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Council wages ‘threat’

Friday, 14th October, 2011

By Craig Brealey

 

Local councils would gain from new laws introduced to the NSW Parliament, the government says, but a council workers’ union suspects they are intended to cut wages and conditions. 

The laws were introduced on Wednesday night and redefine councils as “corporations”, meaning their employees can be transferred to the “inferior” federal industrial relations system, the United Services Union said yesterday.

The NSW Minister for Local Government, Don Page, said the amendments to the law were intended to allow councils on the east coast to amalgamate and to make it easier for councils to win grants from the Commonwealth. 

No councils in the far west would be amalgamated because of the distance between them, Mr Page said yesterday.

But the United Services Union’s General Secretary, Graeme Kelly, told the BDT that he suspected a different motive.

“They have a long-term plan for a change of government federally,” Mr Kelly said.

“If the Liberals win government, the State Government can refer its industrial relations powers to the federal government.

“This will result in the stripping of award conditions that we have had for a hundred years.”

Mr Kelly said the corporatisation of councils will not have an immediate effect on workers “but by the application of these amendments they have put in place steps for this to happen.”

A wage freeze would be felt most severely in country towns, he said, and National Party MPs, as representatives of country electorates, should “do the decent thing” and stand up to their coalition partners.

“Your MP, John Williams, should come out and guarantee that, under these amendments the State will not refer industrial relations to the federal system and that council workers won’t lose wages and conditions,” he said. 

The federal system was “vastly inferior” to the state and there would be at least a four-year freeze on conditions until the federal system caught up with the NSW system, Mr Kelly said.

Being defined as “corporations” would also make it easier for councils to privatise and outsource jobs, he said.

“We want the Upper House to reject this unfair attack on the rights and conditions of council workers,” Mr Kelly said.

But Mr Williams said that Mr Kelly was “drawing a long bow” and that the changes to the law had nothing to do with industrial relations.

Councils had always been corporations until the previous State Government changed them to body politics so that council employees would not be affected by the Howard Government’s WorkChoices, he said. 

But that caused problems for councils because it also stopped them from being eligible for federal government grants, Mr Williams said.

“The councils came to the Minister (Don Page) and asked to be changed back to corporations because they were not able to get federal government grants available for building and traineeships. It’s as simple as that,” he said.

“The request makes sense and it has nothing to do with playing around with industrial relations.”

The Shadow Minister for Industrial Relations and Local Government, Sophie Cotsis, said the legislation would cut protection for workers affected by amalgamations.

Now, if councils are amalgamated, they must honour the industrial award previously negotiated with their employees for three years, but Ms Costis said that with the changes this would be cut to one year. 

This would make it easier for the Government to force amalgamations, she said. 

“The O’Farrell Government announced a review of the Local Government Act to look at these very issues but has introduced legislation that could freeze the wages and conditions of 50,000 workers before the review has even been completed,” she said.  

“The review was simply a way to buy time before they announced these cuts.”

 

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