As many of you may be aware the USU, other NSW Local Government Unions and the Employer’s Association (LGNSW) managed to negotiate the Local Government (COVID-19) Splinter (Interim) Award 2020, which was ratified in the NSW Industrial Commission on Tuesday the 14th of April 2020.

This Splinter Award is for 12 months specifically covering Permanent and Permanent Part-Time Local Government workers whose normal employment is affected by restrictions as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Make no mistake, the USU strongly advocated during the negotiations to include long term casuals (over 12 months regular and systematic and/or ongoing regular seasonal employment) and term contract employees (insecure workers) in the Splinter Award.

Unfortunately the inclusion of insecure workers such as casuals and term contract employees in the Splinter Award was opposed by many employers according to LGNSW and the unions had to act to protect as many employees’ jobs as we could in negotiations.

As of today (16/4/20) more than 102 Councils out of the 128 Councils in NSW have agreed to be included in the Splinter Award, with others indicating they also intend to sign up and with some indicating they will not need to at this time as they are not currently seeking to stand down any staff.

There will be some, who haven’t agreed to the Splinter Award, who may intend to stand down workers and we will be ensuring that they comply with their Award obligations.

There will also be employers who will support the jobs of non-permanent employees where they can.

The USU and the other 2 industry Unions strongly encourage Councils whether they are part of the Splinter Award or not, to do what they can to support all affected employees.

The COVID-19 health crisis is continuing to present us with unprecedented challenges at work and in our day-to-day lives.

USU action on insecure workers

The issue of insecure employment in NSW Local Government has been one which has been a priority in the 2020 Award negotiations.

In February 2019 the USU drafted a letter to all NSW Councils bringing to their attention our concerns at the misuse of insecure forms of employment such as Casuals, Labour Hire and Term Contract, in which we requested information on each Council’s Organisational Structures and the details on all Casual, Labour Hire and Term Contact positions especially where they have been working regular and systematic hours for 12 months or more. This letter was also countersigned by the other 2 industry Unions.
Only around half of Councils responded with information, which is concerning but the information received did show some alarming statistics. A further joint Union letter was sent out to all Councils again in August 2019.

Recently on the 24th of February during proceedings in the NSW IRC for the 2020 NSW Local Government Award negotiations, the Industrial Commissioner gave directions that all NSW Councils were required to provide information on their use of Casual, Labour Hire and Term Contact staff.

Unfortunately the current pandemic has impacted on the collection of the data, but the matter has not gone away and Councils will be required to comply.

It was and still is our intention to seek to strengthen the 2020 Award, to end or significantly reduce the misuse of insecure employment in NSW Councils. We have raised this issue with the Office of Local Government and the Minister also in seeking future amendments to legislation and/or regulation in addition to the award variations that we are seeking to negotiate. In our opinion the Minister was very sympathetic and understanding regarding our concerns of insecure employment in NSW Councils.

Unfortunately, people working under insecure work arrangements (casual and term contract) have been some of the worst affected as Councils shut services or reduce operations in response to the crisis and this means that we need to act sooner rather than later for our members who in particular are long term Casual, Seasonal and/or Term Contract who have been stood down without pay as a result of this pandemic.

It may be though, that in the case of Casuals or Part Time Term Contract workers, that the changes to the JobSeeker Allowance which apply to those whose employment has been terminated as a result of this pandemic could be no worse off financially if they register and qualify for the current JobSeeker Allowance.

What we have found is that many insecure employees were engaged on long-term, fixed rosters for a number of years or were working in positions which we believe should have been filled by permanent part-time or permanent full-time employees.

Why is this important?

As this crisis has clearly demonstrated, if you are working in an insecure engagement you are at a greater risk of having your shifts reduced or work stopped altogether. You may also not be able to rely upon some of the Award benefits and protections afforded to permanent staff.

What we need from you

If you are an insecure employee at a Council and have:

  • worked at the Council for more than 12 months in an ongoing role; and
  • during that time worked a fixed numbers of hours that remained unchanged; and
  • worked under a roster which was prepared in advance; and
  • were unable to make yourself unavailable for a rostered shift.

then you may have been incorrectly classified as an insecure employee.

The USU cannot guarantee that all insecure employees can or should be converted to a more permanent arrangement, as each case will have to be assessed on its own merits.

However if you would like the USU’s advice in trying to have your employment status reviewed and possibly changed to a permanent part time or permanent full time employment status we would advise that you contact your USU delegate or local organiser asap.

We would advise that you take the time to put together some notes on your employment first so that we can provide advice and where possible representation to address your employment status.

In the meantime the USU has continued to argue that all members should be treated fairly during these difficult times. There are a number of minimum safety net standards that may apply to your employment, but the USU strongly encourages all Councils to go over and above those minimum safety nets and to do everything possible to maintain or redeploy all employees during this crisis.