Staff revolt

By TOBY WALKER

NEGOTIATIONS between the Clarence Valley Council and unions aimed at an agreement on new employment conditions for council employees have stalled.

For the past 16 months the parties have been attempting to settle on new employment guidelines that would replace the six existing sets of conditions that covered employees before amalgamation.

The Clarence council was formed from the merger of the Grafton city, Pristine Waters, Maclean and Copmanhurst shire councils. Water and flood mitigation also are under the control of the new super council.

Agreeing on the fairest way to transfer employees covered by the old arrangements in their respective councils to new conditions has been the issue receiving much of the attention. Last Thursday 302 council employees attended a stopwork meeting at the Grafton Racecourse to discuss the latest developments in talks between the unions and council.

Mr Hickson said stumbling blocks experienced with council had forced the unions to approach the NSW Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) and the Department of Local Government for assistance in what had become a legal stoush.

The United Services Union northern organiser John Hickson said the union had sought an interpretation of the Employment Protection Bill from the IRC to confirm the rights of their members.

"We're coming pretty close to agreement (with council) but the dispute is now how do you transfer the new employees into the new conditions of employment," he said.

"Council is saying that once the union agrees, the employees will come under this new agreement.

"What we're saying is that the employees can volunteer to come under that (new) agreement but if they refuse they remain under their old conditions."

But council's acting general manager Ken Boyle said allowing council employees right of refusal was impractical.

"We can't have people working a nine-day fortnight alongside people working a 19-day month, and some people getting half days for the Grafton Cup and others not...so we're trying to get common terms of conditions across the organisation," he said.

"We're not trying to take the rights from all the employees.

"Anybody who laterally transferred retains their existing rights and that would apply to the vast majority of the workforce.

"We're only talking about new positions where internal people haven't done a lateral transfer or haven't applied for those positions successfully...that's where the new conditions generally apply."

The IRC will begin its interpretation of the Employment Protection Bill today.



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