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Angry MP Hornery wants answers over lifeguard sackings at Beresfield Pool

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An angry Sonia Hornery wants answers.

The popular Wallsend MP member is extremely concerned and disappointed that 12 experienced long-term employed casual or seasonal lifeguard positions have been terminated from Beresfield Pool following City of Newcastle’s (CN) privatisation deal with BlueFit.

What’s drawn her ire even more is the fact Lord Mayor Nuatali Nelmes, along with the Labor councillors, signed a pledge in 2021 from taking any such actions moving forward.

At the time, they vowed to keep council jobs local, support more apprenticeships and oppose privatisation.

Newcastle Labor candidates joined United Services Union – USU Newcastle organiser Luke Hutchinson outside the Newcastle Library in 2021 to sign the union pledge as part of an ongoing commitment to protect local jobs and fight against service cuts for the community.

The endorsed commitment, signed in the presence of United Services Union – USU Newcastle organiser Luke Hutchinson ahead of the Local Government Election on 4 December, promised to:

  • Keep local council jobs local
  • Support council training and apprenticeships
  • Maintain core council services using council labour
  • Reject the misuse of labour hire contractors and casual employees
  • Oppose outsourcing and privatisation of council services

A long-time critic of privatisation, Ms Hornery has expressed her fears over the future of Beresfield Pool, and its staff, for the past 13 months.

And, in a Notice of Motion moved in the NSW Legislative Assembly this week, she called on City of Newcastle to offer re-employment to the 12 employees, apologise to them and to the ratepayers of Newcastle for “the debacle”.

“It is beyond disappointing to see a majority Labor council making political decisions to extend privatisation that so negatively impact on council-employed workers,” Ms Hornery said.

“It’s equally distressing that the councillors appear to have broken their pledge with the privatisation of Beresfield Pool and the sacking of 12 staff.

“In November 2022, a council media release declared that any changes to the pool management would not result in job losses.

“Now, they’ve back-tracked on that.

“At a state level, the NSW Premier Chris Minns has been clear… no more privatisation of services.

“I will always fight against it at any level of government because it leads to poorer outcomes for the community.”

But, City of Newcastle refuted Ms Hornery’s claims.

“We employed one full-time permanent and a number of seasonal casual pool attendants during the 2022/23 swimming season at Beresfield Swimming Centre,” the council spokesperson said.

“Like all casual employment arrangements, some seasonal casual pool attendants were only engaged for a small number of shifts during the season, while others had more, depending on rostering needs and employee availability.

“The one permanent employee continues to be employed at CN’s Ocean Baths where they are enjoying the opportunity to work at our popular coastal pools.

“Some of the casual pool attendants also enjoy employment at CN in other roles, and council is aware that others also have employment elsewhere.

“Letters were recently sent by CN to the casual pool attendants to meet CN’s obligations under our Enterprise Agreement by notifying them of the outcome of a workplace change process, which ran over an extended period and provided them with an appropriate opportunity for consultation.

“The letters provided a pathway for the seasonal casual pool attendants from Beresfield Swimming Centre to continue casual work either through BlueFit or other CN facilities and services.

“For the upcoming summer season, CN will be offering casual opportunities at CN’s Ocean Baths, noting Newcastle Ocean Baths is scheduled to open this summer and an increase in patronage is expected due to the warmer and drier El Nino weather pattern.

“BlueFit has been appointed by CN on a short-term basis to operate Beresfield Swimming Centre for the 2023/24 swimming season whilst CN awaits the outcome of its application to the Minister for Local Government regarding the proposed lease arrangement.

“All five inland swimming pools continue to be owned by CN.”

Newcastle’s Labor councillors also issued a statement on Thursday afternoon, saying they were not aware of the decision by council staff regarding seasonal casual employees.

“We have asked the acting chief executive officer for a full explanation regarding why the elected council was not given notice of this matter prior to the decision,” they replied.

“Labor councillors did not vote on the decision regarding the operation of council pools.

“The NSW ICAC has endorsed this action.

“Labor councillors have delivered on their pledge to keep Beresfield Pool in public ownership and the lowest entry fees in the region. 

“We continue to have a strong relationship with the United Services Union, having worked with union members and management to bring Civic Theatre staff back in-house as part of the 2023 City of Newcastle Enterprise Agreement, leading to substantial enhancements in their pay and conditions.

“We are advised that CN’s permanent lifeguard at Beresfield Pool remains employed as part of the beach lifeguard team.

“Seasonally-employed staff were also offered roles with this lifeguard team, or referral to work with the operator of the pools.

“We note that all staff affected by any decision regarding their employment are offered the full protections of the City of Newcastle Enterprise Agreement 2023, which is considered to be one of the best local council agreements in the state, and was used as the model for the Local Government Award 2023 (City of Newcastle’s Enterprise Agreement paves the way for rest of NSW).

“The final decision regarding management leasing arrangements sits with the NSW Government, not the elected City of Newcastle council.”

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