Thursday, 9th April, 2009
Six months after cancelling Silverlea Employment and Training Services' (SETS) contract to maintain the hospital grounds, the health service continues to rub salt into the wound. Silverlea CEO Brian Slater said that the Greater Western Area Health Service still owed more than $1,600 for work that its disabled employees performed at the hospital last year. Silverlea, which employs over 30 people with a disability at its Picton Plants nursery, maintained the grounds twice a week until September last year when the GWAHS terminated the contract without notice.
The work helped employ six people and a horticulturist full-time. Mr Slater said that Silverlea's repeated requests for the final payment had been ignored until this week when it received a request from the health service for the original invoice. "It's taken six months for them to say 'now give us the original invoice'." He said the overdue account made a mockery of NSW Health Minister John Della Bosca's claims that the GWAHS was meeting its benchmark for account payments. Yesterday a GWAHS spokesman said that the money owed to Silverlea would be paid in the next payment run. "Greater Western manages 46,000 transactions a year with suppliers and level of invoices fluctuating on a daily basis," he said.
"We recognise it is important businesses are paid within existing benchmark of 45 days. "Greater Western encourages any supplier who is experiencing difficulties with payment to contact the creditor hotline." The number is 1800 602 001. A month after scrapping the landscaping contract the health service offered it back to Silverlea, but for one year instead of the previous two years. Mr Slater said that he decided against returning to the hospital because the conditions GWAHS placed on the contract were "too onerous". He said the main issue was the health service's insistence on a fully qualified horticulturist. "They knew we lost our horticulturist," he said. "They just put conditions on us that we couldn't meet."
When it lost the contract the six employees who worked there were put on part-time, working three days a week instead of five. "We were paying them their holidays to make up their pay, so they basically lost their entitlements," Mr Slater said. The health service agreed to reimburse the employees as part of the new contract but because Silverlea didn't proceed the payment was never made. Mr Slater said since losing the contract Silverlea had managed to secure other work, but it had been unable to find a contract as large as the hospital. "We've got bits and pieces around the place but GWAHS was one of our biggest (contracts) because it was two days a week," Mr Slater said. "Now we're chasing work all the time.
"We've been extremely lucky we've had great support from City Council, Country Energy and Country Water." The GWAHS spokesman said that Silverlea, in a letter dated January 29, declined an offer to resume work at the hospital grounds on January 5. "As part of the contractual agreement the Area required there to be a qualified horticulturist to oversee the works to adhere to occupational health and safety standards," the spokesman said. "SETS was unable to fulfill this requirement." He said landscaping work at the hospital was now being carried out by a casual employee working three days a week.