On the job
Working for you - Benedict Ferguson on being a full time delegate
Benedict Ferguson is 18 months into a two-year term as a full-time delegate at Auckland Council. He says it’s a challenging and sometimes lonely role – but the rewards are great.
The full-time delegate role is unusual, but Benedict says in his 15 years in local government (first at Manukau City Council, and now at Auckland Council) there’s always been one in his workplace. He is on secondment from his usual role in the council’s regulatory team. He’s one of a handful of full-time PSA delegates across the country.
“When people ask what it’s like to be a paid delegate I say, aren’t all delegates paid? All the delegates at Auckland Council get paid for their union role – it just happens that I get 40 hours a week to do it.”
While he says there’s no such thing as a typical day, his role focuses on supporting delegates, guiding them to work out their members’ issues and helping to focus on building the relationships with union organisers and managers. He’s also a go-to PSA person when change is proposed, especially restructuring.
Benedict admits the nature of the job does raise conflicts between what members expect delegates to do, and his continuing role working for the council. “I’m quite open when I feel there’s a conflict – and we manage it. Everything I do is about trying to make Auckland Council a better place to work. Both the council and PSA benefit if that happens. For me a conflict would be if only one side benefits.”
Sometimes that relationship will be strained, where a restructure seems unnecessarily savage. Benedict says the answer is to come back to the collective agreement – the document both parties agreed to, and that both use as a touchstone.
“The collective has a huge section on change management and that is how we do change at Auckland Council. Change will happen but this is how we’ve agreed it should happen and that’s the baseline.”
This came into focus during the recent Fit for the Future process at Auckland Libraries, which resulted in voluntary redundancies and big changes for some staff. This was the first time that the voluntary redundancy provisions within the collective agreement had been utilised – as opposed to forced redundancies. The PSA did come under some criticism around its role, with suggestions it should have pushed harder. But Benedict says without the PSA’s involvement in the process, libraries could have faced reduced operating hours and possible closures.
“My view is, it’s always better to be engaged, no matter how hard it is, and that way we get a better outcome for our members. Not every member will see the benefits but the majority can. There are big risks around not engaging. For example, in this process, there was a strong emphasis on reducing costs. We said, don’t just slash staff numbers – can we save that money differently?”
It’s a tough job, but Benedict says it’s a great one. “I would recommend it to someone who wants a broad understanding of how an organisation works. You get an insight into how everything works, how do we drive our agenda and influence. That’s a big challenge.”
by Jessica Williams