Around 600 Central Coast Council employees who are members of the United Services Union (USU), have passed a vote of no confidence in CEO, Mr Rob Noble, and his executive leadership team.
A letter, setting out the no confidence motion, has been sent to Mr Noble, and to Central Coast Council Administrator, Mr Ian Reynolds.
Standard practice would see Mr Noble respond to the motion in the form of a letter back to the USU, which would be shared with members.
The USU has been negotiating, on behalf of the 1,200 members who were employed by either the former Gosford or Wyong Councils, with Mr Noble and his team since the amalgamation of the two councils in May 2016.
Two USU organisers, Mr Paul Sansom and Mr Luke Hutchinson, have been appointed, due to the size of the amalgamated council, to look after the interests of their members.
Mr Sansom said the USU and its members were prepared to take a very understanding and collaborative approach for the first eight months of negotiations but, over time, employees have been increasingly concerned about the lack of progress achieved in bringing employees across to the new council’s structure.
“I think we took a view that we were in a new environment and that things had to change, so we were prepared to let things take a bit longer to be resolved, but our members are now saying that the time frames are unacceptable,” Mr Sansom said.
Mr Sansom said other merged councils had simply sent all employees letters of appointment immediately after the merger, and then dealt with how they would “fit” into the new council’s structure over time.
“We would have thought that was a better way to go,” he said.
He said Central Coast Council was working from the top down, determining the executive structure and making those appointments first, and then working its way through to broader, larger layers of the new entity.
“It has been going slowly, more slowly than we had hoped, and our members have thought that as well, and are now at the stage where they are fed up,” Mr Sansom said.
According to Mr Sansom, the council is still determining and populating its new corporate structure, and negotiations are still in play about its new salary structure.
“Our members have started thinking that there has been a lot of talk and no action, so at the meeting to vote on the new Local Government State Award, the no confidence motion was put forward in general business.
The USU meeting at the Niagara Park Stadium was held on Tuesday, June 20, and attended by around 600 USU members from across the Central Coast.
Mr Sansom said the motion had seven parts, but was primarily raised in relation to the length of time taken by Mr Noble and his leadership team to populate the new council’s corporate structure.
“Around 85 per cent of employees are still not on the new structure,” he said.
“Under the Local Government Act, when there is a merger of councils, in lay terms, anyone who had a job the day before the merger should still have a job the day after, and three years’ protection before there are any redundancies.
“The good news is that 95 per cent of employees on the Central Coast should be direct transfers but it has taken too long.
“They have tried to appoint the executives, then the section managers, then the unit managers, who then look at what structures would be needed to fulfil their areas.
“We’ve asked on several occasions for the full details of the number of employees before the merger and the full-time employee equivalent projected for the new council, and that information has been difficult to get.
“We are getting some of the information some of the time.”
According to Mr Sansom, the unit managers have only just been appointed to their new roles “so there is still uncertainty at that level,” he said.
Mr Sansom said there had been times during the past 13 months when the USU had been responsible for “putting the handbrake on and going back to that old adage of do it right the first time.
“There have been times when we have said to Mr Noble and his team that they should have another look to avoid breaching the award or the requirements of the Local Government Act.
“The biggest issue we had was in relation to the council’s interpretation of the protections under the Local Government Act about the protection of pre-amalgamation salaries, and council ended up asking the NSW Industrial Commission for a ruling.
“Council argued that if an employee was redeployed into a lower position, then after the three years’ of protection, that employee could be placed on a lower salary.
“The Commission ruled that employees would retain their wages on an ongoing basis after the three years and council accepted that ruling.”
The NSW Industrial Commission has decided 11 matters on behalf of Central Coast Council USU members in the past year, and most have been in relation to the merger.
Mr Sansom said he remained positive that the bulk of employees would be direct transfers; a small percentage of lateral transfers (into other roles) would follow, and then some positions would be open to an internal application process.
“There should be very little need for external advertising of positions given that there has been very little change in position numbers, and council should fill the structure before it goes outside to recruit,” he said.
The USU is now asking for Mr Noble and his team of “HR business partners” to adhere to tighter timeframes for resolving matters raised by the union.
“If they don’t meet that timeframe, we are now more likely to escalate the matter to the Industrial Relations Commission,” Mr Sansom said.
He said negotiations were now moving into a difficult period because of the approach of the local election in September.
“Rob Noble has said he will be moving on, so we are moving into a holding pattern, but the motion shows that low morale and uncertainty are still out there.”
Council had informed the USU that, by mid-July, the Assets Infrastructure and Business (AIB) area, whose Group Leader is Mr Mike Dowling, would have its structure in place, resulting in around 1,200 staff being moved into their new positions.
“There are a lot of flow charts doing the rounds and we are told that there is a lot of work being done, but the frustration out there is that there is no guts to the conversations about when, what and how things will happen,” Mr Sansom said.
In a written statement, Central Coast Council said: “In October 2016, Central Coast Council and union delegates agreed to the process for consultation with all Council employees about a new Central Coast Council organisation structure.
“This process was agreed by the three unions who have Central Coast Council employee members.
“The agreed process meets the legislative requirements of the Local Government Act and Council has consistently followed this agreed process.
“Council regularly meets the representatives of all the unions to consult on a number of matters related to amalgamating two businesses into one new regional Council.
“Pending the outcomes of consultation with staff, a final merged organisation structure will be in place by September, 2017.
“All employees of Central Coast Council currently have a position description that articulates the roles and responsibilities of the job that they are paid to do for the ratepayers of the Central Coast.”
Interview, Jun 27
Paul Sansom, United Services Union
Jackie Pearson, journalist