Sydney’s richest and most left wing council is locked in a bitter dispute with a major union over its decision to stop paying hordes of casual and part time staff because of the coronavirus pandemic.
While almost every other Sydney council redeploys their council workforce into other roles amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the City of Sydney has told about 90 casual and part-time staff that they will no longer get paid from April 26.
The council says workers will be eligible for the federal government’s JobSeeker allowance the next day and that workers will have jobs to return to when conditions improve.
But this hasn’t stopped the United Services Union from taking the council to the NSW Industrial Relations Commission this week in an effort to keep workers’ pay cheques flowing.
While the council said the union’s move was “incredibly disappointing”, USU General Secretary Graeme Kelly accused the progressive council of being heartless.
“Despite years of loyal service to the City of Sydney – some casual staff have been employed for more than two decades – these workers have been treated with complete contempt, simply receiving an email that informed them they had lost their job, effective immediately,” USU General Secretary Graeme Kelly said.
“It was so shocking that a massive, wealthy council like the City of Sydney would terminate loyal staff without notice and without even considering other options.
“The USU has been working with Local Government NSW and other unions to help councils navigate the unprecedented challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but there is nothing in that process that permits councils to axe loyal staff without consultation.”
North Sydney Council this week tried to sack a small number of staff from North Sydney Olympic Pool at Milsons Point, which has closed early for renovations.
The moves are a significant departure from other Sydney councils – such as Blacktown, Liverpool and Campbelltown – which have redeployed staff members into other roles.
The City of Sydney, lead by Lord Mayor Clover Moore, employs 1950 staff and about 130 casuals.
It has an annual budget of about $470 million and recently rolled out a $72.5m COVID-19 relief package for businesses, cultural and creative industries.
A council spokesman said the union signed an agreement with the council to give casuals affected by closures four weeks’ pay.
“The unions signed the agreement and gave no indication that they were not satisfied with the arrangement,” he said.
“It came as a great surprise and disappointment to the City when the USU then lodged a dispute that they were not consulted, after signing the agreement.
“We find it incredibly disappointing that the USU has chosen to go down this path despite the fact that the City is following the unions’ stipulations, and providing support and certainty to casuals during these very difficult times.”
City of Sydney Labor councillor Linda Scott said she was “shocked” at the decision to stand down staff.
“During these difficult economic times, it is critical that all levels of government continue to provide high quality services to our communities,” she said.
“Staff from Local Government NSW, the United Services Union and other relevant unions have worked to create a non-binding Joint Statement outlining a minimum standard for industrial matters during COVID-19.
“The arrangement supports but does not override existing awards or other industrial arrangements.”
Ben Pike, Urban Affairs Reporter, The Sunday Telegraph