DCC drug search plan worries union

A union representing hundreds of Dunedin City Council workers is concerned about covert surveillance and search powers proposed in a new drugs policy for council staff.

Amalgamated Workers' Union New Zealand (Southern) assistant secretary Peter Costello, of Dunedin, said he planned to discuss the proposed policy with council union delegates next week.

He had yet to hear from members about the draft policy, but was concerned it allowed the use of covert electronic surveillance to detect drug or alcohol misuse by council employees.

It was the first time he had struck plans to allow covert surveillance as part of an employer's drug policy, and the mention of the method was a concern.

"To my knowledge, I don't believe we've got any covert cameras or anything like that [inside other workplaces]. But because they're covert, you wouldn't possibly know."

He would also have concerns about searches of private property.

Mr Costello's comments came after it was confirmed council staff were being asked by senior managers to consider a new policy on alcohol and other drugs.

It would allow random testing of some staff, the use of covert electronic surveillance and the search of private property on council premises.

The AWU branch represented up to 300 members working for the council and its companies, as well as dozens of other workplaces in the city.

The union would be making a submission on the draft policy once members' delegates had been consulted, Mr Costello said.

Drugs tests were becoming "pretty commonplace" as part of employment but the most common scenario was a drug test before confirming an offer of employment, or after an accident, he said.

Union members were warned drug and alcohol tests were a "fact of life", and to be aware of how long different drugs remained in the body, but some members questioned the fairness of the tests, he said.

"A lot of people come back and say why should they be governing, to some extent, what we do in our private life?"

Mr Costello questioned why the council would single out two groups of workers - Moana Pool lifeguards and workers using heavy machinery - for random testing, when alcohol and drug abuse "has no borders".

Last week, council community life general manager Graeme Hall said the draft policy would allow random tests for staff responsible for public safety, such as Moana Pool lifeguards, and workers using heavy machinery.

Other staff could be tested if they were suspected of inappropriate drug or alcohol use, as well as new recruits, as a condition of employment.

He was not aware of a "significant" drug problem within the organisation, but the council had an obligation to provide a safe workplace.

The policy aimed to detect impairment at work, rather than workers with small traces of drugs in their systems.

Consultation on the new council drug policy would include submissions from staff and unions, and the final document could be altered before it was finalised next month.

Southern Local Government Officers' Union organiser Ann McWhirter, of Dunedin, said she had yet to study the draft policy.

Her organisation represented up to 400 staff at the council and would consult them before making any submissions.

Council aquatic services manager Steve Prescott said he spoke to lifeguards yesterday and none raised concerns about the proposed policy.

He had "no issues with it at all".

"You have got to make sure the place is safe to operate and if that means we could make a safer place to be, then it's got to be good for everybody."

He did not believe council staff had a drug problem.

chris.morris@odt.co.nz

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