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TasWater – COVID-19


Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP

Dr Rosalie Woodruff MP  -  Wednesday, 1 December 2021

Tags: TasWater

Dr WOODRUFF - Thanks. In March this year, TasWater permanently closed its three remaining shopfronts in Moonah, Devonport and Launceston. They were closed in March last year because of COVID-19 reasons. The annual report says that most feedback from customers indicated that they were happy with TasWater's other methods of communications and that the shops will now remain closed. Can you tell me what survey you did to determine that 'most customers were happy' with that?

Mr BREWSTER - I will ask Juliet Mercer to answer that, as she led all of that.

Ms MERCER - We were tracking data to see how many customers were coming into the shopfronts. We have details of why there were coming in and what they were coming in about. When we were looking at closing the shopfronts, we communicated with those customers, to make sure they were comfortable with it. We found the numbers dropped dramatically over COVID-19. We had other payment channels. We now have the website where people can pay, you can pay at post offices and we found most people have migrated across there. We've kept a phone in the foyer, so that if a customer does come in they can talk to us. We get occasional customers coming in but, on the whole, they have migrated across.

Dr WOODRUFF - Thank you. I was concerned on behalf of people who are older and people with hearing problems. It can be hard to have conversations on the phone and people need internet connections. Are you confident that people in those categories, in particular, feel that they can have the conversations they need with another person?

Ms MERCER - Yes, they can. The desks in the foyer are set up as disability desks and there's the hearing aid loop as well. If people do come in we have a way of addressing that. We still have people in the building. If there is a customer we spot down there who needs help, we will go down and see them. On the whole, it's very few that come through that channel.

 

Dr WOODRUFF - Thanks. Also, in the report under 'reporting on our people and culture', there has been an increase in employees who've accrued leave in excess of 40 days. Mr Brewster, you might have been in that category yourself from the comments you made earlier. There's been a 16 per cent increase in employees who have more than two months' leave accrued compared to last year. How is TasWater managing that issue?

Dr GUMLEY- No one wanted to take leave during COVID-19 lockdowns, did they?

Mr BREWSTER - The Chairman is 100 per cent right. We have a target that we monitor and have been monitoring every month. What happened was that with COVID-19 nobody wants to go on leave because they can't go anywhere but it is an ongoing concern for us. By the way, mine is well under. I am basically at zero annual leave now, after next month.

The reality of it is that it is an ongoing challenge for us. If people have in excess of 40 days leave there's a fatigue risk. The problem is inherited. A lot of people brought a lot of leave with them and they've carried that leave. People say, I want to take it when I can take three months and do a big trip around Australia. They want to save up their leave. I understand that. But we have a policy where we would prefer staff to use their leave. We monitor it. We try to work with the staff to encourage them to take leave. Sometimes it's difficult because they're specialist staff. When they take leave, you've got to find someone to fill the gap. It's an ongoing battle. It will continue to be something we have to balance but we have a tight focus on it.

Dr WOODRUFF - With nearly 920 full-time equivalent staff, that's a substantial workforce to manage. COVID-19 has its mental health stresses across the whole of Tasmania. You have a plan to work on that over the coming year by the sounds of it.

Mr BREWSTER - We have a target that we set for ourselves at the end of every year. I think we got pretty close last year but under our enterprise agreements we can't force people to take leave, generally. We tend to work with them.

Mr PIGDEN - Certainly, the board is very cognisant of this. They monitor this at their monthly meeting. They get an update on excess leave at every board meeting.

Dr WOODRUFF - Another thing in the annual report was the percentage of compliant fluoride. That's declined from 85 per cent to 84 per cent in 2020-21 from the previous year. That's not in itself a big decline but it's substantially below the target which is 97 per cent. The report notes ongoing issues at a number of dosing stations. Can you please talk about the options that are being explored? What are the problems with those dosing stations?

Mr BREWSTER - A lot of them are legacy stations where it's hard to get reliable outcomes. We're replacing them in some cases.

Ailsa, you are across more of the detail.

Ms SYPKES - It's a bit of a combination - it means improving our performance in this space. Some capital upgrades are required. There is also some training and education that we need to do internally to make sure that people are operating as well as they can in that space in terms of compliance. It's a multi-factor thing.

Mr BREWSTER - It's also a cultural thing from the operators. They're absolutely conscious of not overdosing. There's a cap, so they tend to be very conservative which we understand. We are the first to say we have not met our target and we do need to meet it. Some of that is purely capital works replacement of systems as we go forward, and as Ailsa said, some of it is working with the operators to help them to get that judgment right.

CHAIR - The time for scrutiny has expired. This is the first Estimates Committee I've had to chair without a minister present. I thank the TasWater representatives and the Committee for their cooperation across the three hours. It is much appreciated.