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Calm over council claim

Claim of bullying by staff is resolved, but union says more work is still needed.

TONI BRIENT April 9, 2014 3:15am
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Australian Services Union announced a victory for its Cobram members this week, reaching a resolution with Moira Shire Council over a bullying claim made by a staff and union member.

But ASU lead organiser Billy King said there was still a long way to go.

The complaint was one of many levelled recently — and, according to the union, the first to be resolved — against the embattled council.

‘‘It’s positive, but I would like to see more positive action before I could be comfortable that the wheels are turning,’’ Mr King said.

Other complaints of bullying and mistreatment against council are being investigated and assessed by the Fair Work Commission and the Victorian Local Government Inspectorate.

The Courier learned last week council would likely have fronted a Fair Work Commission panel over this claim if a resolution was not reached.

A Fair Work spokeswoman told the Courier a separate claim was expected to be heard next week.

Speaking at a union meeting with Moira staff in Cobram on Thursday, Mr King said the investigations were mostly confidential, but confirmed the case resolved this week involved senior council staff.

‘‘It relates to organisational structure changes, a lack of consultation, and alleged mistreatment of a staff member,’’ he said.

Claims of bullying and mismanagement emerged following the recent departure of a string of senior staff members including former chief executive Gary Arnold, who was sacked by councillors in October.

In a letter to Moira councillors last month, seen by the Courier, ASU assistant branch secretary Richard Duffy asked them to ‘‘instruct the acting CEO to not make any further structural changes in relation to staff’’ until the new chief executive was announced.

Mayor Peter Mansfield responded to the letter ‘‘on behalf of the councillors of Moira Shire’’, saying then acting chief executive Peter Bertolus had their ‘‘full support’’.

Last Monday, Cr Mansfield announced former Mildura Rural City Council chief executive Mark Henderson had been selected as Moira’s new chief executive.

Mr Henderson told ABC radio on Thursday bullying at the organisation ‘‘won’t be happening under my leadership’’.

Mr King said he thought Mr Henderson’s local government experience meant he could aid in putting an end to council’s problems.

‘‘I’m looking forward to meeting with the new CEO and working with him to resolve what the ASU sees as structural problems and management problems in general,’’ Mr King said.

‘‘I’m hoping he’s willing to work with us, hear us, listen to us, and involve us with any problems going forward.’’

The meeting follows a proposed reform of the sector, which Local Government Minister Tim Bull said would ‘‘set higher performance and conduct standards’’ for councillors.

The reforms were part of a bill to amend the Victorian Local Government Act 1989, introduced to Parliament last week, and included increased power for the Mayor, Local Government Inspectorate and Local Government Minister to deal with councillors found to have engaged in ‘‘serious misconduct’’.

Moira Shire Council Mayor Peter Mansfield said the reforms ‘‘wouldn’t have any impact’’ on the current situation at Moira, because ‘‘councillors are not engaging’’ in bullying or misconduct.

‘‘That is to do with the operation of the organisation, not to do with councillor conduct,’’ he said.

Cr Mansfield said he had no problem with councillors’ conduct, and had never witnessed a misbehaving councillor during his three years at Moira.

Local Government Minister Tim Bull said the reforms ‘‘predate any specific concerns relating to Moira Shire Council’’.

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