Gloves off as Wollongong councillors take fight to union

Provocative comments from two Wollongong Liberal councillors have drawn fire from the union that represents council workers, with a warning it is prepared to fight to protect jobs.

As the council considers service cuts and a rate rise to boost its annual budget, councillors Bede Crasnich and Michelle Blicavs have hit out at Wollongong City Council employees’ conditions.

They said workers’ hours should be longer, sick leave and holidays should be cut and jobs should be outsourced to cheaper workers, instead of imposing a rate rise.

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Cr Crasnich waved a red flag at the United Services Union (USU), saying members were a ‘‘vocal minority’’ and that the council ‘‘did not need to worry’’ about the union.

‘‘Vocal minorities like the union movement are very good at making themselves look like they 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.’’

Cr Crasnich also indicated he believed  staff lacked  efficiency.

‘‘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...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.’’

Yesterday USU southern region organiser Paul Wesley said he did not know why the councillors  tried to pick 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 [industrial relations] climate that existed at Wollongong council in the ’70s and ’80s.

‘‘I don’t know why these comments have come out the way they have. They seem to be nothing other than an intent to provoke some sort of response.’’

Mr Wesley challenged the claim that the USU was a ‘‘vocal minority’’, saying the union had almost 1000 members of the 1674 staff at Wollongong City Council.

‘‘I don’t know what either of these councillors do for a job or in fact whether they do work. But how would they feel if someone came into their workplace, looked at them and said ‘I don’t think you’re doing your job, you should get paid less, and we’ll get someone else to do it cheaper’?

‘‘Because I know the council workers aren’t going to be very happy when they read those sorts of comments.’’

Mr Wesley said those who drove past a work crew would rarely know if they were council workers or other contractors.

Cr Blicavs was more tempered in her comments.   She said she was in favour of ‘‘smaller’’ changes such as introducing forced redundancies.

According to conditions outlined in the council’s enterprise agreement, 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?’’

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