Cloud over Newcastle council casuals as CEO Jeremy Bath announces two-month organisational review

Posted on 12/17/2018

OVERHAUL: Council’s new CEO Jeremy Bath is conducting an organisational review. It is expected to take two months, with a hiring freeze in the meantime. City Hall has been hit with a hiring freeze, as newly-minted chief executive Jeremy Bath embarks ona broad-brush organisational review of Newcastle council.

TheNewcastle Heraldunderstands managers have also been asked to restrict their use of casual staff and overtime payments until the review, which is expected to take two months, is complete.

It comes as the United Services Union (USU) renegotiates its enterprise bargaining agreement with council management.

However USU organiser Luke Hutchinson was unfazed by news of the shake-up.

Mr Hutchinsonsaid he had no reason to doubt the integrity of an election pledge made by Labor, which promised to maintainlevels of full-time employment at the council and oppose the outsourcing ofservices throughout the current term.

“There’s always concerns with organisational redesigns,” Mr Hutchinson said.

“However there’s been discussions about the current level of employees not being in jeopardy, and we haven’t seen any information that conflicts with that statement.

“We believe that job security with Newcastle City Council is relatively safe”.

At the end of the last financial year, the council employed 865 equivalent full-time staff, 109 staff members on a temporary basis – to support short term projects – and 175 casuals.

The majority of the casuals are employed through LabourCo, a labour hire firm. An employee with the firm, who did not wish to be identified, contacted the Heraldclaiming he was told at a meeting with council management this week that all casual staff would be laid off.

He was furious, especially in light of decision pushed through by Laborto award all councillors a hefty pay rise.

“The most vulnerable people in that workforce are the casuals, because they don’t get all the lerks and perks that a permanent employee gets,” he said.

However while Mr Bath admitted use of casuals was being minimised, hedenied any staff had been laid off.

“The City of Newcastle, like other local councils, has a contract in place with LabourCo to address short-term staff needs, such as covering for unexpected absences due to illness,” he said.

“I have simply asked managers to be as efficient as possible with the use of casual hire.

“The organisational review is not related to the decision of the councillors to accept the recommendation of the Local Government Remuneration Tribunal. This increase in councillor fees represents $37,167, which is .015 per cent of this year’s budget.”

A council spokesperson added that LabourCo provided a daily average of 17 employees and that many of the casuals on its books worked “very infrequently” for the organisation.

She said that, during the period of the review, council would only use the casuals that were backfilling critical roles, such as cleaning park toilets, operating the weighbridge at the Summerhill tip or performing lifeguard duties.

Mr Bath said the primary objective of the review was not to reduce council’s wages bill, butto “better align our services with the expectations of the community”.The hiring freeze recognisedthat the skills required by the organisation could be different when the review was complete, he said.

“In order to ensure that this decision does not lead to an increase in overtime costs, I’ve asked managers to carefully consider the use of overtime,” he said.

“I have made clear that overtime is acceptable where it is providing a critical service to the community.”

Mr Hutchinson said heexpected all of the matters to be resolved by March.

“We’ve had a couple of meetings with the council, with more scheduled in the near future,” he said.”I understand they are trying to line up functions and services in the most efficient manner.”

Mr Hutchinson said the focus of the union in the enterprise agreement negotiations was job security and improved workplace conditions

“It might be a good opportunity to show unions and council can work together productively,” he said.

“In terms of the use of labour hire … it should be more to supplement the workforce than a second set of permanent employees.”