Judge upholds removal of senior union position - Public Service Association

Judge upholds removal of senior union position

Workplace Express – Thursday, 16 April 2015

The NSW Public Service Association says its axing of an assistant secretary position has boosted its war chest to fight the state government’s privatisation and outsourcing plans.

However, it has retained the other assistant secretary position, which is held by long-serving official Steve Turner.

PSA NSW general secretary Anne Gardiner says decision to remove the position — resulting in savings of $225,000 a year in wages plus a one-off benefit of $333,000 from avoiding an election to fill a casual vacancy — is part of an overall change in the internal operation of the union.

“We’re obviously operating in a very hostile environment with substantial attacks on public sector numbers coming from the government,” says Gardiner, who took over the leadership in 2012 (see Related Article).

“This is putting substantial pressure on the organisation’s finances and we’re looking to save money wherever we can so that we have the resources available to effectively fight the government’s privatisation and outsourcing agenda”

The initial decision created controversy among some members, because the union’s rules stipulated two assistant secretary positions.

But after the incumbent resigned and appointed a PSA delegate from the Department of Attorney-General to act in his position pending an election, 10 council delegates presented a petition proposing to abolish the position.

The majority of the union’s council members voted a month later to axe the position, to delay an election while seeking approval for the decision, and in the meantime to reduce the salary of the acting assistant secretary to zero.

The acting assistant secretary and 23 other members filed notices of objection, questioning whether it was “legal, transparent and in the spirit of the rules to delete a position and change the rules retrospectively when it was clear by the original rule that the position was supposed to go to election for all PSA members to vote on and elect another general secretary and not be deleted by 45 central council members”.

But in granting the PSA’s consent application to the NSW IRC under s425 of the IR Act, Acting Justice Peter Kite said he was satisfied the union acted within its rules and was entitled to decide its own structure.

“Ultimately the [union’s] central council will be accountable to the members for its stewardship of the PSA at the next elections,” Acting Justice Kite said. “That is consistent with the democratic control of organisations required under the IR Act.”

Gardiner says the PSA is “more efficient” as a result of changes to its management structure.

“When I was elected I inherited a union that had no management structure,” she says.

“We have now put in place an effective management structure that has rendered the second assistant secretary position redundant. This has made the union more efficient and saved money as well.”

Re Public Service Association and Professional Officers’ Association Amalgamated Union of New South Wales [2015] NSWIRComm 13 (1 April 2015)

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