No employee of Lake Macuqarie City Council will be let go amid the coronavirus crisis but a chunk of its more than 1100 staff will be redeployed outside normal duties, chief executive officer Morven Cameron says.
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced councils across the country to make unprecedented changes to their operations over the past week including closing a range of facilities and services.
Lake Macquarie council was not immune and shut its pools, patrolled beaches, libraries, art gallery, visitor information centre, skate parks, playgrounds and other facilities earlier this week.
Despite the raft of closures, Ms Cameron is adamant no employee will be out of a job.
"The impacts that are going to be felt in our community, where 98 per cent of our businesses are small businesses employing 20 people or less, are going to be astronomical," she said.
"So apart from maintaining a sense of normality, one of the biggest contributions council can make is to keep employing as many people as possible in meaningful tasks and making sure there is money going home to families in our community.
"It is absolutely our intention, and my intention, that we will keep as many staff as possible working and working on constructive activities that are contributing to supporting the community.
"Will staff at some point be required to take leave? Yes."
Ms Cameron said essential services like waste collections and roadworks were proceeding as normal, and keeping those running, and other core functions, would contribute to the community's "social cohesion".
"It is the organisation's view, and it is my view, that local government's role in all of this is to maintain as strong a degree of normality in our community as we possibly can," she said.
"When the rest of the world is uncertain, right down to whether you can go to the grocery store to get groceries, we will maintain the roads, we will cut the grass, we will keep as many of our facilities accessible ... as we possibly can.
"From a social cohesion point of view, that's the contribution local government can make in these uncertain times."
Close to 300 staff were impacted by closures this week.
While the council's hand was in most cases forced by the federal government, Ms Cameron said management had been preparing for the likely shutdown of non-essential services for weeks and conducted a skills audit to determine how employees could be redeployed.
Some staff will remain in their normal roles, but many will be either trained for "critical functions" roles or placed into areas where they can use existing skills.
"They might be council roles or they might be out there helping in the community," she said.
"I am absolutely confident that the people who work for Lake Macquarie will have the ability to turn their hand to whatever this organisation and this city needs.
"They're already asking to do it, rather than having to be asked."
Ms Cameron said a lockdown would force the council to send some staff on leave and the evolving situation would also likely result in all "technology-based" staff working from home.
"We've got the technology that our customer-service based staff will be able to work from home," she said.
"We've got a number of teams that we've identified as critical teams and we've separated them into different buildings so ... if one is lost for a period of time we can still continue what we consider our critical functions."
Ms Cameron said should a worker contract coronavirus, or one of their family members, they will be able to take personal leave (sick leave). She said "special leave" would kick in when "we close a service and we don't have a relevant role" for staff.
The council prepared well to maintain the "continuity" of its operations, Ms Cameron said, and would now focus on the community.
"The two other parts that we're really now just starting to focus on is how do we support business and how do we support the community service providers," she said.
"We've got hardship policies in place which is the very minimal level of support, they've existed for a long time and are pretty robust.
"We've also put together a working group with Dantia our economic development company, key staff here and I've briefed our five state members and our federal members to start talking collectively about what we can do to support businesses."
The council's development assessment team is also still offering regular services.
"We want to keep our city moving," department manager Elizabeth Lambert said.
"We're processing development applications, issuing building certificates and undertaking all our normal day-to-day tasks.
"We're also looking at innovative ways to continue face-to-face services, such as pre-lodgement meetings. These may include online video calls and meetings."
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