Cash-strapped councils accused of washing hands of staff

Councils have been accused of mass stand-downs and “washing their hands of staff” without compassion or consultation as they wield the axe in response to coronavirus.

Fremantle Council in WA has told 60 staff there is no work and that they will have to use up leave entitlements or take leave without pay, according to local media reports.

After that they will be stood down until June 30 when their arrangements will be reviewed.

Council last week posted a statement on its Facebook page saying senior staff would take a 20 per cent voluntary pay cut and staff employed in areas unable to operate at full capacity would work reduced hours or take leave.

As of Friday the statement had attracted 50 comments, many of them angry that the statement didn’t mention job losses and that staff would be stood down while managers kept their jobs.

“Fremantle, the place associated with family and community and heart is being stripped apart by a local government who continuously puts exec above the staff who actually look after the residents and feepayers,” one reply said.

“Whilst every other organisation recognises the need to rebuild after going into the red after a once in a hundred year global pandemic COF posts as if it should get a pat on the back for continuing to get paid their top bracket incomes whilst the staff who deliver community services, support and well being are left with no income.”

CEO Philip St John said the city expects to lose $6 million by the end of the year and had made decisions that balanced its obligations to its staff with maintaining essential services.

“Like the rest of our community, the City is feeling deeply the economic effects of COVID-19,” he said in the statement.

“A large proportion of our income – about one third – comes from parking fees, commercial rent and other charges. These revenue streams have pretty much disappeared overnight.

“As a consequence, we expect to lose around $2 million in revenue a month between now and 30 June. As with any household budget, the only way to cope in an environment of drastically reduced income is to reduce spending.”

Casual staffers hit 

Meanwhile, a casual staffer with Sydney’s Willoughby City Council claims she was treated in a “cold and calculating manner” when she received a letter from the CEO Debra Just informing her she no longer had a job.

In the letter seen by Government News, Ms Just tells the employee that because of the far reaching effects of the COVID-19 pandemic council has had to close a number of facilities and cease activities including the swim school at Willoughby Leisure Centre.

“Unfortunately we do not consider there will be shifts available in the foreseeable future,” the letter says.

The letter said as a gesture of goodwill the staffer would receive a special payment equivalent to two weeks of earnings.

The employee, who is ineligible for the JobKeeper allowance because she works for local government, said the letter failed to address key issues including whether there had been discussions about reallocating staff to other positions and whether councilors and mayors had made any financial sacrifices.

She accused council of “washing its hands of casual staff in a cold and calculating manner”.

“The above is all very disappointing and unless something is done both the Federal and State governments ‘head in the sand’ approach to Council staff being let go will go unchallenged,” she told Government News.

A spokeswoman for the City  said Council understood it was a distressing time for many people and it looked forward to being able to re-open facilities and to re-employ casual staff.

“Many council facilities have been closed due to state and federal government restrictions to control the spread of COVID-19. This includes our libraries, community centres, theatres, cafes and Willoughby Leisure Centre,” she said.

“Due to these closures, and other significant losses in revenue, we’ve sadly had to notify casual staff that we don’t have any further shifts. We explored opportunities for redeploying staff, but were unable to provide meaningful work.”

She said the letter to casual staff also expressed hope of re-engaging them when shifts become available again and provided support through its Employee Assistance Program, links to employment information and an additional two weeks bonus pay.

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4 thoughts on “Cash-strapped councils accused of washing hands of staff

  1. To add insult to injury its all taxpayers, including the ineligible Council workers, who will end up footing the bill for the Jobkeeper allowance. As a Council worker I would at least like the Federal and State politicians to acknowledge that some taxpayers will not be paid the Jobkeeper allowance and this is unfair and Un-Australian but they should just shut-up and put-up with it.

    As far as Local Government management is concerned they are out of their depth and instead of showing leadership they cut loose those staff who need assistance the most. A shameful performance from them when the ‘heat’ was turned on.

    Thanks Judy for raising the profile of those unfortunate Australians who chose to work for a Local Council and lost their jobs.

  2. ALL management should take pay cuts or reduced pay/salaries and STOP using their vehicles as “taxis” during this time. Reduced hours also should happen. Unfortunately it always seems to be the bottom rungs of the ladder that suffer. It’s about time the top rungs of the ladder used common sense and suffered too instead of being selfish. Most people can live on $1000 per week if they put their minds to it BE FRUGAL.

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