ALS acting CEO Janelle Clarke defends the decision to move the Grafton ALS office to Coffs Harbour.
ALS acting CEO Janelle Clarke defends the decision to move the Grafton ALS office to Coffs Harbour. Tim Howard

ALS employees given ultimatum

STAFF at the Aboriginal Legal Service in Grafton were forced to decide their fate before the board gave a green light on the move to Coffs Harbour, a union official said.

Australian Services Union deputy secretary Judith Wright said at a meeting yesterday that staff had been asked to give preference of a voluntary redundancy or relocation by mid-January following the announcement of the move in November last year.

The ALS "reluctantly” extended the deadline to January 29 after the issue was taken to the Fair Work Commission by the ASU.

"Deadlines are being put on the staff to make decisions about the relocation when they (the ALS board) have publicly told people they will reconsider the relocation,” she said.

Ms Wright said it was an "appalling way to treat staff” and the board should have made a final decision about the move before workers were required to make a fundamental choice about their future.

"What staff are being told is that they will be compulsory unemployed as of March, with all the disadvantages associated with that,” she said.

"It's an appalling way to treat staff and particularly staff who make such a difference in the lives of the local community.”

Ms Wright said there was an intense feeling of anxiety throughout employees in the Grafton office.

"This move is disadvantaging the staff that have built their lives around the service,” she said.

Ms Wright said uprooting a family or commuting up to three hours a day were not feasible options for many workers.

"If there is need for the ALS in Coffs Harbour there should be two offices, it shouldn't come at the cost of the Grafton community,” she said.

ALS acting chief executive Janelle Clarke said staff were provided with a "very generous” time frame of nine weeks to respond to the letter sent in November.

She said correspondence to all staff that was required to be signed by yesterday included a "a very generous transition plan”.

Ms Clarke did not mention any further community meetings planned since the meetings in December.

A concerned community member, who did not want to be identified, was disappointed with the lack of community interaction in the process.

He said the ALS had not yet provided costings to the community nor given any formal response to several motions put forward at the December meeting.

"The company has the duty to make sure that their decision is financially viable, because this is taxpayers' money,” he said.

He said Aboriginal staff with families would be the ones most affected.

"A lot of the support staff are Aboriginal, a couple of those are the major bread-winners in their family,” he said.



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