TWENTY-SIX long weekends a year.
MEN AT WORK> Newcastle City Council outdoor crew. Picture: Brock Perks
That’s what employees at Newcastle City Council can look forward to if enterprise agreement negotiations to shift from a 19-day month to a nine-day fortnight proceed as expected.
The United Services Union, representing council workers, has pushed for the condition, saying it brings Newcastle into line with other councils, including Lake Macquarie.
The council seems ready to agree to to the deal, with chief executive Jeremy Bath giving it a provisional nod, provided it is “cost neutral” anddoes not create inefficiencies or impact on customer service.
Even Hunter Business Chamber chief executive Bob Hawes is supporting the deal if being “more flexible” helps the council achieve the productivity gains it is “aiming for and needs”.
“Not withstanding this, we would also be hoping front-line services don’t suffer given the ever-increasing demands of the community on the activity of local government,” Mr Hawes said.
But Independent councillor Kath Elliott says itwas impossible to see how the nine-day fortnight could not cost the council both financially and in terms of productivity, especially when combined with proposed generous changes to leave provisions.
“We are in a new economic climate and to be doing this now, having gone out and secured a rate rise of eight per cent a year for five years, is well and truly out of step with community expectations,” Cr Elliott said.
She said the 26 long weekends a yeareffectively doubled the number of paid days off a year that council employees could have when compared with most day workers.
United Services Union organiser Luke Hutchinsondenied the nine-day fortnight was overly generous, saying it had beenat Lake Macquarie since 2015, when Lake workers voted “almost universally” section-by-section to lengthen the working day to get the extra daysoff.
He said there was a lot of unpaid overtime being worked at Newcastle council and extending the formal working day would capture this labour and ensure that workers were paid properly for it.
Mr Bath said the council was negotiating with the unions usinga “collaborative, interest-based approach” pioneered by Newcastle’s Rod Harrison, who is now acting as a consultant after retiring asa vice-president of the NSW Industrial Relations Commission in December 2015.
He said workplace flexibility was increasingly part of industrial relations practice. As premier, Mike Baird wanted it built into state government working conditions.
“There is increased awareness that improving individuals’ well-being through flexible work practices leads to improved productivity, engagement and discretionary effort,” Mr Bath said.
“In my discussions with unions, I have made clear that anine-day fortnight would only be considered on the provision that it iscost neutral, that it apply to the majority ofmembers of an outdoorteam, where it doesn’tcreateinefficiency,where it doesn’t createan unsustainable adverse impact on customer service, andthat managers retain the right to approve or reject anyrequest.”
A dispute over nine-day fortnights erupted in Wagga Wagga three years ago when onecouncillor said the productivity gains promised when outdoor staff shifted from a 19-day month to nine-day fortnight.