AWU representative Tony Beers at Gladstone Hospital.
AWU representative Tony Beers at Gladstone Hospital. Matt Harris

'DISGRACEFUL': Union takes North Burnett council to court

THE Australian Workers Union has launched a stunning broadside against North Burnett Regional Council, announcing it has initiated proceedings in the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission.

The union claims council wants to axe 13 full-time equivalent jobs to help save $1.5 million this financial year.

"It is disgraceful to think (the) council are potentially going to take an axe to the jobs of some of their lowest-paid employees without fair and proper consultation," AWU Queensland Central District acting secretary Tony Beers said.

"Since we were made aware, the union has been kept in the dark over (the) council's proposed restructure.

"From our point of view, it is beginning to look like an attempt to sideline the union from consulting with our members."

Mr Beers told the Times the union launched proceedings against the council on Monday.

He said, as part of the proceedings, union officials would produce file notes from meetings with the council's former CEO Gary Rinehart and current acting CEO David Flint, on July 31 and August 7 respectively, where they claim it was confirmed that 13 full-time equivalent (FTE) positions were on the chopping block.

"Consultation with the union is required as per the certified agreement," Mr Beers said.

"Given the council's repeated lack of consultation, it's left the union with no other choice but to take the matter to the QIRC.

However, the council has hit back, accusing the union of "misinformation".

A spokesman told the Times the council has file notes and emails they could produce showing they have tried to clarify the "misinterpretation".

"They refused to listen," the spokesman said.

"We said that $1.5 million is cost equivalent to 13 FTE positions to put it into perspective, they are not actual positions that are going."

However, the spokesman couldn't rule out that no FTE positions would go.

"I don't think you'll see a huge loss," he said.

Council announced yesterday evening that, following an unfavourable credit review in April 2019 by the State Government through the Queensland Treasury Corporation and the Department of Local Government, Racing and Multicultural Affairs, it would be seeking $1.5 million in savings from its 2019-20 operational budget.

"In August 2019, Council commenced workforce-wide consultation by way of its Workplace Sustainability Project to engage with every staff member on ways to reduce our costs, find efficiencies and sustain our workforce and our community," the statement said.

"This consultation has been inward focussed to the organisation pursuant to due process required by relevant legislation and (the) council's Certified Agreement in dealing with changes in staffing and work arrangements.

"Council is currently still within this phase."

The spokesman echoed this statement to the Times, stressing that they were only at the "consultation" phase, and that no "hard, firm decisions" had been taken.

Mr Beers said the cloud of uncertainty amongst the workforce had affected workers' mental health and well-being.

"The ongoing talk about potential job losses has already been a contributing factor for two employees identified who recently resigned from the council," Mr Beers said.

"These workers cited their resignations were in part due to the uncertainty and anxiety caused by the potential staff cuts."

The union will be calling on the commission to order the council to place on hold any plans to cut 13 FTE positions until it consults as required in the Certified Agreement.

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