Award a win for council staff during COVID-19

More than 100 NSW councils have signed up to a new workplace agreement that will see staff paid $858 a week for three months if they are stood down or redeployed during the coronavirus pandemic.

Linda Scott

The Local Government (COVID-19) Splinter Award was approved the by the NSW Industrial Relations Commission on Tuesday.

LGNSW and the union representing council workers, the United Services Union, worked together to develop the optional award, which will apply for 12 months and sit alongside existing local government awards and enterprise agreements.

Under the award, councils will have to find suitable work for employees whose usual jobs have been disrupted and where this isn’t possible, they’ll pay affected workers a weekly job retention allowance of $858.20 for 13 weeks.

That can be boosted with accrued annual and long service leave to make up ordinary pay rates.

The award also entitles employees to up to four weeks of special leave at their normal pay rate for periods without work or if they have to self-isolate.

A safety net

The USU’s general secretary Graeme Kelly says the deal ensures a minimal financial safety net and will protect thousands of council workers.

“The Splinter Award delivers immediate assistance to our members, particularly those who work in services that have been shut or disrupted by COVID-19 such as libraries and aquatic centres,” he said.

Mr Kelly says the union is continuing to work with councils  and expects more to sign up.

LGNSW says the award sets a minimum standard only and councils are free to do more.

President Linda Scott says the new award, made necessary by local government employees being ruled out of the federal government’s JobKeeper program, puts the onus on councils to find suitable alternatives for affected staff.

“Councils are able to determine how work is best carried out according to people’s skills, availability and their locations, and based on an assessment of the work available, where, and for how long,” she said.

Cr Scott says the intent of the award is to retain as many people as possible for as long as possible as councils navigate the pandemic.

“Without this Award, councils would face an almost impossible task and thousands of council staff would face uncertainty in the weeks and months ahead,” she said.

Greens MP David Shoebridge said most councils have the capacity to retain their workforce through the pandemic and the splinter award should only be viewed a “basic minimum”.

“Local Councils should lead the way by giving a job guarantee for all their workforce with a plan to retain and redeploy all staff including casuals with pay at full rate,” he said.

Call for freeze on council pay increases

Meanwhile, the mayor of Sydney’s Northern Beaches council has asked councilors to adopt a voluntary pay freeze and join staff in Council’s Workplace Giving Program which supports frontline community workers.

Michael Regan

The program, greenlighted by staff last week, gives them the opportunity to contribute their annual award increase to local charities.

Mayor Regan says councillors should join the program and contribute the value of their annual fee increase.

“This is no time for Councillors to be rewarding themselves,” he said.

“I am proud of the hardworking staff at Council who are doing their best to protect the health and safety of our community. Many of their own households have been hit hard by the impacts of this crisis.

“As the largest local employer with over 80 per cent of our workforce living locally, they are invested and their families rely on them. Now is the time for Council to support them so they can make a difference to our local economy.

“I am calling on fellow councillors to do the right thing for our community. We must not accept any salary increase this year.”

As of April 14 Northern Beaches had not signed up to the Splinter Award.

Find out more about the award, including if your council is onboard, here.

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