This week saw Councillors attend a briefing to learn of the ongoing measures set in place to pay council workers during the current isolation period. It is understood that some councillors suggested Council workers (and Executive) take cuts in salaries referencing the widespread impact across the region of all other job categories, they learnt that the award would not allow it, the joint agreement would not cover it and that the NSW Labor was also lobbying the State Government to provide a guarantee that local government general managers cannot use the current COVID crisis to reduce wages and conditions – in the face of reports that some councils have already started laying off casual workers. Whilst there are many permanent council workers currently, and ably, working from home on their standard salaries, there are also the permanent workers they needed to recognise who might not be able to work yet still require an income. On 17 March 2020 Local Government NSW (LGNSW), the New South Wales Local Government, Clerical, Administrative, Energy, Airlines & Utilities Union (USU), Local Government Engineers Association (LGEA) and Development and Environmental Professionals Association (depa) issued a Joint Statement to provide guidance to Local Government employers and employees on how to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. In her report to Council on April 7th Eurobodalla General Manager, Dr Catherine Dale, said "It is important that Council maintains the health and safety of its employees whilst it maintains services to the community." As part of Council’s Business Continuity Plan, essential service staff were identified and measures were put in place in mid-March to ensure that staff could maintain essential services to its community. Further, to ensure that Council is reducing the risk to staff, enable social distancing and complying with government regulations, Council has undertaken a review of its workforce and: • identified those who can reasonably and realistically conduct work from home, • identified those who would be able to operate at remote or isolated sites and • implemented hand hygiene, disinfecting and distancing requirements in all of Council’s workplaces. From Monday 30 March 2020, Council had put measures in place to ensure that the workforce that could reasonably and realistically conduct work remotely were working from home. For the remainder of employees, strict measures were set in place to ensure that social distancing measures were adhered to. **************************************************** For clarity in regards to Council employees (Note: Council Executives are on a contract package): Under the Joint Statement: Responding to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic Where work is unable to be provided to employees who are required to self-isolate (in accordance with isolation requirements set by State and/or Commonwealth health authorities), the employees should be paid as normal and placed on paid special leave for the length of the isolation (which as at 19 March 2020 is 14 days) provided that: (i) Employees have a right to request an extension to, or further period of, paid special leave, and such requests shall not be unreasonable refused by the employer; If an employee is sick, current sick leave entitlements and conditions apply as per clause 21A [Sick Leave] of the Local Government (State) Award 2017 (“Award”). Where an employee’s paid sick leave entitlement is exhausted, additional sick leave may be granted in accordance with clause 21A(ix) of the Award. Alternatively, the employee may apply to use other forms of accrued leave under the Award (e.g. annual leave and long service leave). Where the employee has exhausted all accrued leave entitlements under the Award, the employee may apply to the employer for special leave, either with pay or without pay, as per clause 21L [Special Leave] of the Award. Any such requests shall not be unreasonably refused by the employer. Where an employee is not sick but is directed not to attend the workplace due to isolation requirements, employers should identify options for employees to work from home during the quarantine period. (ii) Employers may refuse to grant paid special leave to employees who are required to self isolate on more than one occasion as a result of not adhering to the social distancing guidance of State and/or Commonwealth health authorities. An employer bears the onus of establishing that an employee did not adhere to the social distancing guidance of State and/or Commonwealth health authorities; and (iii) Employers may refuse to grant paid special leave to employees who, after 16 March 2020, leave the country to travel to a country or region which requires the employee to self-isolate on return to Australia. Unable to work Up to two (2) weeks paid special leave will be provided before other leave entitlements need to be accessed to employees who, due to the COVID-19 crisis, are unable to work because they are: • caring for family members due to closure of schools and caring facilities; or • unable to attend work due to transport disruptions. After the two (2) weeks of paid special leave has been used, employees may access accrued leave entitlements (e.g. sick, carer’s, annual and/or long service leave). Where the employee has exhausted all accrued leave entitlements under the Award, the employee may apply to the employer for special leave, either with pay or without pay, as per clause 21L [Special