What’s in consultation? Department of Regional NSW Harvest Leave disputation members’ bulletin - Public Service Association

What’s in consultation? Department of Regional NSW Harvest Leave disputation members’ bulletin

It wouldn’t come as a surprise to PSA members that the announcements made by the new Deputy Premier and the Minister for Agriculture on Harvest Leave came out of left field. And whilst the initial reaction from the PSA involved a rather high level of incredulity, there was the deserved concern regarding the lack of consultation. Accordingly, the PSA filed a dispute in the NSW Industrial Relations Commission (IRC) which was heard on 20 and 27 October.

The Department of Regional NSW (DRNSW) is obligated to consult with unions about workplace changes before such time as they are implemented. There are several industrial issues a scheme such as this one poses; namely Workplace Health and Safety; conflicts of interest; approvals; administration and evaluation. Not to mention the workload implications for the remaining staff who support those staff who undertake harvesting operations, or the alternative solutions in potentially spending millions in taxpayer money effectively.

The PSA criticism doesn’t relate to the staff of DRNSW or Local Land Services (LLS) who volunteer to take up these Harvest Leave options. In fact, they should be roundly applauded. But rather your union is critical of the NSW Government and its failure to understand the current labour market conditions that expose our primary producers to risk and loss.

Selfless decisions by PSA members and their families to roll up their sleeves and help are admirable and demonstrate the passion and desire that our public service members have in improving the viability of their Regional communities. But then again, that’s what our public servants have always done.

What are the PSA’s concerns?

The politicisation issues

The PSA isn’t so naïve to understand that primary industry is crying out for assistance because of the COVID-19 mitigation strategies that have seen short-term immigration fall off a cliff.

The continued politicisation of the NSW public service after the creation of DRNSW is the concern. The argument in the reverse is that the NSW Government provided Dine and Discover vouchers to households to help prop up the services industry and it worked, so why not assist Regional NSW and our primary producers? In the end it relates to the slippery slope and the perceived distance between government decisions, operations and influence that direct assistance induces.

Members might ask why direct assistance to primary producers has been previously frowned upon by both DRNSW and LLS in the past but is now, in a roundabout way, being championed. They also might pose why this wasn’t offered after fires, droughts and floods have that have ravaged regional communities for a number of years now.

The industrial issues

Can an agency obfuscate its WHS responsibilities to its volunteering staff by seeking secondary employment declarations? Secondary employment applications make staff members who are ‘volunteering’ subject to the insurance provisions of the farm operation. Staff should be sure of the insurance provisions in case of being injured.

How can DRNSW provide Special Leave to a small portion of their workforce (some 4500) and not the entirety of their workforce subject to Crown Employees (Conditions of Employment) Award – some 130,000 employees? Special Leave provisions give capability of the DRNSW Secretary to administer special Leave to DRNSW and LLS staff.

How can an agency provide an extra weeks leave to staff when their wages and entitlements are capped by this Government artificially? Special Leave provisions do not give rise to changes in Awards and therefore aren’t subject to the current NSW Wages Regulation capping public sector wages and conditions. Dripping with irony isn’t it?

Who’s left to do the critically important public service work when staff volunteer? All leave is subject to the discretion and operational requirements of the agency in consultation with the wishes of the employee. Workload issues can be dealt with by the PSA after discussions with management.

More leave – more problems with excess leave? Annual Leave caps remain. Staff with more than 40 days’ annual leave can be directed to take leave and staff with over 30 days can be directed to take leave within 12 weeks of direction. The PSA encourages our members to take leave for their own health and advises members with excess leave balances to make a leave plan.

The administration issues

The Leader Brief provided by DNRSW and located on the intranet, outlines a number of the administration issues identified by the PSA and DRNSW through consultation that entails conflict of interest, secondary employment, applications, administration and implementation of Harvest Leave.

Just like any other application for leave, it is at the operational convenience of DRNSW/LLS in consultation with the wishes of the employee. Approvals are required to be at the SEB band 1 level.

What’s next?

The PSA has a report back with the NSW IRC on 3 December to ensure that the administration of Harvest Leave runs smoothly and in accordance with the industrial obligations of DRNSW and LLS.

If members have concerns over any facet of Harvest Leave, they can contact Industrial Officer Shane Howes on or the PSA Member Support Centre on 1300 772 679.

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