UPDATED 2.30PM: Two Liberal councillors have hit out at Wollongong City Council employee’s conditions, saying work hours should be longer, sick leave and holidays should be cut and jobs should be outsourced to cheaper workers.
But the inflammatory comments have drawn an angry response from the council workers’ union, who said the Liberals were being unnecessarily provocative.
As the council continues to review its finances to save $21 million a year, Councillor Bede Crasnich said he believed outsourcing and a change to workers’ conditions needed to form part of the new budget strategies.
On Wednesday, he said he supported an option put forward by council staff which would see $14 million in service cuts and $7 million worth of efficiencies - including a 20 per cent reduction in council staff - in favour of any rate rise.
‘‘We need to look at the enterprise agreement that we hire on - because we are needing to save money,’’ he said.
Cr Crasnich waved a red flag at the United Services Union, which represents council workers, saying members were a ‘‘vocal minority’’ and that the council ‘‘did not need to worry’’ about the union.
‘‘At the end of the day, vocal minorities like the union movement are very good at making themselves look like the represent the majority of people,’’ he said,
‘‘We need to not worry about things like the union movement, we need to worry about ratepayers and about getting the best service for the lowest cost possible.
‘‘The fact that we’re even dealing with the union movement as much as we are, I find, is a bit stupid.’’
Cr Crasnich also indicated he did not think council staff were efficient.
‘‘I’m more in favour of leasing out work as opposed to hiring people ourselves,’’ he said.
‘‘We talk about efficiency, but I have seen all too often driving through town or in the northern suburbs, you have seven council workers doing maintenance or construction and two are on their mobiles, or having a cigarette and one is working - people in Wollongong are constantly saying this to me, so we need more efficiency in these departments.’’
United Services Union southern region organiser Paul Wesley said he did not understand why the Liberal councillors would come out with such provocative comments unless they were trying to start a fight.
"The USU never intended to make this fight a slanging match,’’ he said. ‘‘But if these comments end up being the view of council as a whole (then) we will have no other option but to return to the IR climate that existed at Wollongong Council in the 70s and 80s.’’
Mr Wesley said those who drove past a work crew would rarely know if they were council workers or other contractors.
‘‘I think the old lazy council worker misnomer is long gone as far as Wollongong council is concerned.’’
He challenged the claim that the USU was a ‘‘vocal minority’’, saying the union has almost 1000 members of the 1674 staff members at Wollongong City Council.
Michelle Blicavs was more tempered in her comments, saying she was in favour of ‘‘smaller’’ changes such as making staff work three extra hours a week, taking away unlimited sick leave and removing a week of annual leave.
According to conditions outlined in the council’s enterprise agreement, which is valid until June 2015, staff work 35 hours a week, have five weeks’ holidays a year and cannot be made redundant even if their role is no longer needed.
‘‘I want people to work 38 hours a week instead of 35,’’ Cr Blicavs said.
‘‘Four weeks annual leave is what the rest of us have - so why are we paying an extra week for our employees?’
‘‘And we need to have forced redundancies because, at the moment, if we stop running a service that a person is skilled to do, and they’re not skilled to do something else, we can’t make them redundant, they have to be retrained.’’
‘‘If this was a perfect world, we could do that, but we can’t things have changed.’’