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Whittlesea council workers strike

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Pam Kiriakidis
Pam Kiriakidis
Pam Kiriakidis has worked as a journalist at the North Central Review since 2022, with a particular focus on the City of Whittlesea and stories for the Whittlesea Review. She graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree in Media and Communications majoring in journalism and focuses on politics, community, and health with the occasional niche sports story finding its way in front of her.

About 60 City of Whittlesea employees took industrial action on Wednesday, calling for better wages and conditions as part of negotiations for a new enterprise agreement.

Council employees have stopped working across the municipality for the past few weeks, pausing maintenance for council operations including park cleaning, street cleaning, litter pick-up and rubbish collection.

The ongoing strike, led by Australian Services Union, ASU, members, comes after alleged frozen negotiations between City of Whittlesea executives and its lowest paid workers.

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The workers claim their wages have dropped equivalent to one paygrade over the past couple of years due to inflation.

The ASU claims the City of Whittlesea’s proposed deal for workers rejects a range of better work and pay conditions, including 50-plus claims for improving conditions, a 35-hour week for band three workers and the right of ‘secondary’ parents to equal parent leave.

ASU deputy branch secretary Tash Wark said the proposed enterprise agreement would leave City of Whittlesea staff worse-off in the face of rising inflation and rising cost of living expenses.

The ASU claimed that council had accused them of ‘misleading’ their members.

“Whittlesea council says a 35-hour week ‘will cost an extra $.084 million’. This is a wonderfully exaggerated way of saying $800,000 – a cost the ASU had already provided,” Ms Wark said.

“Given the council is spending $75 million on capital works in the coming year, an $800,000 investment in some of the lowest paid workers at council is not much to ask.”

The ASU claimed council were also misleading stakeholders that they were not spending more money on casual workers.

“Their reports predict exactly the opposite, with both an increased casual budget and an increase of 86 … casual staff on the previous year. Council has double-counted costs and it all is very obscure,” Ms Wark said.

“Whittlesea council argue they have no surplus this year. But the 2023-24 chief financial officer’s report states an operating surplus of $128 million. It’s right there, in the budget.”

City of Whittlesea chief executive Craig Lloyd said council had been negotiating ‘in good faith’ with the unions over the past seven months to create an enterprise agreement for their 1315 team members.

“We know the cost of living is a challenge for many people in our community at the moment, including our staff, so we have sought to find a balance between appropriate recognition for our people and keeping our council rates as low as possible while still delivering on what we’ve promised to our community,” he said.

Mr Lloyd said council had tabled an offer that was ‘fair’, and a small number of staff were taking protected industrial action, which included limited work bans such as not emptying bins in parks and local shopping strips.

“We have tabled an offer that we believe is fair and balanced and includes a guaranteed wage increase of a minimum of eight per cent over the next three years, as well as an extensive range of employee benefits and conditions,” he said.

Council has paid private contractors to complete tasks that their workers failed to do during strike action.

“To meet our responsibilities, council has engaged contractors for litter collection in shopping precincts, parks and playgrounds to ensure sanitation is maintained during protected action,” Mr Lloyd said.

An ASU delegate told 3AW last week that council was trying to ‘weather this storm’ with the private contractors, but the industrial action was gaining traction with the support of other unions.’

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