Let the money flow!

The announcement by the NSW Treasurer and Minister for Local Government on 26 April of $112.5 million to match the Federal Government’s JobKeeper program may have missed the publicity it deserved but it was a revelation for the industry with a cautious optimism about how councils would qualify. It was provided to complement and work alongside the Splinter Award and was a sign that if local government needed financial support, the State Government would provide it.

A lot of councils are desperate for a cash injection to keep services going but it’s clear that the requirements attached to JobKeeper don’t necessarily open the doors to financial assistance for councils. The Government needs to move quickly to announce how the money will be available and the funding needs to be significant and universal.

As this issue of depaNews is published, we’re not aware of any Council confident it will get enough of the $112.5 million and there are lots of GMs pessimistic about getting any.  Neither have we heard, after the first flush when Sutherland dumped casuals from Council services closed by State government proclamation, of anyone stood down in the industry drawing upon the Splinter Award for income maintenance.

We’re all geared up ready, optimistic for easier access to the drastically needed funding to keep services flowing as the restrictions start to come off.

The good news is that the industry has almost universally accepted that it is an essential service and that even those employees who can’t be given useful work in their normal jobs can be transferred across to other areas of the Council’s operations where they can. This has meant, as far as we are aware, continuing employment despite councils encouraging employees to take leave at short notice, or even to start working shorter work weeks.

Next month we should have a better picture of how the money flows and whether the industry has managed to continue to protect the normal levels of employment.

In related news, on 12 May the NSW Parliament is scheduled to consider two important initiatives as part of a COVID-19 Emergency Measures Bill – titled COVID-19 Legislation Amendment (Emergency Measures) Bill (No 2) 2020 NSW.

The first, which is not before time, is found in Schedule 3 Amendment of other legislation where at 3.1 Annual Holidays Act 1944 No 31, the government proposes to allow cashing out annually of annual leave, with protections, and extending the opportunity for long service leave to be taken at half pay or full pay by agreement with the council, to accumulated annual leave.

It will be about bloody time, LGNSW and the unions have been pursuing governments for about fifteen years to allow half pay or double pay for annual leave but both the cashing out, and the double pay will only be available for two weeks of every twelve months. While employees will have more options than they do now, they don’t go anywhere near far enough. Double pay annual leave by agreement will fund superb holidays and other things and dramatically reduce annual leave accumulations at those councils which have failed to properly manage it over the years.

And the second, which seems like a grossly unacceptable restriction on local government’s authority, imposes a limit on expenditure on council administrative buildings above $1 million for the next two years, unless it’s an emergency or maintenance. Cramped, unsuitable accommodation is typical in local government and councils should not be prevented from doing things to provide suitable accommodation for staff to get the job done properly.

And we’re absolutely convinced that one of the reasons Cumberland keeps crying poor and asking staff to sacrifice and forfeit entitlements is that they run two administrative centres from the olden days of Holroyd and Auburn when they’d be much better off in one. And they could stop harassing staff by passing the hat around.

Finally, the Splinter Award has now been varied twice since it was made and there are now only Balranald, Blayney, Broken Hill, Eurobodalla, Georges River, Kyogle, Lake Macquarie, Maitland, Murray River, Northern Beaches, Richmond Valley, Strathfield and Wollongong not parties to it. Goulburn-Mulwarree is not a party but has a more beneficial Council Agreement with the unions.

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