Kevin Carter’s scathing assessment of proposed restructure

Something is fundamentally wrong in the way the NSW Government is treating their public service, especially the National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) through the Department of Environment and Heritage.

I make these statements on behalf of the besieged staff, after nearly two years of "restructure/realignment" discussions accumulating in the release of the proposed structure at the ground level in July 2017.

Staff are under pressure as all positions will be "spilled" and then each person will need to apply for their job by way of an EOI – hence they will not be subject to a formal interview process speak out and you might not get picked -or offered a position in a less desirable location like far west of the state!

My comments are largely specific to the new proposed Manning-Great Lakes Area as that is where my experience is based but this situation is being played out throughout the state.

The Situation

  • The Coalition Government should care more about Regional NSW jobs.

The Liberals side of the NSW Coalition Government seems to be intent on downgrading the NSW public service-jobs for business and to hell with the consequences (look at the TAFE disaster).

National Parks management cannot be privatised or leased out, as it is an essential service demanded by the people for their National Park estate to be managed/conserved/protected for future generations -a custodian role.

The estate is considerable some eight million hectares or nearly eight per cent of the land area of NSW.

Management of this precious asset can only be managed with an effective, well trained National Parks workforce out in country and rural NSW like Taree and Scone.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) has been doing this job well since its inception back in 1967.

The National Party needs to protect these valuable jobs in rural NSW as some park staff are located in small and remote communities.

Therefore, these jobs are very important to the local economies as well as social structure of the community itself.

Related:

In Taree, I have made recent representations to Member for Myall Lakes Stephen Bromhead, who is listening and is prepared to take the issue to environment minister Gabrielle Upton (who is on the Liberal side of the fence).

The cunning part of the NPWS restructure plan is that the local members have been briefed that "there will be no loss of jobs in their electorate.”

This is not quite correct regarding numbers, but more importantly there is a major impact on the staff's salaries -which potentially could lead to staff leaving with their wealth of experience and extensive training.

The NSW Government said they are looking for efficiency gains, even savings, as the salary component is deemed too high within OEH – but it is not cost cutting!

Look past the corporate jargon and hype -it is the same attack on the public service!

This need to save money is a mantra, not reality as they are swimming in cash with the record property tax income as well as selling off government owned assets including services like the recent sale of the NSW Titles Office.

This has been going on since the O'Farrell then Baird and now Berejiklian Coalition governments.

Why is there a need to screw the NPWS under OEH banner?

  • The reality of the proposed new NPWS structure

The plans are out and briefing given with opportunity for comment by staff (of which I understand there has been an unprecedented response of over 1300 submissions out of a total staffing number of 1800).

There has been an unprecedented attack on the National Parks staff from within their own organisation in a very aggressive manner by planning to reduce salaries of most existing positions as well as strip away key work conditions.

There has been 18 months of bitter industrial fighting with virtually no productive outcomes and the PSA negotiations stuck in the Industrial Commission.

Issues include attempted removal of the loading for weekend work (such work is essential for most field based staff to service the visitor facilities), patrol the estate for illegal activities as well act as fire surveillance in the summer months to allow swift response to wildfire situations.

Also, such weekend work can make efficient use of major plant items like graders/rollers when they become available from the plant pool for a limited period.

All these functions have been proven over the years.

In my 43 years in land management of public estate, (of which 25 years was as a manager), we were trained to get the best out of the team (area staff) by nurturing /training staff with resultant productivity and initiatives (people liked to come to work).

So why the aggressive approach  to this restructure? The staff morale is at an all time low and the loyalty card has been "all used up".

The real fear is there will be irreversible loss of good, well trained staff due to the severity of the proposed salary cuts.

These people are highly trained (at great expense to NPWS over many years) in specific skills like weed/feral animal controls, fire fighting, including both hazard reduction burning as well as wildfire suppression and wildlife management tasks like whale entanglement (like that been currently played out from Newcastle).

Key staff cannot wear from a 7.5 per cent to 14 per cent salary loss with no reduction in responsibility, if anything there is a proposed increase in scope of their position.

  • The Taree Area situation

The area staff will now come under the Manning-Great Lakes Area  – having moved from the Hasting Area management in a ping pong effect after only four years.

