Water NSW

FCB Workplace Law

Industry Focus

Infrastructure & Construction

Project Team:

Workplace relations strategy for Water NSW.

The background

Prior to 1 January 2015, State Water Corporation (SWC) operated as a state owned corporation, managing and operating bulk water infrastructure and water storage systems in NSW (outside Sydney metro). Separately, the Sydney Catchment Authority (SCA) operated as a NSW government agency, providing similar services in and around the greater Sydney metro region.

In 2014, the NSW government decided on a merger of equals approach to the SWC and SCA. By Act of Parliament, on 1 January 2015 Water NSW commenced operating as an amalgam of the former SWC and SCA.

The challenge

In early 2014, FCB were retained to provide preliminary strategic and process advice in relation to the transaction. In September 2014, FCB were retained to develop, advise and act in relation to a workplace relations strategy that would allow Water NSW to commenced operations on ‘day 1′ with an integrated workforce (comprising the staff of SWC and SCA), where all terms and conditions of employment were preserved via compliant approved industrial instruments. The project involved dealing with the full range of employment and industrial considerations arising from a complex organisational merger, exacerbated by the interaction of 2 different industrial jurisdictions. That is, SWC (as a state owned corporation) was party to an Enterprise Agreement made under federal law whereas SCA (a NSW government agency) was staffed by NSW government employees under State regulation. The merger of SWC and SCA involved aligning employment regulation and employment conditions in two different jurisdictions at the same time, for a workforce of +500 across diverse rural and remote NSW workplaces.

Our approach

The work we undertook included (but was not limited to):

  • developing, advising and reviewing strategic options taking into account Government policy and draft legislation, operating requirements, workforce, union and other key stakeholder objectives
  • concurrent urgent applications in the Fair Work Commission and the NSW Industrial Relations Commission to make and approve the relevant industrial instruments that needed to be in place by 1 January 2014, which involved both contested and non-contested submissions and elements (FCB appeared in those proceedings and did not brief Counsel)
  • advising, drafting and negotiating on the concurrent development of the two relevant industrial instruments with SCA and separately with SWC
  • advising and drafting workforce communications to ensure the transition to Water NSW occurred with zero industrial action/lost time (this was achieved)
  • ensuring the industrial relations framework for Water NSW would be in place before the commencement date of 1 January 2015.

Once approval to pursue our proposed strategy was obtained, the bulk of the work needed to commence and be completed within a period of approximately 8 weeks.

The outcome

The creation of Water NSW was an important exercise in the administration of vital water infrastructure for NSW, and a successful workplace relations strategy was crucial to ensure an uninterrupted transition to Water NSW commencing operations and taking responsibility for all NSW water infrastructure (outside Sydney Water Corporation) on and from 1 January 2015.

The matter was also significant because, in a departure from usual practice, our client elected to engage FCB in preference to firms from the NSW Government panel. Its use of FCB for this type of project – and our ability to design, deploy and realise the merger strategy successfully and within a particularly tight time frame – is an important testament to our breadth of expertise in complex corporate merger/restructure projects, including those involving major infrastructure and government organisations.