I am increasingly concerned at the number of complaints the association receives that appear to stem from a lack of understanding by Police managers about the sanctity of the collective employment agreements (CEAs).
Put simply, the CEAs form the foundation of the relationship between the commissioner, his or her managers and all Police staff. The onus is on Police HR and managers at all levels to understand the relevant collective, interpret it and apply it correctly and fairly.
CEAs are written and enforceable contracts between employers and unions. They contain terms and conditions that bind employers and employees. They can be read in conjunction with policies, but the CEA prevails if there is a difference. No individual employee or employer can elect or be required to accept or offer terms that are less than those in a collective.
Within Police there are three key CEAs – the Police employee collective (for Police employees in bands A-J), the constabulary collective (for sworn officers in equivalent bands), and the Police Managers collective (for both sworn and Police employees in bands 20-24).
The collectives are the result of commitment from both parties – Police and the association – to fulfil obligations agreed during bargaining. They are not “union documents” as they are regularly labelled. They are legal documents, jointly owned by Police and the association, containing agreed remuneration and conditions for staff.
The collectives provide a template for managers when they deploy staff and respond to multifaceted operational requirements within policing. Adhering to the collectives requires deployment to be in line with the agreed provisions.
Police has a strong set of values that are well defined, well understood and well demonstrated. Unfortunately, and possibly due to financial pressures from above, we are seeing managers failing to correctly implement the collectives in line with these values.
What we need is the same professionalism, respect and integrity that Police prides itself on being applied to the application of the collectives.
Sworn officers and Police employees respect fairness and justice. I know from conversations with members all over the country that they become disappointed, disheartened and at times disengaged when they see the collective being ignored or observed only in part.
A good example is the frequency of short-notice shift changes. These shouldn’t be occurring in the circumstances that they are, but they do, and contrary to the provisions of the collective. Why? Because there is no sanction or penalty in the collective.
Another example is leave accumulation. It seems that no matter what the agreement says, there is always a district order which contravenes the agreed provisions.
Don’t forget, the collective agreements are the minimum requirements for compensation and conditions.
There is room for discretion above those requirements, but not below.
Because collective agreements are the foundation for the relationship between employer and employee, the association believes the onus is on Police to train all leaders in their application. This would include the basic principles, the value of collectives, the obligations for managers, and guidance on how they should be interpreted. This should be part of a continuous education programme.
Currently there is a dire need for improvement in how disputes on interpretations of the collectives are dealt with. Too often we face delays, or worse, a complete failure to address issues. This erodes the relationship between Police and their employees.
Taking cases to the Employment Relations Authority or the Employment Court is cumbersome, time consuming, and costly for all parties. Surely there is value in exploring a system of binding arbitration that would result in timely and practical resolutions of disagreements. That has to be beneficial to all participants.