Leave] of the Award. Any such requests shall not be unreasonably refused by the employer. Employers shall not unreasonably refuse requests for carer’s leave in excess of two weeks which arise as a result of the COVID-19 crisis. Workplace is closed Where the workplace is closed the following approach will be taken: (i) the employer will make arrangements for employees to work remotely; (ii) where it is not possible for the employee to work remotely, the employee will be placed on paid special leave for the entirety of the closure unless: (a) the employee is directed, within the limited circumstances of sub clause 21D(v) of the Award, to take annual leave; or (b) the employee is directed, within the limited circumstances described in sub clause 21E(iii) of the Award, to take long service leave. Regular casual employees A “regular casual employee” means a casual employee who, in the preceding period of 6 months, worked a pattern of hours on an ongoing basis without significant adjustment and who, but for the COVID-19 pandemic, had a reasonable expectation of ongoing employment. Where a regular casual employee is unable to perform their regular shift due to self-isolation requirements (in accordance with isolation requirements set by State and/or Commonwealth health authorities), the regular casual employee should be paid as normal and placed on paid special leave for the length of the isolation (which as at 19 March 2020 is 14 days). Where a regular casual employee is unable to perform their regular shift because of a workplace closure that is attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, the regular casual employee should be placed on paid special leave for the following length of time: • the period of the closure or a period of four (4) weeks, whichever is the lesser period; or • in the case of a seasonal employee, the balance of the season or a period of four (4) weeks, whichever is the lesser period. In the case of long term regular casual employees (i.e. greater than 5 years continuous service), employers are encouraged to consider more beneficial arrangements than the arrangements recommended in this Joint Statement. Meanwhile NSW Labor has called for a bold NSW Local Government stimulus and survival package – saying that workers in the crucial sector, as well as their families, have been overlooked by the NSW and Federal Governments. NSW Labor leader Jodi McKay said “Unfortunately, the Berejiklian and Morrison Governments have overlooked the hard working local government sector in their various stimulus and survival packages.” Ms McKay put forward a plan, which includes:
Protections for local government workers who are unable to work remotely or cannot be in their workplace due to the COVID crisis. These include the same pay and protections provided to State “crown” employees – such as stand down provisions on pay and special leave conditions if sick or caring for others.
No termination of employment or reductions in take-home pay of any local government employees during this crisis period, including casual employees.
Establishing a dedicated Keep Councils Working and Services Fund for NSW Local Government. This hardship fund would allow local councils – both those that are drought and bushfire-affected and smaller councils which have a reduced rate base and virtually no reserves - to retain workers and continue to provide essential services.
Creating a Local Government Infrastructure Fund to stimulate local jobs and undertake community-based shovel ready projects. Economists agree this is the best way to stimulate local economies.
Seeking a clear ruling from the Federal Government on whether a greatly reduced local government rate base is equivalent to a significant drop in business trade – allowing all employees, including casuals and those stood down to receive the Job Keeper $1500 per fortnight payment.
Providing a guarantee that local government general managers cannot use the current COVID crisis to reduce wages and conditions – in the face of reports that some councils have already started laying off casual workers in their leisure centres, pools and libraries.
Financial support and assistance to the council-run child care centres – which were overlooked in the Federal Government’s April 2 child care announcement.
The package was announced by Ms McKay and Shadow Minister for Local Government Greg Warren. It also followed strong representations from United Services Union and Local Government NSW. Ms McKay said the Berejiklian Government had an obligation to help protect workers and essential services in the State’s 128 councils – covering urban, rural and regional areas and those recovering from the bushfires and ongoing drought saying "Very often, local councils are the largest employers in rural and regional areas. State-wide, there are up to 50,000 NSW local government employees in NSW." “These are extraordinary times and they require extraordinary measures,” Ms McKay said. “We need a bold plan so local government workers can feed their families and have a roof over their heads.” “How does a pool attendant or librarian support their family when their workplace is closed under a health order.” “Unfortunately, the stimulus packages from the Morrison and Berejiklian Government simply overlooked local government employees; it is time NSW rectified this immediately.” "So far, the only mention in relation to local government in NSW has been to delay the forthcoming September elections for a year."