Tamworth GM drops off on removing the nine day fortnight from existing staff

Paul Bennet with egg

We’d hate to be misunderstood. We don’t necessarily target general managers who become the president of the Local Government Managers/Poseurs Association. There is a natural attraction, of course, of putting a target on general managers who spend time attacking the provisions of the Local Government State Award - whether that be to slash entitlements or costs or under the guise of advocating better management practices and getting all excited about management excellence.

But it’s always interesting to see how general managers, who do think it important to try to exercise some leadership role in LGM/PA, behave at their own Council. Does it follow that they demonstrate management excellence when they have the opportunity to do so themselves?

depa filed a dispute with Tamworth Regional Council late last year after GM Paul Bennett decided to strip away the nine day fortnight from existing staff.

We challenged him to provide any evidence that the nine day fortnight had compromised Council services. Staff had cooperatively managed it to ensure no loss of services and we were sceptical that there was any evidence to the contrary. Paul was unable to provide any evidence at all, deciding instead to have Dorothy Dix prepare a survey to local developers. Despite the survey’s prejudicial questioning and encouragement of responses that they couldn’t do business with the Council on Fridays on Mondays, he couldn’t get any evidence that way either.

But Paul is as sensitive to criticism as he is to employees not jumping and doing want he wants. He responded dramatically to our report on his treatment in the Commission in the February issue - blowing more than $15,000 by our guess on having a Senior Counsel attend for a less than one hour conference in Newcastle to have the union chastised. The GM, the deputy GM, the HR Manager all attended, all away from Tamworth for the day and obviously not providing services but happily supporting the SC trying to ban depa’s Secretary from continuing to appear in proceedings, to be locked in the stocks etc but all he got from the Commission, even with his SC, was the Commission’s agreement to something that depa had asked for on the very first occasion - namely, that subsequent proceedings be held in Tamworth.

While Paul might be sensitive to criticisms we might make, he isn’t very sensitive to what’s happening amongst his staff.

On 14 August he emailed all staff, (without the courtesy of a copy to us as the notifying union or the other unions) that the “Executive Management Team has now decided not to pursue the transitioning of individual staff away from current work arrangements.”

Sounds like the white flag going up to me. He continued that “our organisation is in a rebuilding phase following the service review process and I would prefer not to pursue the transition of existing staff to a 19 day month due to the impact it is having on our culture.”

Well, durr. Almost 12 months after the first letter telling the unions that he was removing the nine day fortnight, he suddenly realised he shouldn’t try to strip away the nine day fortnight “due to the impact it is having on our culture.” Well done Paul, it’s about time that sunk in. How could he not have anticipated that stripping away the nine day fortnight would have a negative impact on their culture?

You can’t take away an historic entitlement without evidence for doing so, nor can you attempt to bludgeon it through the consultative committee and behave in such a way to our delegate that you subsequently provide an apology.

And even though, in capitulating because it was damaging the culture, he reserved the opportunity of dealing with the area of development control slightly differently - “with an investigation into the specific issues our customers identifies a problem in that area.” Remember here that he hasn’t been able to sustain that their customers identify any problems in the development area. A little bit too much playing the player, and not the ball here.

It was a messy, embarrassing and clumsy process with conflicting messages, clarification the Council didn’t want to remove the nine day fortnight from all staff but they needed five weeks or so to work out those it did, and then five weeks later revealing it did want to remove it from everyone, etc. etc. To call it a farce, flatters it.

Now, not with a bang but a whimper, Paul has run up the white flag. This process won’t win him any LGM/PA awards for excellence in HR management.

Victories don’t come much sweeter than this one.