Fury over bonus council leave

LOIS CAIRNS
Last updated 05:00 09/11/2012

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Business leaders are outraged by Christchurch City Council chief executive Tony Marryatt's decision to grant his staff an extra 11 days' paid leave - a move councillors say they did not know about.

The Canterbury Employers' Chamber of Commerce said it had been flooded with angry calls from business owners upset at the implications of the extra-leave provisions that have been introduced by Marryatt and his management team to ease stress on council staff.

The concern is that the extra day of paid leave that 1421 fulltime and 553 part-time council staff are being given each month for 11 months:

- Sets a costly precedent.

- Sends a signal the council is over-resourced.

- Will end up costing ratepayers between $4 million and $6m in lost productivity.

- Is bad employment practice.

The business sector is also angry that Marryatt has suggested council staff should use their extra paid leave to get out of Christchurch for long weekends when so many of the city's businesses are struggling for custom.

"Irrefutably, people are our most important resource and they need to be looked after, but is an extra day a month paid leave the most appropriate way to do that? The feedback we are getting is absolutely, categorically no," chamber chief executive Peter Townsend said yesterday.

He said the council claimed it would not incur any extra costs as a result of the increased leave, but it was effectively giving its staff a 5 per cent pay rise.

If, as the council asserted, normal service levels could be retained while giving staff extra leave, it suggested the council was significantly over-resourced.

If council staff were going to have to work harder to accommodate the extra leave, then the initiative was counter-productive because it was likely to increase the pressure on staff rather than lessen it.

"The feedback we're getting is that we're all under stress post-earthquake. What makes city council staff so special? Why should their staff be treated differently from everyone else? Businesses simply could not afford to do this," Townsend said.

"It's really struck an angry chord with people."

One small-business owner in Christchurch, who did not want to be named, said she was appalled by the council's decision to grant staff extra leave.

"It's a terrible decision. How can they justify it?'' she said.

"Everyone has pitched in. Everyone has worked hard.

"This is going to cost ratepayers a fortune, and I think it is appalling."

Council audit and risk subcommittee chairman Cr Tim Carter said councillors should have been consulted about the extra leave because it was a key policy matter.

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"I think it has huge financial ramifications and I think it is fiscally irresponsible at a time when the council is facing huge financial strain, largely due to under-insurance,'' he said.

"It does not reflect well on the council because it shows the organisation is out of touch with the real world." 

Council corporate and financial committee chairwoman Cr Helen Broughton said she learnt of the extra leave through reading The Press.

She did not support the decision as it would affect productivity and organisational capacity at a time when staff were already claiming they were struggling to meet work demands.

While some staff had been working long hours, many were simply performing their standard duties, so an across-the-board approach to extra leave was inappropriate, Broughton said.

- The Press

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