Doing other work? What does your Council do about section 353?

Section 353 of the Local Government Act requires employees who want to, or are doing work outside the Council that relates to or conflicts with their council job, to declare that work and seek the general manager’s approval.
It’s not a general opportunity to pry into the private lives of employees, look under their beds or do anything else quite that furtive or prurient.
We ran a big dispute against Sydney Council in 1994 when the prurient there decided they wanted employees to declare all work. All unions were involved, members of the three unions had placed bans on complying with the proposed new arrangements, the Labor Council of NSW at the time appeared in support and the DLG eventually advised the Council that while they could develop their own policies on managing other work, whatever they did had to be consistent with the Act.
As part of the dispute the Industrial Relations Commission directed that the Council not proceed with this policy until such time as an agreement had been reached with the unions in dispute or the dispute had been resolved by the Commission. Subsequently the Council agreed that it would only require employees to declare work for approval that was consistent with section 353 and that related to or conflicted with their Council job. 
But, while this agreement was made between the unions and the Council in the Commission, without advice to those unions which had the agreement with the Council, the Council reverted to the old practice -  looking under the bed, peeking through your window, going through your drawers. If it doesn’t relate to or conflict with the job, it’s none of the council’s business. It’s an invasion of your privacy.
Adversarial jurisdictions like industrial tribunals rely upon parties bargaining in good faith and sticking to agreements that they have made. There are few things worse than one party breaching an agreement or abandoning it without telling the other parties. 
It may have been accidental, changing faces in HR can’t always be aware of the history that precedes them and we are pursuing Sydney Council now. They don’t really do themselves any favours by responding to our comprehensive argument that they are reviewing it and will respond “in due course”. Sir Humphrey would be proud.
We regularly remind members about the purpose of section 353 and ask you to let us know if your council is doing the right thing. The Council can only ask you to declare and seek approval for work which relates to or conflict with - nothing more and nothing less.
Please let us know if any councils are out there doing what Sydney is doing.

You don’t have to be a member, but what would you do if …

Whether you decide to be a member of depa or other unions is entirely up to you. You can’t be made to join and unions make significant efforts to make membership attractive. A range of services, often journey claim insurance when governments antagonistic to protection of workers injured on their way to or from work remove protection, a free day off on union picnic day and access to advice and assistance when you need it.

Lots of people decide they don’t need that but then sometimes they find themselves in trouble.
What do you do if you’re not a union member and you suddenly find that you are one of the people being investigated in an ICAC investigation, just like they’re doing at the moment at one Council?
What do you do if you’re not a union member and you’re off on parental leave and when you want to come back to work part time, the Council says they want your car back?
There are lots of examples, of course, of things that can happen where you need instant advice and assistance, but these are two real examples of people who thought they could look after themselves and then found that maybe they couldn’t: trying to join depa when they already had a problem, a bit like ringing up an insurer when the front of your house is on fire and wanting a cover note.
depa, like other unions, has a policy of not providing services to people for things that predate their membership. You’d be surprised how many people want to argue about this but the Committee of Management has resolved the very clear policy where there is no discretion.
Join tomorrow and we cover you for things that happen after you join.
Want to risk it?

Has the Government got what it takes to save local government?

The Government has already decided to extend the deadline for comment on the Final Report of the Independent Review Panel - notwithstanding that the report remains unchanged from that originally available months ago. And, let’s face it, if people with a vested interest in making sure nothing happens want to contest the laudable and largely incontestable recommendations of the Independent Panel, surely they are capable of getting their fingers out and doing so. 
Just as we felt sorry for Kevin Sproat’s efforts in 2001 when his thoughtful, incisive and scholarly report into potential amalgamations in the Sydney metropolitan area was received by the Government and then promptly filed, we already feel sorry for the members of the Independent Panel. Graham Sansom, Jude Munro and Glenn Inglis laboured mightily and produced a document capable of being rejected only by those who want nothing to change. Ever.
We are sick of financial basket case councils; those that are effectively trading insolvent; those claiming they can’t afford to pay market rates; those which would rather leave positions vacant and have other professionals pick up the slack;, where there is anxiety about whether they could pay staff entitlements if they all left tomorrow; which quibble about sending staff to training; contest flexible working arrangements as unaffordable and contrary to operational needs artificially established due to an inability to attract staff, and which can’t properly resource critical functions and needs, and we can’t wait for someone to do something.

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What’s happened to local government reform?

When the end of the year rolled to a close we all knew where things stood with the NSW Government’s reviews of local government.

The compelling, well-researched and scholarly final report of the Independent Local Government Review Panel had been submitted to the Government in October 2013 and publicly distributed. We all knew what was being proposed and, after committing resources like this, surely the Government would have to do something.

Similarly, the Local Government Acts Taskforce submitted their proposals for a new Local Government Act and Review of the City of Sydney Act around the same time - on 16 October, to be exact.

Both reports and their comprehensive recommendations had followed an intensive period of consultation with local government organisations, unions and the community. It was clearly time to do something - even for a Government constrained by a policy prior to the last election opposed to compulsory amalgamations. 

Well, it’s been three months, how have things progressed since October?

Like this?

Maximum speed a few centimetres a day

Or like this?

Maximum speed 0.3kph

Or even like this?

Maximum speed 1.9 kph

On 8 January 2014 Minister for Local Government Don Page announced to everyone that he was “pleased to advise that the final reports of the Independent Local Government Review Panel and the Local Government Acts Taskforce have been released.” This was reported by the Sydney Morning Herald and the Daily Telegraph (although the Telegraph was unable to find a reason to bag climate science, which was a bit of a surprise) and for those of us on holidays at the time and reading the paper, the reports sounded very familiar.

The reason they were familiar was that, as pleased as the Minister might be, what he had released were the reports we all had since October.

It’s hard to know exactly what’s happened in that three months but the Government has announced that the Division of Local Government will be receiving written submissions now until Friday 7 March. We thought everyone had had a go.

One of the problems about opposition parties winning government is that often they don’t really know how to govern. The embarrassing inaction of the O’Farrell Government in a climate where everyone wants something done about drunk blokes cowardly punching innocents, is one example of the malaise that can affect a government lacking the confidence to do something. 

But the problem about being the government is that you have to do something.

Clearly if the NSW Government is going to do something about reforming local government, in a climate where everyone expects it and the overwhelming majority will welcome it, they should do it a bit quicker.

Unless, like a good chess player, they are playing 17 moves ahead. Give everyone a few more months, then a few more months of consideration and, before you know it, there will be an election in New South Wales and the Government can change its policy about compulsory amalgamations and get on with it.


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