City council cuts hundreds of jobs following pandemic hit

The Adelaide City Council has axed over 100 full-time jobs since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, while cutting hundreds more casual, trainee and temporary roles, as it grapples with a multi-million dollar hit from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Nov 10, 2020, updated Nov 10, 2020
Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

Photo: Tony Lewis/InDaily

The council says less than 40 full-time staff were made redundant yesterday in its latest round of cuts, adding to the 17 full-time workers who were sacked earlier in the year.

Meanwhile, more than 40 full-time roles will not be refilled following voluntary resignations.

In total, 117 full-time positions have gone since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

An additional 32 trainees, 55 temporary workers and approximately 200 casual staff lost their jobs earlier in the year.

Before the pandemic hit, the council had roughly 800 workers.

The restructure was prompted by a council decision in April to permanently cut operating costs by $20 million after Town Hall estimated it would lose $39 million as a consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The council’s CEO Mark Goldstone told InDaily executives had cut staff “across the board”, with most of the redundancies targeted at “back-of-house” corporate services workers.

He said the restructure, which was handled internally by the council, would not impact council services or major infrastructure projects such as the Central Market Arcade or old Le Cornu site development on O’Connell Street.

“I honestly believe the average ratepayer is not going to see a difference in the services that we provide,” he said.

“From my point of view, it’s a really unfortunate circumstance to be talking to anyone about their roles and it’s greatly concerning that we’re having to reduce, but we must respond to the financial challenge we have.

“I’ve been in local government for 30 years and this is the toughest environment I’ve ever worked in as a CEO and the most challenging that I can recall.”

Over 230 workers will retain their jobs but face proposed changes to their roles to align with the creation of new portfolios following the restructure.

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“Our focus will be on allocating roles to our current employees and all of our people will have the opportunity to provide feedback on the proposed new structure,” Goldstone said.

The proposed restructure will save $14.1 million, while $3.9 million has been cut from non-labour expenditure such as consultant fees, contractors, materials and training and development.

It will be up to elected members to decide where to find the remaining $2 million in savings, with the council’s executives to meet with councillors in the new year to discuss options.

Goldstone said it would be “premature” to speculate where further cuts could be made, however, “if the council wants to see further reductions it will need to look at reductions in services”.

The Australian Services Union, which represents local government workers, described yesterday’s Adelaide City Council redundancies as “cruel”.

“It defies belief that during a recession driven by a global pandemic our major city council is slashing staff,” ASU state branch secretary Abbie Spencer said.

“Many of our members who remain at council are now being asked to do the job of multiple people and residents cannot expect the same level of service in our city.

“With South Australia experiencing some of the highest unemployment rates in the country, our councils should be doing everything possible to keep South Australians in jobs.”

Goldstone said the council, which generates about of 48 per cent of its rate income from commercial operations, had received “no tangible assistance from State or Federal Government” after the COVID-19 pandemic, apart from some funding for outdoor business activations.

He said the council’s coffers had also taken a hit from big infrastructure spends over the past few years and decisions to freeze the rate in the dollar for seven consecutive years.

“As a council we’ve not received any JobKeeper assistance and there’s been no grants or anything to Council,” he said.

“We’ve had to literally continue to operate within our means.”

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