Wednesday 17 November 2010

Cairns government staff terminated weeks before Christmas

Up to 40 Cairns-based BioSecurity Queensland staff have been terminated in the last two days, in a sudden decision just weeks before Christmas.

There are claims that the funding of the jobs was due to a total mis-management of the department.

The staff, working with the Department of Primary Industries and Fisheries based in Portsmith, included field officers, laboratory, a mapping officer, and even some data entry administration staff. It is believed that most were on a casual contract, however many had been employed on a permanent casual arrangement since 2008 and were told there was funding for their roles.

Staff who talked with CairnsBlog said they were shocked at the decision. Some learnt of termination by a telephone call midday Monday.

According to some staff who didn't wish to be named, there was a "complete mis-management of the funding" for the field staff programme, working on projects like the Asian honey bees and the electric ant eradication programmes.

There were around 20 field staff employed on the Asian honey bees programme since February 2010. All have been terminated, even though they were given assurances they would be employed till the end of the year, with the likelihood there would be work past this date.

The inspection field staff funding is approved in six month periods. January appointments were told in April it was likely to be extended. By May staff were again informed that there was "definite funding" for the programme until the end of December.

While staff knew there may be some cuts due to increase in nests found, they weren't expecting all to be cut. Long-term casuals were expecting to retain their jobs. As they were all on casual employment arrangements, there is no notice period pay out or holiday pay. All pay ceased on Monday.

There is a story doing the rounds that the State government apparently have a "don't fire anyone 30 days short of Christmas" policy. I wonder if that's true?

The DPI and BioSecurity Queensland would have known funding was concluding and should have kept their staff informed well in advance. Instead we now have all these people competing with the school leavers for any casual work to get through the Christmas period.

Here we have a Department, operating under a State Labor Government who made election promises for "Anna's 100,000 new jobs," yet these workers were not even given one day's notice. No doubt many of these folk have mortgages, car loans, credit cards etc, and were expected that their employment would have finished them all up at Christmas, or at least given a sufficient notice period so they had a chance to plan ahead.

In a town where unemployment is already a massive issue, we have a government department, unable to run a budget properly that has resulted in a firing just under 40 people, with no notice, weeks before Christmas.

Following all the terminations on Monday, one of the full time staff who was kept on, said they were given a two-hour "crash course" on data entry. The person was told that any data entry or research done from now until the end of the year, will "probably be disregarded anyway" because they sacked all the people trained in the data entry jobs. This effectively displays that the research methodology that DPI in Cairns are using, is flawed.

Last Thursday, all the field staff were told that there was an issue with funding and not to come in on Friday, and that it would be dealt with on Monday.

"Come in on Monday and we will see what happens" a senior staffer told the fired workers.

Laboratory, mapping and data entry staff were also called in Thursday afternoon and told funding had run out. They were told hours would be reduced to half until Christmas, when they would finish up. However on Monday, they were all fired, effective immediately.

There remains the four team leaders who are shell-shocked by the sudden developments. One permanent field staff, one compliance officer and the manager, Wim De Jong, who's only known qualification is as a bee keeper. Some staff told CairnsBlog that he is not well-liked within the local bee community. "He has little or no science background, and shouldn't be in charge" one staffer said, with some labeling the programme a "joke". De Jong wound the programme back in 2007, which was widely said to give Asian Honey bees time to swam to out of control levels.

Since 2007, there have been over 200 positive sites discovered around Cairns, including swams or nests that have been positively identified. It is believed that the DPI have not had proper science involved in relation to tracking and predicting the bees at all.

Australia is the last country, apart from Antarctica, to not have the destructive Varroa mite that can kill a honey bee colony.


Unknown said...

Regardless of the lead-up to Xmas, it sucks to lose your job without notice at any time. I feel for these people, and this is a symptom of the continued casualisation of the workforce in this country. There are ways to minimise this risk to yourself: secure a contract or permanent status by educating yourself in your chosen field, becoming an expert, and becoming indispensible to your employer. And avoid the friggin' public sector at all costs.

Matt CYP said...

A very nasty surprise just before Christmas, and for workers at the low end of the pay scale too.
The wider implication is that the DPI is giving up on attempts to eradicate these invasive pests, the electric ant and the Asian honey bee.
Unless the Govt can show that this is now a hopelessly doomed attempt, we should be insisting that the staff be retained, and the efforts redoubled to rid us of these nasty invaders.

Mrs Bear said...

Couldnt agree more Tony! the casualisation of the workforce is a growing concern, and to think it was so widely taken advantage of by the public sector.

Matt you raise a great point, what about the on going fight against these pests? surely its not down to the handful of people left mentioned in the article?

Good luck to all of those people that lost their jobs, I hope you all find work soon.

ToBeeOrNotToBee said...

Hi, Tony I 'was' a staff member and can tell you that many of the staff were university educated. But more importantly than our jobs is the fact this pest (and I use this term lightly) is going to be free to spread across the continent, just waiting for the day that the varroa mite enters our shores and is given a superhighly of natural hosts to spread them far and wide decimating the european honeybee populations. Now let me remind you that the Asian Honeybee is pretty much usless for pollination and honey production. The result of this outbrake will be that farmers will be forced to employ workers to hand pollinate all of their crops, now, this is happening in China and they can't afford it, you think Australia will? oh and too bad for all the honey lovers.

Oh and did i mention that these loverly cridders just love to hive inside the roofs and walls of family homes, wow allergic people could die. Where talking damages of over a billion dollars per year. Good work you bunch of pen pushers in Canberra who have made this decision, history will damn you. I suggest everyone to kick up a stink where you can and right this wrong.

Mrs Bear said...

Hi, ToBeeOrNotToBee, your post made me google, it appears that about 1/3 of our food crop is pollinated by bees and wild bees at that, i found articles that said this pest has wiped out wild bees altogether! I had no idea that Avocados and macadamia and almonds are all mainly pollinated by bees. I really hope some funding is thrown at this, this is a national problem. From what ive read so far, it appears this could lead to food shortages in as little as 10 years. Why didnt we know about this pest bee & mite! if any pollies are reading this, please reinstate this program and run it properly this time!

Johhny of Cairns said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Unknown said...

Hi mrs bear, its funny that you mention that this is a national problem, because we were waiting for national funding, but apparently it wasnt that important, they just wasted a chunk of our budget getting flown up to Cairns to holiday-i mean to check on our progress. the funding never came. The decision was also based on the opinion of the 'pollination industry' which doesnt actually exist, and who decided that there would end up being more bees for more pollination. who are these clowns?! the problem with these departments is that they only care about the bottem line of their budgets and their own salaries, nothing more.

Unknown said...

Hey guys, genuine question for all of you: I've read in New Scientist a few times of the risk to global food supplies due to various causes of bees being knocked off. Why isn't there more general awareness of this issue? It seems to me to be a fundamental function in nature that's crucial to life on this planet. BTW ToBeeOrNotToBee, obviously I wasn't commenting on the level of education of the individuals involved in the sacking, I was just having an opinion on what I think are the best ways to avoid what's becoming a worrying trend that isn't adequately addressed in topline unemployment stats. Sorry if I caused any offence.