This is not good for creating any form of stability in management.

The administration centre will now be at Booti Booti (near Forster).

Note that the total number of areas in NSW has gone from approx 60 in 2012, to around 50 in 2015 and now proposed to go to 35.

All this stretching the middle managers to absorb more and more responsibility over a larger physical area which logically dilutes the resources and quality of delivery of services.

Services like neighbour relations especially with farmers over feral animal programs, fencing arrangements, access roads and joint fire prevention.

There will be serious erosion of productivity on the ground as they dumb down the staff positions over time and cause quality staff to leave as they can no longer meet their own personal financial commitments.

Are they being set up to fail?

These reductions of spending power will impact on virtually all staff from rangers to field staff as well as clerical officers.

Such reductions will have real flow-on impacts on local rural economies like Taree and Scone, due to reduced staff salaries, possible less staff numbers as well as less management expenditure as this will gravitate to the main area office locations like Forster in the case of Taree.

  • Positions

There are eight field officer positions attached to Taree which are made up of:

A senior field officer position downgraded to field supervisor (with a resultant $12,200 loss in salary or 14 per cent), two senior field officers (crew leaders) positions have been deleted and staff demoted to field officers under the field supervisor ($5,200 or 7.6 per cent salary loss), creation of a trainee type field officer position (with no weekend work or fire training skills, to replace an existing full time and operational field officer at grade four at an erosion of $18,000 or 32 per cent. The trainee position is seen as a good thing but should be in "addition to" not at the expense of existing fully skilled positions), two Aboriginal field officer positions are left intact, two existing field officers positions downgraded from full time to "seasonal" positions (with no explanation how that would be achieved and impact on the individuals involved- the impact on salary would be significant but the extent is unknown due to the vagaries of the proposal which is considered to be at least 30 per cent reduction in salary).

Therefore of the eight positions, six are significantly impacted.

The one clerical position is to be downgraded  from a three to four grade to a one to two.

This results in salary reduction of $8,200 or 11.2 per cent and loss of purchasing power in the Taree economy.

Of the three ranger positions, one has been taken to the Hastings area to the north, resulting in a 33 per cent loss of incomes for Taree and again diluting the effectiveness of the ranger staff to delivery the same quality service.

The ranger situation is subject to a bitter industrial negotiation with the PSA and is currently with the Industrial Commission seeking resolution.

This issues resistance to the stripping away of the traditional weekend work loadings and grading levels.

It would seem it is proposed that one of the remaining ranger positions be downgraded to grade one from Grade two, resulting in $11,000 reduction in salary being 11.2 per cent before any impact from removing the weekend work loading.

Existing ranger staff are at grade two, hence would have to battle it out through the "spill and fill" approach.

Of the 13 positions currently allocated to Taree, 10 or 77 per cent are impacted with reductions in salary and one relocated to Port Macquarie.

There has been no offer to date for "grandfathering" (or salary maintenance) existing salaries of impacted staff but this is not preferred by staff as it is allowing the positions to be "dumbed down" over time where in reality the positions are as demanding as ever and should be retained at existing levels or even increased in some cases.

  • Questions/ actions to be asked of Office of Environment and Heritage-National Parks and Wildlife Service upper management

Why has locations like Taree and Scone been singled out to take most of the pain?

In the wrong place and the wrong time? It’s certainly not because of performance of staff.

Why is this restructure primarily impacting the positions in Rural NSW and Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) positions in Sydney have been preserved and if anything expanded?

There is a need to have retention of all positions and their associated salaries at Taree and Scone and any other location impacted in rural NSW.

Why has there been such a prolonged and aggressive restructure process undertaken in NPWS over the past two years?

It would seem to be that there is some major incompetence/poor leadership at the top of the OEH organisation.

This process been agonising slow and disjointed causing distress and uncertainty to quality staff.

The NSW Government needs to have a good look why it is hell bent on destroying /devaluing the public service and as a consequence significantly impacting on the ability of that public service to delivery a quality service and sustain crucial rural based NSW jobs.

The NSW National Party need to make a stand/action before it is too late and irreversible damage is done.

This problem is real!