Fair Work to shire: halt layoffs

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THE Fair Work Commission has told Mornington Peninsula Shire to negotiate with terminated employees and not layoff any more people.

The recommendation was made during a conciliation hearing last Wednesday when two unions took the shire to the commission following the termination of 12 staff on Friday 13 March.

New shire CEO Carl Cowie laid off four people prior to 13 March and one after for a total of 17 including two of the shire’s four directors (“Jobs go in shire shake-up”, The News, 17/3/15).

The Australian Services Union and Professionals Australia (APESMA) went to Fair Work to force the shire to comply with its enterprise agreement.

Commissioner Nick Wilson stated the shire must negotiate with the 12 staff “in good faith” and that staff could have union representatives at meetings. The shire must also talk with the unions, he stated.

The decision halts the layoffs as Mr Cowie attempts to revamp the organisation. This follows a three-month review after Mr Cowie replaced long-time CEO Michael Kennedy on 1 December.

The layoffs have traumatised staff. The News understands some were given less than 30 minutes to pack up and leave, and were escorted out by security guards.

ASU has issued a notice to union members: Your new CEO is wreaking havoc on your council and your community. “Council is claiming they [staff] are not entitled to redundancy and is offering them far less than the redundancy payment.”

The union will meet with its members this week at shire offices in Rosebud, Mornington and Hastings.

ASU officer Michelle Jackson told The News the restructure must be done in accordance with the shire’s enterprise agreement. “The shire is not offering redundancies and that’s why we went to the commission,” she said. “There has been a blatant disregard of the EBA.”

If the matter could not be resolved, the union would take the shire back to the Fair Work Commission or to the Federal Court.

A spokeswoman for Professionals Australia, which is representing two engineers, said it was an “outrageous situation” that the shire was asking employees to sign a deed of release “which would sign away their entitlements”.

Laid off staff are entitled to two weeks’ pay for every year of service up to a maximum of 48 weeks (that is, 24 years of service).

The shire, mayor Cr Bev Colomb and Mr Cowie refused to answer questions from The News.

Last week the shire issued two bland statements about the layoffs. It could not bring itself to use the words “terminated” or “layoffs” instead stating “a number of staff have been impacted by the review”.

One issued on 17 March stated: “Mornington Peninsula Shire Council has embarked on a significant program of re-focussing [sic] the organisation on the needs of the community as a whole, now and into the future.

“Further work will be undertaken within the shire over the coming weeks under the guidance of the CEO to find further efficiencies and building [sic] a sustainable shire organisation that is more transparent and much more focussed on its residents.

“In an environment of rising costs and increasing community expectations, we need to make sure the organisation is as efficient and effective as possible to ensure that we can deliver a high standard of service to the community,” Mr Cowie said in one statement.

In an email to staff on 13 March, Mr Cowie said: “The reason for change is simple. The shire has to put as much of its resources as possible into servicing the needs of the community, in the main, the ratepayers of the shire.

“For some staff within the shire, I suspect they may not see themselves as part of a ‘business’. ‘We’re local government.’ Please understand, when an entity attracts income of $200 million plus, employs more than 1000 staff, contracts with multinational companies to provide services, [and] borrows millions of dollars to fund investment, it is a business.

“The departure of certain staff is a reflection of rightsizing, not a reflection of competence.”

Last Friday, in another email to staff, Mr Cowie stated: “I appreciate it has been a difficult week for all of you. … I know it is not lost on any of us that some of our good friends and work colleagues are not here anymore and I know that is sad. … I also know that all of those people will bounce back bigger and better and that is the positive for them.”

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