101 Damnations at Campbelltown

Campbelltown’s lack of respect for long-serving staff and chronic under resourcing won them our prestigious award for the worst HR in local government in 2016. The same GM, but no nominations subsequently, but how is this for an ambitious attempt to be nominated in 2024?

Campbelltown City employs over 1100 staff across 380 different jobs, with one salary system. There is an Enterprise Agreement for Managers who are on different arrangements. Last month, the Council proposed increasing all rates in the salary system by 2% to set a new base rate after struggling to attract and retain staff generally. But not everyone was proposed to get the 2%, if you were on a market forces allowance already, they proposed that you fund your own 2% increase from your market allowance. That’s not, as they say, robbing Peter to pay Paul, it’s robbing Peter, to pay Peter.

75 of more than 1100 employees were going to be victimized - unfairly and cruelly. The managers (and executive managers) were going to get a $6,500 increase in their car allowance, bringing it to $18,000. Nice.

HR’s documents (People and Performance, at Campbelltown no less!) misrepresented the proposal, using expressions like “unfair advantage” to those already on a market rate, and cooking the books to present figures to minimise the disadvantage to employees.

When we did the calculations properly, and demonstrated the inaccuracy of their calculations, the Executive Manager People and Performance responded “we will have to agree to disagree on the figures”. Really? It’s not a matter of opinion, calculations are either right or they’re wrong. Continuing to rely upon those discredited figures was disingenuous at best, dishonest at worst. And yes, because you are wondering, that EM got the $6,500 ...

Up until this stage the Council had refused to acknowledge the historic arrangements and contractual conditions of employment - but had never raised the possibility that they would create two salary systems. This was based on advice from LGNSW as a way of getting away with avoiding the breaches of an existing and historic custom and practice - a bit like giving advice to a thief planning a theft, that if you are going to run away from the police, run fast. This set up the opportunity to either opt in, or opt out, to give it an appearance of legitimacy. But it’s not legitimate.

What the Council was trying to avoid was a decision on 16 February 2005 by GM Paul Tosi to establish a “market allowance” as a response to a memo from the Director Planning and Environment recommending paying a market allowance to “nominated Planning, Health Surveyor and Building Surveyor positions”. This arrangement has continued for almost 20 years and has been a critical part of offers of employment. It’s a condition of employment for our members and others. It has no relationship to the salary system.

The allowance was initially for employees who would be members of ours, and the memorandum provided three significant conditions governing the payments: there would be an annual review to determine if “they are still necessary to meet the above objective”, it was a fixed amount and not subject to award increases, and the margin “will be reviewed as any position becomes vacant”.

The condition of employment for those who have it meant that it could be lost or reduced if they weren’t “necessary” but in the intervening almost 20 years, they have been necessary and while the Council trying to advertise positions without the allowance, it was invariably provided.

At no time since the allowance was established has the Council done anything to review the allowances, they obviously worked and that was sufficient of a review. These three critical provisions allow the Council to vary the allowance, but the Council has not sought to change the allowance, even though the 2% proposal intends to reduce it, consistent with the conditions of employment of those employees who have reference to the memorandum in their letters of offer.

This is a significant procedural flaw.

We have 20 members affected, and there are other job classifications receiving the allowance. They receive the allowance, sometimes up to $20,000 (significantly more than the allowance originally established) at the discretion of the GM to make sure they can get people, and keep them. The EM P&P (unaware of the inherent irony and hypocrisy) responded to our suggestion that everyone should get the 2% and they shouldn’t pay it to new staff, that the Council would not forfeit their right to pay market premiums if they wanted to! 

The Consultative Committee endorsed the proposal, despite the three salary representatives from depa, the LGEA and the USU all voting against it. It was endorsed with documents containing the original inaccurate calculations, where we had specifically requested of the GM that this not happen.

Our members were disappointed and hostile - alarmed and offended at suggestions they have been “advantaged” unfairly, that receiving the 2% and retaining their full market premium is an “unfair advantage”, that it would be unfair on top of an “already larger package”, and “double dipping”.

On 26 March a meeting of members resolved to continue to pursue the 2%, and in the meantime to stop working unpaid hours, exercise their right to disconnect, not working if they weren’t well and to take up an invitation from the GM to individually have their allowances reviewed.

The process has been duplicitous, disadvantaging good and valuable employees, promoted and justified with figures that are demonstrably untrue. Shameful, really.

When the Council, in the form of the EM P&P, eventually responded to our advice that members would be working differently, marked the letter Private and Confidential.  In all my (virtually) 40 years with depa, no employer has ever attempted to make communication between the union and the employer on issues like this private and confidential.

That includes Campbelltown, who even with a succession of Town Clerks/General Managers, and a whole range of HR people, never attempted to restrain us from distributing the employer’s responses to us from our members. We’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume it was some poor young inexperienced person in HR trying to do the right thing prior to the school holidays.

The Council’s misunderstanding of concepts of what is private and confidential, and what is communication that can be readily distributed will be part one of the issues when this inevitably ends up in the IRC.

Too much villainy. Imagine how horrifying kids would have found it if Disney had made101 Dalmatians, not just with one Cruella, but two …

Copyright © 2024 The Development and Environmental Professionals' Association (depa). All Rights Reserved. Webdesign: Dot Online