We drag the dawdlers at Sydney City into the modern world (and watch them waste a good employee)

This is the third article in eight months resulting from the glacier-like, sloth-like, snail-like pace of modernising the City’s approach to critical human resources issues. First as a candidate in our Worst HR in Local Government issue in December, then in reporting on a dispute we had filed about two issues where the Council had simply failed to respond in anything remotely approaching a reasonable time frame.

Our dispute was about two issues. First, their policy on “Other Work”, regulated under section 353 of the Local Government Act where the Council, contrary to and exceeding the intention of section 353 had been requiring employees wanting to do work in addition to their council job to declare and seek approval for anything, whether it “relates to or conflicts with” the Council job or not. Micro-managing, prurient, invading of privacy and then seemingly incapable of meeting, discussing, reviewing and getting it right in a reasonable time frame. And second, the old-fashioned and discredited approach to putting people at a certain salary level on term contracts, whether they are permanent employees or whether they are employed conditional upon grant funding or projects.

In the dispute reported in January, the President of the IRC Justice Boland, never one to tolerate dawdling and a lack of application, directed that there be an agreed policy between the Council and the unions by 10 March - an eight week timeframe where we observed that the people we deal with in HR couldn’t get a lunch ordering by that date. At the same time we discovered that Sydney had this inappropriate policy, we also discovered that so did Wyong. But unlike Sydney, Wyong was able to discuss, comprehend, identify the problem and resolve it in a bit over four weeks.

The President directed that the City have an agreed policy with the unions on term contracts by 21 April, only three months away - enough to cause apoplexy for those bureaucrats getting in the way of resolving the matter and, for want of a better image, far too interested in slowing down the snail than doing things in a timely way. “Whooa, not too fast there”.

The President’s rocket and valuable assistance from LGNSW meant that a new section 353 policy, consistent with the legislation and satisfying our needs, was developed and only a month late. But things didn’t go so well with the review of term contracts.

The Local Government (State) Award in 2010 recognised the risks for councils in employing people on term contracts where that is inappropriate. A range of decisions in industrial tribunals had found that rolling over contracts or artificially creating terms for people whose employment is ongoing and continuous is inappropriate. The 2010 Award identify the areas in which Councils could employ people on term contracts - generally when people are employed to do work of a fixed duration, or on funding for a fixed duration.

Our interest had been pricked by the City’s treatment of one of their most valuable and entrepreneurial employees. A member of ours who had one three-year term rolled over, and at the end of the second three-year term was told by his director (a person who should know) that he would get a third term. They even sat down to work out what he would do over that period. Unfortunately, the director was out of the loop on funding issues and, after offering a three-year term, the City reneged on it. We contested it, the three-year term was offered but the City was always going to terminate it after 12 months.

It’s now terminated and we have an agreed termination payment for the member concerned but this also highlighted the City’s total failure in managing valuable human capital. Being astonishingly and painfully slow is one thing, but wasting and mismanaging talent and skills is worse. Our member was responsible for establishing the world-renowned Small Bars Program, the Food Trucks program and the app and he developed and presented Small Business 101 - an overwhelmingly popular monthly event where up to 160 people would come along from small and medium business wanting to know how they can work with the City and what the City could offer. That sounds like valuable human capital (as the HR professionals (sic) describe it), however you look at it.

Bloody hopeless is a reasonable way of describing their treatment of this valuable entrepreneur - and in a climate where the NSW Government wants to nail the current Lord Mayor and her regime by compelling business owners to vote, removing this connection and service to business won’t do the Lord Mayor and her regime any favours. The programmes Richard instituted and ran are iconic achievements that define the City. What a waste of a great talent.

In the Commission last week we could report that the Council has all but agreed by policy to introduce similar restrictions to those which operate in the State Award - something which will have immediate implications for a substantial proportion of the 400 employees on term contracts. The contracts will be reviewed as they fall due and, if they don’t satisfy the tests in the State Award, then the employees will be acknowledged to be permanent employees and that status will operate from the first contract with the City. This is a significant change for the better – benefitting employees and the City.

All that it needs now is for the City’s Executive to endorse the settlement on 13 August. This is a significant modernising change in the Council with advantages for both the City and the employees. Sure, the President of the IRC wanted it done by 21 April, but it’s taken more than double that period of time and we await, with high expectations, the snail to deliver the agreement next month.

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