our agitation on the member’s behalf, the City agreed that they would review their attitude to term contracts but, if it’s going to be anything like their review of this section 353 policy, we know it will only happen if we make them.

We won’t wait for the City to do this in their normal HR policy pace.

Wagga Wagga

Wagga Wagga is now notorious as the Council least likely to provide sympathy and support for a chronically ill employee. It’s hard to imagine any of you missed August depanews and our identification of GM Phil Pinyon and Director Andrew Krackenthorp as a couple of real bustards. Our delegate Steven Cook, the employee treated so harshly wanting additional sick leave as he fought off secondary cancer was overwhelmed by contact and support from members and other Councils and that issue of depaNews went viral across Wagga Wagga.

No wonder they are having trouble recruiting a Manager of Strategic Planning. Pre-appointment medical screening of course

In the meantime, the GM has agreed to let Steven draw on his potential to accumulate sick leave in 2015, so obviously he’s hoping Steven survives the year. Better than nothing, and pleased he didn’t accept HR’s advice, the three documents way but it still doesn’t get you two bustards off the hook.

And the winner is...

The winners, Russ and Tim

Shoalhaven, how could it be anyone else.

GM Russ Pigg and Director of Planning Tim Fletcher should be proud. The Council’s reputation damaged, unable to recruit suitably qualified and accredited staff and discredited through a long and painful series of compulsory conferences that provided them with no comfort.

And while this catastrophe was all unfolding on Tim’s watch, aided and abetted by those same HR flunkies, GM Russ Pigg presented a paper at a convention of the Local Government Managers' (sic) Association titled “Transformational Change - The Shoalhaven Story” which, one would think had to be self-deprecating and a warning to other people about what to avoid, and not a presentation of a model process to be emulated, but wasn’t.

We will present the Golden Turd to Russ and Tim in 2015

Copyright © 2020 The Development and Environmental Professionals' Association (depa). All Rights Reserved. Webdesign: Dot Online