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Inside The World Of A Ministerial Driver:

Bottles, Cans and Divided Loyalties...

Transcripts and statements provided in a worker's compensation case allege a workplace of divided responsibilities and the widespread private use of chauffeured ministerial cars.

The case of Rebecca Rammell ran for 11 hearing days spread between October last year and January this year.

Rammell won her case last month for mental illnesses arising from her treatment by superiors in the Department of Treasury and Finance, which operates the Ministerial chauffeur service with more than 20 vehicles and 26 full-time chauffers.

It was reported on the afternoon before Anzac Day and drew little attention.

However, the hundreds of pages of statements and transcripts reveal a service run under a culture that managers find hard to crack.

In the course of the hearing, Deputy President Judge Peter Hannon heard evidence from Rammell, five other chauffeurs, supervisors and managers.

One topic, which was the subject of much attention during the proceedings, being the worker's understanding of and compliance with the DTF policy prohibiting 'private use' by chauffeurs of Ministerial vehicles, the judge noted.

In her statement of claim, Rammell said chauffeurs often used their Ministerial vehicles during the lunch hour to go to the library, or the gym, or to go shopping or attend to tasks such as dropping shirts off for ironing or returning rental DVDs, or to go home to attend to a private or domestic matter.

Just how you get one of these jobs is illustrated by Rammell's own history; the 42-year-old's resume showed previous work as a bar attendant and waiter, operator of a public bus, security guard, parking inspector, tour guide and car pool attendant.

The court file shows she sought employment as a car pool attendant with Fleet SA as a step in pursuit of her long-held ambition of working as a Ministerial chauffeur.

She succeeded in obtaining that position in February 2005, the summary of facts states.

In 2005 Fleet SA and Ministerial chauffeurs were under the administration of the former Department of Administrative and Information Services (DAIS), however, the unit was transferred to Treasury and Finance in July 2009.

In the past it's been detailed in annual reports that the average salary of drivers (including overtime) was more than $100,000. Those details haven't been published in annual reports for several years.

The overtime system currently in place is revealed in the court file.

The ordinary working hours of a chauffeur were 40 hours a week from 8.00am - 5.00pm.

For those chauffeurs assigned to a Minister on an ongoing basis, the 40 hours per week included the time spent driving to and from the chauffeurs home, the chauffeur being entitled to home garage the Ministerial vehicle.

Ministerial schedules more often than not required that chauffeurs work outside the standard 40 hours, whereupon they were paid overtime rates for the additional hours. However no extra pay was received unless and until, over the course of a week, a particular chauffeur worked an additional 10 hours beyond the 40 ordinary hours of work time. If less than 10 overtime hours a week were worked the hours were 'banked' to be later taken as pay in lieu.

Given these arrangements, chauffeurs were keen to accumulate at least 10 overtime hours per week so as to receive the weekly allowance.

Chauffeurs were allocated to a Minister on an ongoing basis, a system that appears to have developed a conflicting line of authority.

A former long-time manager of the chauffeurs, a Ms Forbes, gave evidence that she had a direct management role with relief chauffeurs, but the day to day management of chauffeurs assigned to a Minister was a matter for the Minister.

Judge Hanlon noted that, in these circumstances, Ms Forbes saw her role as that of coordinator rather than manager, she did not have access to diaries recording the daily activities of Ministers and their chauffeurs, and thus found it difficult to know exactly where chauffeurs were each day and what they were doing.

Despite her 13 years as a manager of the chauffeur group, Forbes' evidence suggests she had little control. On the whole she considered the chauffeurs to not be responsive to her attempts to have them account to her and to be rather set in their ways.

When control of the unit moved to the Department of Treasury and Finance, a new broom was brought in.

Mr Fisher was appointed to the position of Ministerial Fleet Coordinator following internal application procedures, duties and responsibilities were confined to management of the chauffeurs only, the file shows.

Shortly after, the working relationship between a relief driver, Rebecca Rammell and Fisher deteriorated with Rammell making a raft of claims in her case, many rejected by the judge.

Some of her views, however, were backed up by five other chauffeurs.

The worker called evidence from five ministerial chauffeurs who worked with her during the relevant period. They were Messrs Hough, Dowling, Mundi, Rollison and Francis. Their evidence is to be treated with caution for the reasons already explained, the judge noted.

I set out some common complaints or themes drawn from the evidence of the chauffeurs as to the dynamics of the workplace under Mr Fisher's management. Many of these complaints were said by Mr Fisher to be unfounded.

