Former Grafton ALS employee Chris Firth says the decision to move the local office to Coffs Harbour is payback for its its
Former Grafton ALS employee Chris Firth says the decision to move the local office to Coffs Harbour is payback for its its "disrespectful" attitude to head office. Tim Howard

ALS relocation a 'way to silence staff'

A FORMER Aboriginal Legal Service employee has backed staff and union claims a decision to move its office from Grafton to Coffs Harbour has been made to silence staff.

Former IT and data manager for the ALS, Chris Firth, who was made redundant six years ago, said there was a history of conflict between the Grafton office and the ALS management.

In November the ALS announced it would move the ALS office for the region from Grafton, claiming the move was necessary because there was more need for the service in Coffs Harbour.

The announcement outraged the local Aboriginal community and Clarence Valley Council, which claimed the information used to justify the move was flawed.

Mr Firth said he encouraged local staff to become unionised, which he said, made him unpopular with ALS management.

"They had two goes at sacking me," he said.

"I feel like it's my fault the people at Grafton, who have left their jobs, have been put in this position."

Mr Firth said the main bone of contention was the ALS's refusal to pay its staff under the Social, Community, Home Care and Disability Services Award, which was the basis of paying ALS staff in most of the rest of Australia.

"They've been under-paying staff and they didn't like it when the unions started to question why," he said.

"The claimed they had negotiated an enterprise agreement with staff, but that's not possible.

"It's not legal to negotiate away rights and condition under an award that's meant to cover staff working in a particular industry."

Mr Firth said the Australian Services Union was scathing of the ALS's handling of the of decision.

In a bulletin to union members in Grafton, ASU secretary Natalie Lang said the union's patience had ended.

Ms Lang said the ALS has stalled the union for six months in attempts to negotiate pay and conditions.

"The only thing that has happened is something that was never promised - ALS has told our delegates in the Grafton office that their office will be closed and they will lose their jobs if they don't move to another office," it said.

"When we asked to meet with the entire (ALS) board, so that we could explain our issues, management refused."

Ms Lang said the ALS was pushing ahead with the move, despite admitting its information was incorrect.

"They did admit their so-called 'evidence' to support closing the Grafton office was wrong and out of date, but they did nothing about it," she said.

The ALS said the move was going ahead and it would not comment further on it.