With the introduction of the new Local Government (State) Award 2020 the following new clause has been added to provide support to staff who work unreasonable hours in completing work which takes too long because their workgroup is understaffed.

Clause 9. Resourcing and Directing Employees

(i) The employer shall provide adequate staff and other resources to enable employees to carry out their duties and functions over the course of working hours that are not unreasonable and support the implementation of the employer’s community strategic plan and operational plan.

(ii) The employer may direct the employee to carry out such duties that are within the limits of the employee’s skill, competence and training.

The above new clause is the first of its kind in the Local Government (State) Award 2020. A persistent problem within the NSW Local Government Industry is that Council’s vacancy rates are increasing. Many times Councils are slow or don’t replace staff when they take extended leave, retire or move to another job. This leaves the remaining staff with more work to do with the same amount of work hours.

This can lead to pressure being placed on the remaining staff to take on unreasonable workloads or to work for longer hours. Many times this extra work is unpaid and without recognition as the staff member just wants to ensure the job gets done. This unpaid work is illegal and it could lead to a break down in physical and/or mental health as well as possibly being problematic if an injury occurs while carrying out unpaid and unrecorded work. This seems to occur more frequently in white collar positions within the NSW Local Government Industry.

The new clause requires the Council to provide adequate staff and adequate resources to allow staff to doing their work within their hours of work. This clause was designed to help combat growing problem of understaffing.

Again it must be recognised that understaffing can result in very serious outcomes which the United Services Union is concerned with. Understaffing raises concerns about the remaining staff’s mental health. In this situation it is quite common for the remaining staff to feel the pressure of delivering for their workgroup and literally doing the work of multiple people. This only causes more people to use more sick leave and can potentially result in more workers compensation claims. Requiring staff to perform excessive and unreasonable workloads also leaves staff feeling vulnerable to criticisms of their work performance as they may not be able to perform at their normal level and may wind up with an increasing backlog of work which results in further pressure and stress.

Another concern is that when staff are expected to take on unreasonable workloads due to under-resourcing the staff who then work the extra hours end up in a situation where their work impacts negatively on their work life and family life balance.

This new clause in the Local Government (State) Award is a big win for our members and all staff within the NSW Local Government Industry as it helps to combat one of the industry’s growing problems of under resourcing including understaffing. If this clause is used correctly it will put pressure on Councils who breach this new Award clause to employ more staff and to give their existing staff, who have been working with unreasonable workloads and pressure as a result of under resourcing, an ability to raise this matter with the assistance of their Union with their employer to rectify the matter or to face having the matter referred to the NSW IRC as an industrial dispute.

It should also be remembered that the NSW Local Government Model Code of Conduct also refers to improper work allocation as Bullying in Section 3.10 (f) unreasonable work expectations, including too much or too little work, or work below or beyond a worker’s skill level.

If you seek advice or assistance on this matter please contact the USU Support Team on 1300 136 604. If you are not a member you can join by calling 1300 136 604 or at www.usu.org.au/join