In such a hostile world, who wouldn’t want a guardian angel?


It would be nice if we could rely upon the concept of a guardian angel, keeping an eye on us when we need it and keeping us out of trouble. Awards and industrial instruments of the Industrial Relations Commission and access to the tribunals for disputes over other industrial issues is one way of having protection and security at work. We won’t labour the imagery any further lest it give those remaining members of the IRC an unseemly level of reverence.

The NSW Government in developing the 1993 Local Government Act liked the idea of excluding senior staff from protection and coverage by awards or enterprise agreements and section 340 of the Local Government Act, on the face of it, was intended to deny senior staff access to any of the protections normally available to employees.

But, not so fast. The IRC has determined that it retains the power under section 106 to declare unfair contracts void or to make orders varying them.

That means it would be open to the Commission to make orders varying the standard contract to ensure that no senior staff employee is sacked without proper process allowing the employee to respond and defend themselves.

We are going to look after senior staff, we know so too will the other unions, but this shouldn’t be something that the unions have to do. This is something that should be done by Government. A general collaborative view from the Standard Contracts Working Party that no contract should be terminated under 10.3.5 without proper process allowing the employee to respond has been ignored by OLG.

As we have observed to some of the Minister for Local Government’s staff, while we might have different views about the principles of employee rights at work, no-one would support the political sacking of people doing the job properly. It diminishes public confidence in local government at a time when the public deserves more.

The Phase 1 recommendations for the future of local government reported last month mean that the OLG is recommending more senior employees should be placed on the standard contract. The OLG wants to remove the discretion for councils to determine what staff should be senior staff so that all councils will properly reflect OLG’s anachronistic, myopic and prejudiced view of local government employment.

And, remembering that in 1993 when the Act was first made the DLG wanted to make employees above the minimum rate for band 4 level I of the Award senior staff (currently “remuneration” of $86k) then there are implications here for many employees far, far lower in the organisation.

Section 106 Unfair Contracts of the Industrial Relations Act provides a power for the Commission to declare unfair contracts void or to vary them to remove the unfairness. Orders can be made virtually without limit. The Commission can make orders on contracts that are unfair because they don’t provide protections to stop unfairness - like being sacked without good reason, or for political purpose, or without taking into consideration personal or family circumstances etc.

We’ll have more to say about this in October. Suffice to say that a fair standard contract with appropriate protections would have prevented the Mid-Western political sackings and the community could rely upon continued impartial protection of planning instruments, communities and the environment against any onslaught of developer-driven councillors.

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