The Hills Shire embraces commitment to health and wellbeing in 2017 Enterprise Agreement

The Hills Shire GM Dave Walker

This really is the best of times, the age of wisdom, the epoch of belief, the season of light, the spring of hope.

The Hills Shire will have a commitment to health and wellbeing for their staff light years in advance of anything else operating in local government. An unrestrained arrangement allowing access to two days sick leave for health and wellbeing activities based solely on what the employee believes will assist and improve their health and wellbeing and renouncing the constraints and rigidity of restricting this entitlement to preventative medical appointments. The agreement contains the following words:

Reasons for health and wellbeing days would fit generally within concepts of health, fitness, exercise, improved health benefits, as well as mental health in times of stress.

One of our claims in the 2014 Award negotiations was a response to the evidence at the time about the increasing levels of obesity in Australia. Statistically, we’re all getting fatter, it’s not doing us any good and it’s not helping us aesthetically either. At the time there was a general acknowledgement between the unions and LGNSW that found its way into the Award in clause 24 Health and Wellbeing where subclause (i) records:

The parties of the Award recognise that workplace health and wellbeing programs can lead to positive outcomes such as improved employee work performances and productivity, improved employee recruitment and retention, reduced absenteeism, and other benefits.

But while the parties to the Award recognised this, a restrictive template developed by LGNSW’s HR inhibitors and an agreement that councils were simply “encouraged to develop workplace health and/or wellbeing programs”, rather than being forced to do so, meant that in the intervening three years little progress was made.

Until a courageous general manager, somewhat surprisingly to some in the form of The Hills Shire GM Dave Walker, decided to embrace the concept in enterprise agreement negotiations that had been going on since the end of last year. Let’s face it, if everyone agrees with subclause (i), then someone had to do something about it, didn’t they. And Dave did.

Clause 28 of the EA, now endorsed by the Industrial Relations Commission to operate from 1 July 2017 is provided as a link below but the significance of the clause is that it has no preconceptions about what employees need for their health and wellbeing.

It is a bold and courageous step - embracing the evidence that improved levels of health and wellbeing will provide productivity improvements, not just in reducing sick leave but better productivity while employees are at work as well, and a significant trust in employees that, at this stage, no other Council has been prepared to match.

At The Hills, you make a written request for one or two days from your sick leave for a particular purpose and explain how this will benefit your health and wellbeing, and your Manager can approve it. No restrictions, a reliance upon employees not abusing the process and the encouragement for a relationship between employees and their supervisors of disclosure, awareness of what will make people feel better and a real focus on employees thinking about what will improve their wellbeing and provide benefits for them and for the Council.

Dave Walker is now retiring, shortly to leave The Hills after running a Council with progressive policies, bonus arrangements and, more importantly, openness, transparency and honesty in dealing with staff.

We will miss Dave and we wish him well.

While we are continuing discussions with LGNSW aiming for a requirement that each Council must develop a policy of health and wellbeing, Dave did something about it. Who will be next?

If you’d like to take this challenge up at your Council, here is the email to Dave with nine critical points that Dave embraced and found its way into the clause, and here is the clause.

And just to show that we think everyone is capable of development and moving out of the age of foolishness, incredulity, Darkness and despair, we’ve claimed that the City of Sydney embrace what The Hills has done in the current award negotiations there. How do you reckon that will go?

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