Most agreed with the worker (Rammell) that (the previous manager) Ms Forbes was a reasonably relaxed and approachable manager who worked cooperatively with the chauffeurs and did not interfere with their relationship with the Minister to whom they were allocated.

That Minister was seen as the direct 'boss' in terms of the chauffeur's day to day activities.

Ms Forbes was considered to be a person who trusted the chauffeurs to discharge their duties appropriately, in contrast to Mr Fisher, who was said to take the attitude that chauffeurs were untrustworthy, and to be intent on implementing a more intrusive and controlling management regime, which inappropriately interfered in the relationship of trust and confidence between chauffeurs and their Ministers.

In the words of Mr Dowling, he treated the chauffeurs as a 'bunch of dishonest, lazy malcontents who had previously had far too little control exercised over them', a statement filed in the case said.

But the mistrust wasn't confined to management. One incident referred to in the court file relates to a missing Cabinet document. It appears that a particular Minister, having temporarily misplaced a file whilst the worker was assigned to him as his relief chauffeur, contacted the worker and spoke to her in a manner which the worker said made her feel that she was being accused of having acted inappropriately by taking the file out of the Minister's confidential cabinet bag, conduct which the worker denied.

Although it seems that the Minister subsequently accepted that there was a misunderstanding in this regard, the worker said that she was upset about the incident and at what she perceived to be a lack of support from Mr Fisher, whom the Minister had also contacted in relation to the incident.

Later, the Minister recanted his accusations and asked for the driver to be reinstated to duties driving him. The incident, however, would be raised in another setting, when Rammell found herself on the wrong end of a series of events involving garbage bags and empty bottles and cans.

It's this episode, (in January 2010, that would be the focus of a stressful misconduct investigation that got out of hand, resulting in the successful claim for compensation.

Judge Hannon described it as an "over-zealous reaction" by her superiors to an incident in which she picked up several bags of cans and bottles from a city car park in January 2010. Rammell said she had gone back to her Minister's building to retrieve a document and while there picked up the bottles and cans to give to her sister to donate to charity before a security officer intervened and told her to leave the cans and bottles for collection by a Scouting organisation. Rammell did as she was asked and heard nothing more about the incident until April 2010.

By then the incident had blown up into something resembling Watergate.

Her manager Mr Fisher's written statement to the court showed he had formed the preliminary view that the worker had used a government car in 'the potential commission of a criminal offence', that is, larceny of the cans and bottles. He was concerned at the potential for adverse publicity affecting the Minister if such conduct came to the attention of the public, and at the fact that a Ministerial chauffeur, who was in a position of trust and should be beyond reproach, had engaged in such conduct. He reported the matter to Mr Hobbs (his superior), who in turn reported it to Mr Martin (Executive Director, Corporate Services).

At a guess, we are talking about $10 worth of empties.

The proceedings went to the Government Investigation Unit and shortly after a misconduct charge was levelled that Rammell had improperly used a Government vehicle; accessed a Minister's Office without authority; recorded incorrect entries on a timesheet and used a Government vehicle without authorisation for personal purposes.

There was more to come in the can-and-bottle-gate saga; this time it was a package of meat.

The meat had been left in the staff fridge and Rammell, stood down from duty, asked a fellow driver Rollison to pick it up and drop it off. He did so, but in breach of orders not to make contact with the suspended driver and for the suspended driver to not make contact with former colleagues.

In the further investigation of the meat incident, it transpired that Rammell had a habit of buying cheap meat at a favourite outlet and dropping it off at the residence of another driver, a Mr James, while he was on sick leave. The meat run, however, was suspected to have been done using ministerial cars.

Investigations continued, doctors were consulted and Rammell, in one of the doctor's words, was flustered and extremely anxious and all over the place.

In his April decision, Judge Hannon concluded that Rammell's mental injury arose predominately from the inquiry. He said the actions against Rammell were unreasonable. The manner in which the investigation was allowed to proceed was unreasonable. The employer divested itself of any responsibility for the process it initiated. The time taken was too long, particulars of further allegations were not given to the worker in a timely way, allegations were raised or not proceeded with in a haphazard way, and stale or peripheral allegations without merit were raised. Throughout the investigation, there was an unreasonable adherence to the inexorable course of the 'process', illustrated by the lack of any meaningful response to the entreaties of the worker's solicitor and doctor that the process be expedited.

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