Tamworth and GM Paul Bennett humiliated in IRC

GM Paul Bennett, “have I got something on my face?”

Yes Paul, you do.

When Tamworth GM Paul Bennett decided not to contest the position of President of the LGMA for a second term, we thought we had seen the last of his clumsy forays into HR and industrial relations.
As President of LGMA (alright then, let’s call it by its proper name when Paul was in charge, the Local Government Poseurs Association) he crashed into the negotiations for the 2014 State Award, bagging the agreed settlement to both LGNSW, which had agreed to it, the Minister for Local Government, who was irrelevant to it, and offending both the employers’ organisation, the unions and the President of the IRC who had conciliated to finalise outstanding or unresolved issues and then made the Award by the consent of the parties.

It wasn’t just the content of the correspondence that offended either. LGNSW President Keith Rhodes was addressed as Keth, a woman’s name in Denmark, and we’re not sure what to make of that. At least he didn’t conclude his letter telling Keth to get back to ironing her husband’s shirts. On the LGPA’s website, his letter to the Minister for Local Government was available by clicking on “Letter to Minister Tool”  – it’s Toole, Paul, a name which, without the final “e”, could be intended to offend. Still, if LGPA wanted to call the Minister a tool, why not. It wouldn’t be our first policy difference with them, but we think he’s a terrific bloke.
And in case you need a reminder, one of the issues the LGM/PA in the Bennett era was most upset about was the clause going into the Award that chronically ill employees could, with the agreement of their Council, take their sick leave at half pay. It was Paul’s approach to employing people which, for the first time, earned LGMA a nomination in our worst HR Awards last year.


On 28 October last year the GM wrote to the three local government unions under the heading RDO System Change, advising they wanted to remove the nine day fortnight and replace it with a 19 day month from 1 July 2015. He claimed employees they had spoken to as part of the service review had identified it as an impediment to efficiency, “management” had a problem with it and he cited “experience in other councils”. But no evidence, no examples and if any employee did offer to hand back the nine day fortnight because they thought the place would be more efficient, they should do so. They must have researched the concept like we did and think that working at Tamworth is like smoking dope”- the harder you suck the higher you get. (Researched on Wikipedia)

It was clear to everyone that the GM had decided the nine day fortnight was gone and that he didn’t need to supply any proper reasons or to have them examined by anyone. He didn’t even need any evidence that it was a problem. After the unions replied asking for some explanation and justification and some evidence capable of being examined, he responded by emailing all staff to tell them “Council has decided that service delivery to the community can be improved by transitioning the nine day fortnight RDO’s system to a 19 day month system.” This was an email sent to all staff before depa had received any response to our requests for information on the reasons. Rude and poor administration, at the very least, but no longer President of LGP/MA, he needn’t worry about management excellence any more.

And, just to be able to demonstrate evidence about service delivery, the GM then emailed local law firms and developers asking for evidence of reduced services on Mondays and Fridays, when the majority of staff take their RDO. Not just a prejudicial and improper survey but one aimed at the anti-union sentiment of the town. Tamworth is not exactly a union town rejoicing in its proud  history of protecting and enhancing workers’ rights, so an approach from a GM made a victim by “the unions” who had him in the Commission and he needed to find some evidence, was sure to get the right responses.
The problem with the concept of evidence-based decision-making is that the evidence is meant to justify the decision, not the reverse.

We filed a dispute, the other two unions joyfully joined in against a general manager we all knew was disrespectful of the IR system, hated the Award and didn’t really understand how the process worked at all. Ironically, the GM concluded his MBA in human resources management in 2012. With a history like this he should ask for his money back.

Anger management might have been a better option (if you can do that in an MBA) after his disgraceful performance attacking our delegate at a meeting of the Consultative Committee over this issue in such a way that he even subsequently apologised. Not good enough, Paul.

Unfortunately the GM couldn’t attend the Commission himself on 5 February but had others do it for him. LGNSW had come up with the idea that he should do it under clause 39 of the Award and try to ignore his messy and clumsy steps so far. The Council put to the Commission they were starting from scratch, were proposing a change and had not decided on one, withdrew the timeframe of having the new system imposed by 1 July and would now submit to negotiations managed by the IRC in which they would provide proper information about where service delivery problems are identified and have those arguments examined by the unions.

But what he is yet to explain is how he will do this under the terms of the agreed operating procedures when the Regional Council was established in 2004. The RDO Operating Guidelines  contain a provision on future changes to the spread and/or arrangement of hours that “future long-term changes to the spread and/or arrangement of hours...will be made by agreement with the affected employees.” Uh oh, forget that bit, Paul?
We quite like the idea of an image of the GM retreating from the IRC with a tail between his legs but our best efforts with photoshop produced images not fit for a respectable publication.

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