wagesBass Coast’s employee costs are among the highest in Gippsland.

By Michael Giles

FIRST it was the Baw Baw Shire Council at Warragul proposing a major restructure of employee positions and staff wages.
Now it’s the South Gippsland Shire Council which is feeling the pinch from its $23 million wages bill, and they’ve confirmed they’ll be doing the same.
At the Bass Coast Shire, where the average wage per employee is set to blow out to $100,000 by next year, they’re still in denial about their $28.7 million employee expenses.
But that’s not to say there isn’t a revolutionary change coming for Bass Coast Shire ratepayers – there is! (see details inside about the new ‘Long Term Financial Plan’ and ‘Rating Strategy’ to be announced this Wednesday).
A farm rate differential is odds-on in the review, so homeowners can expect to pay more.
It’s now 12 months out from the rates Armageddon promised by the new Premier Daniel Andrews and local councils have already hit the panic button.
They’ll soon release their new draft budgets, which must be signed off by June 30, and ratepayers will need to watch out for one last, unrestricted grab for rates.
But it’s the following year, when Mr Andrews has promised that rate rises will be capped to the CPI, that has captured the attention of shire managers.
Baw Baw announced a major restructure of council jobs two weeks ago which unions say could impact as many as 100 positions. Most, but not all, affected employees will be offered the opportunity to apply for new jobs at lower band levels.
The shire has a serious imbalance between the amount paid in wages and funding available for capital works and wants to shuffle the deckchairs before the rate’s storm hits.
This week, in an exclusive interview with the Sentinel-Times, South Gippsland CEO Tim Tamlin said his shire was planning something similar.
He acknowledged that he was conducting a major staff review, that he had been closely following the process at Baw Baw and was aware of the staff and union reaction to the draft restructure announcement there.
“I’ve also had the unions on the phone,” he said.
“I can talk in general terms but not specifically about Baw Baw.
“You might have the situation where a person, who has been with the organisation for 10 years, has risen to a Band 6 (pay rate) but because of technological changes, you no longer need a Band 6 person to perform that role when a Band 4 could do it.
“You review the position, make the role redundant and offer a Band 4 position.
“You are always looking to improve operations and efficiency,” he said.

But this is different. All of the shire’s 262 EFT positions will be reviewed, starting at the top.

“The last time we did a restructure, we added an extra director but I have already said we are going back to three. The person involved knows and will not be lost to the organisation.”
Mr Tamlin said the shire had its last EBA negotiations three years ago and the next one wasn’t due to begin until early 2016.
He confirmed that the shire had agreed to a 4% increase each year of the life of the agreement.
“What I can say is that if our current enterprise bargaining agreement had run for three years rather than four, there’s no way the staff would be getting such a generous increase this year.”
Mr Tamlin confirmed that the elected councillors had no involvement in EBA negotiations or in setting an appropriate increase in wages and conditions for staff.
That is solely the responsibility of the CEO.
But he denied that it was tantamount to Dracula being in charge of the blood bank.
“I disagree. There are a lot of other pressures on me that impact any decision on wage increases. The council wants me to run an efficient operation.”
He said it was a negotiation between the employees and the employer and he considered himself to be the employer, despite the fact that he too is an employee of the shire.
“The last time we did a comparison, South Gippsland (staff wages) was down at the bottom of the barrel and we thought that by the time we came to the end of this EBA, we would be about even.
“But economic conditions have changed in the meantime and the staff are very fortunate to be receiving another 4 per cent increase this year.”
Looking for efficiencies ahead of the CPI rate cap promise will not be limited to a staff review. Mr Tamlin said he was also looking to share services with other municipalities, where for example the shire might be able to save on such things as risk management.
These initiatives could also result in staff cuts.
At Bass Coast, CEO Paul Buckley, dismissed the claims made last week by Alan Brown that the shire had a wages problem, although he did confirm the shire was doing a business as usual review of positions that would take three years to complete.
“The very clear message from council is that they want to contain all operating cost increases to 3 per cent and to significantly increase spending on capital works and services,” Mr Buckley said last week.
“He said he didn’t accept that having rates capped to the CPI was a foregone conclusion and, as one of the lowest rating shires in Victoria, his council would be able to mount a strong argument for rates to be increased above the CPI.
“The average Bass Coast assessment is $414 below councils of our size and the other Gippsland councils and when multiplied by our 30,000 assessments, it means we are making do with $12.4 million less in revenue than comparable councils.”
Mr Buckley said Bass Coast was coming from a long way back as far as revenue was concerned, cruelling its ability to provide necessary infrastructure.
He claimed that while the shire’s road network wasn’t as extensive as South Gippsland’s, it was arguably in worse condition.
He said he intended to start a conversation with the community about having enough money to pay for needed services.
Mr Buckley said the shire was projecting a 6.3 per cent increase in rates this year and a 4.7 per cent increase in the years following.
He said the rating restructure would be in place for this year’s budget, potentially costing homeowners even more than 6.3 per cent.
“We want to be spending an extra $50 million on capital works over the life of the Long Term Financial Plan (10 years) and any savings generated will go into capital works,” Mr Buckley said.
“There have already been significant operational savings this year, upwards of $300,000 to date and a reduction in staff numbers.”