The Mirror News

Industrial action looms at shire

INDUSTRIAL action is looming at South Gippsland Shire, with the union which covers shire workers encouraging its members to reject the current offer from management.

Negotiations over a new enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) have been in train for several months but reached a head last week. The Australian Services Union (ASU), on behalf of its members at the shire, has put in an application to take protected industrial action. A ballot is being held this week to decide on industrial action and another to determine whether the EBA should be accepted or not.

ASU Organiser Cameron Wright said that the ASU and its members have begun running a ‘no-vote’ campaign against the current offer from management, which they consider unsatisfactory “especially considering the financial position Council and management find themselves in”.

On offer, broadly speaking, is a 4 per cent pay rise each year for four years. The union is arguing for a three-year agreement and has a number of other demands as well.

“There are a number of outstanding issues, but the key items are associated with workers in the depot area and home and community care workers, including classification levels regarding pay levels and provisions for training,” said Mr Wright. “Management are also offering a four-year agreement, but our members are opposed to that. We are concerned about the length of the agreement because the local government industry changes from year to year, and if we lock ourselves in to such a long deal, workers at the council could fall behind industry standards in regards to pay and conditions.”

Mr Wright said the union was “mainly fighting for the lowest paid people at the council, workers supplying ratepayers with valuable services throughout the year”.

“The council has enjoyed a surplus of $11.5 million over the last two years, and the wage of the CEO has gone up around over 60 per cent to a wage of $210,000 in 2011. Total senior executive salaries are also up over 50 per cent from $650,000 in 2010 to $950,000 in 2011. There really is no reason not to fund the minuscule financial issues in the pending agreement.”

Shire chief executive officer Tim Tamlin said it was not as simple as that. “There are broad financial considerations and constraints. For instance, the defined benefit superannuation scheme will make a call on all local government in the next few months because of the current financial downturn in the global economy. We do not have a limitless bucket of money.”

Mr Tamlin said that he would encourage all staff to vote on the EBA so that he had a clear idea of their expectations. He was, he added, concerned that staff might not understand the full implications of voting against the EBA.

“If they vote ‘no’ the EBA is off the table and we start from scratch. In the event that there is not a majority vote in favour of the agreement the existing conditions in the 2009 agreement continue to operate. There will be no further pay increases and all other benefits negotiated will not apply.”

Mr Tamlin said he had presented these facts to shire staff last Tuesday when staff were invited to attend one of three meetings (at 7.30am, 2 pm and 3pm) with the CEO. Tension mounted when the union directed staff to attend a rally that day. Mr Tamlin warned against this, saying it would be illegal industrial action. In the end, a rally took place outside the shire offices at 7am – before the CEO’s first scheduled meeting with staff at 7.30am.

Mr Wright said: “Some ASU members are also fuming at comments made by the CEO that other industries in the area have laid people off due to financial constraints, and they did not appreciate the inference that South Gippsland Shire may consider the same.”

In response, Mr Tamlin said that he had merely been recommending that staff be realistic about their pay demands and consider the state of the economy which has seen Murray Goulburn, for instance, put people off because of financial difficulties and the State Government do likewise.

Mr Wright was not to be deterred, however. He said: “The council is in a very strong fiscal position and there’s no reason they cannot fund the outstanding issues workers are after in this upcoming agreement. All we are after are pay increases to help South Gippsland Shire workers catch up to other council pay rates in surrounding areas. The ASU will do everything in its power to make sure the workers at South Gippsland Shire are given the pay and conditions they deserve.”

‘The Mirror’ sought a response to the pay dispute from Councillor David Lewis, a self-styled “long-time campaigner in favour of the council focusing on its core services”. In a rare show of unity with the CEO on staff costs, he said that the shire staff should accept the pay deal on offer.

“I have no problem with giving people good pay if they’re doing a good job,” said Cr Lewis. “The difficulty is that there has been a huge blow-out in the number of office staff employed at the council in the term of this council. It is this that is largely responsible for the 47 per cent increase in wage costs at the shire during the term of this council. I believe that to fund this increase, core services (such as roads, footpaths, parks and gardens and public infrastructure including swimming pools) have been starved of the money they need, because of the very large increase in office and management staff over the term of this council.”

“I’m one of those people who believe that we’re in for very tough economic times in the next few years given the state of the world economy,” added Cr Lewis.

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