Following the recent round of USU Branch meetings across Northern NSW the Manager North Stephen Hughes was made aware of what appears to be an increasing trend of delegates reporting under resourcing and increasing workloads as a result.

In a discussion with the Metro Branch and Southern Branch Managers on the 24th of November it appears that the issue is one that exists across all of the State.

As a result this update has been drafted to inform our many members employed in NSW Local Government of their rights and their employer’s obligations.

Claims that vacant positions are not being filled or that there are significant delays in filling vacancies are leading to increased workloads on the remaining employees who it is claimed are being expected to not just do their share of work but to also take on the workload left by unfilled vacancies.

The issue of Covid-19 would no doubt have impacted on the normal processes to fill positions with lockdowns and travel restrictions since early 2020, but now we are past the worst of it, Councils should be preparing to advertise, interview and fill vacancies without delaying unnecessarily.

Overwork can lead to safety issues occurring, including but not limited to burnout, mental health problems and mistakes that could result in serious injury or even fatalities.

In the 2020 NSW Local Government State Award, the Unions and in particular the USU pushed the issue strongly during negotiations of adding a new clause to deal with workloads.

This was as a result of claims by USU members of feeling pressured to perform unpaid overtime as a result of unreasonable workloads and under resourcing, particularly when staff were absent on leave and their workloads were dumped on top of others who already had a full or overfull workload.

For some indoor (salaried) members there are no timesheets for them to record their working hours and this has allowed their unpaid workload to go through unrecorded.

All employers are required to record their employees’ working hours under legislation and for any employer to allow unpaid work to take place means they are in breach of legislation.

It is not acceptable for any supervisor or employer to turn a blind eye to workloads that lead to employees feeling obligated to perform unpaid work.

What would the employer say if the employee who is performing unpaid work was injured while performing this work, would they accept it as a workers compensation claim?

The 2020 NSW Local Government State Award Clause 9. RESOURCING AND DIRECTING EMPLOYEES (i) states the following:

“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.

If any USU member believes that their workload is in breach of their award rights, we would recommend that you contact the Union for advice and assistance in correctly raising the matter with your employer.

We have not yet run a dispute in the IRC on this clause and we believe a good precedent would remind all employers of their obligations.

Should an employer fail to act at all or in a reasonable time frame to comply with their Award obligations we can also make a formal Code of Conduct Complaint under the NSW Local Government Model Code of Conduct under the heading BULLYING in sections 3.8, 3.9 and in particular in section 3.10 (f) in which bullying can be described in employees being given workloads that are:

“unreasonable work expectations, including too much or too little work, or work below or beyond a worker’s skill level.

While most allegations that we receive are regarding overwork, we do sometimes receive allegations that a person has been given little to no work to perform and this can have an impact on a person’s health and self-esteem.

We have generally seen this occurring when an employee is unwanted, and the employer hopes they will resign if given little to no work as these people generally feel unwanted and unvalued and quite often are isolated.

This is no more acceptable than being overworked and where it is reported to the employer and is not quickly resolved we can lodge a code of conduct complaint with the employer which if not resolved in a reasonable time we can escalate directly to the Office of Local Government as well as referring the matter to Safework NSW.

If you are a USU member and are experiencing any of the above, please contact us for advice and assistance. WE ARE BY YOUR SIDE.