Tweed Shire Council's Murwillumbah headquarters.
Tweed Shire Council's Murwillumbah headquarters. John Gass

Union claims Tweed the 'most hazardous place' to work

TWEED Shire Council has been labelled the "most hazardous place” for workers in New South Wales by a union representing local government staff.

The report was published on the Development and Environmental Professionals' Association (DEPA) website this week, the site of the union that represents professional employees in the fields of environmental and public health as well as building and planning.

Citing complaints from at least 11 members of council's Building and Environmental Health Unit (BEHU), including two who have been granted worker's compensation, DEPA secretary Ian Robertson accused Tweed council of having "the worst culture of workforce bullying DEPA has seen in the last three decades”.

He further accused council of having "an unacceptably slow and almost begrudging acceptance by the GM and others that something needed to be done”.

"I've been working with the council since March trying to protect some of our people and to negotiate people away from the manager in question, but really there comes a point (where something has to be done),” Mr Robertson told the Tweed Daily News.

"I simply don't understand why something hasn't been done to move the manager.

"This is the only council I am aware of in the last 30 years where we have two members off on worker's comp at the same time over exactly the same stuff.”

Strong denial

But council's general manager Troy Green said he "strongly denies” the allegations raised by Mr Robertson, dismissing the DEPA as a union representing just 22 of council's 700-strong workforce.

"Whilst it is true that the BEHU has had some challenging issues over the last couple of years, it is a gross oversimplification and misrepresentation of the facts to attribute these to a single cause,” Mr Green said.

"With the assistance of external consultants and the goodwill and hard work of the manager and team members, these issues have been largely resolved with the team moving forward strongly.

"What Ian Robertson fails to mention is whilst council has an accepted worker's compensation claim, the allegations of bullying and harassment were not substantiated under independent investigation.”

He said the number of complaints had been "nowhere near” that claimed by DEPA.

Mr Green said despite some issues, the BEHU had achieved the highest number of internal productivity and service awards within council over the last two years and delivered successfully on several significant projects.

These included: developing a mosquito incursion projecte which according to NSW Health is "the most significant regioanl environmental health officer collaboration ever”; a strong response to the recent flood in terms of inspecting damaged houses and businesses and a significant improvement in inspection numbers.

"These are not the achievements of a dysfunctional, bullied team,” Mr Green said.

"Council has invested in its staff and particular this team to support long term cultural change to modernise the workforce to make best use of ratepayer dollars to deliver the services in a way the community expects.

"This takes time and care to consider all views and implement appropriate actions and it is acknowledged that some staff struggle more than others with change.”

Mr Green said several staff had contacted him since publication of the union article, expressing their support for council, labelling the report "really unfair” and not reflective of the majority opinion of staff in the Unit.

Other unions

Mr Green further said earlier this week, the head of the United Services Union - which represents 30,000 members in NSW including 464 Tweed council staff - had praised the council for its "focus on the wellbeing” of its staff.

"I would like to stress that Council has enjoyed excellent relationships with the other two unions representing Council employees being the United Services Union (USU) and Local Government Engineers Association and their respective officials,” Mr Green said.

"These two unions represent 464 and 20 of Tweed Shire Council employees respectively, as opposed to DEPA's membership of 22 prior to the issue of the DEPA newsletter,” he said.

"It is my belief that trade unions play a very important and vital role to a happy and productive workplace.”

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