ACT News


Lifeline furore over redundancies

Lifeline Canberra management claims its book fair volunteers have accepted its staff cuts despite suggestions they are ''seething, boiling mad'' and considering going on strike until a warehouse manager is reinstated.

It was revealed this week that the telephone counselling service had made three positions redundant including the book fair warehouse manager in order to save $200,000 a year and shore up its cash reserves for the long-term.

In the aftermath of the redundancies, volunteer Dianne Tillotson resigned ''in disgust'' on Thursday as the book fairs' volunteer co-ordinator saying volunteers were not consulted about the changes.

They also wanted Lifeline to publish the profit and loss statements for its new ventures, the Bean Talkin' coffee van and Hipsley Lane vintage clothing store.

Mrs Tillotson said Lifeline chief executive officer Mike Zissler received a hostile reception when he addressed about 50 volunteers at the Lifeline warehouse in Mitchell on Wednesday.

They were concerned about the future of the three book fairs, which made just under $1 million a year. They believed a dedicated warehouse manager was needed to co-ordinate the events. While the paid warehouse manager had been in place for 18 months, another volunteer had been doing the same work for the previous 18 months until it became too overwhelming.


Three Lifeline positions - the book warehouse manager, the commercial enterprise manager (who managed Bean Talkin' and Hipsley Lane) and a part-time clerical role - were made redundant this week.

The remaining 14 staff at Lifeline would plug the holes, with the marketing and communications manager, with the assistance of two other staff, expected to be also handed the responsibilities of managing the warehouse and Bean Talkin' and Hipsley Lane.

''They're absolutely, seething, boiling mad about being kept in the dark and about the unfairness of the process,'' Mrs Tillotson said.

''They don't understand why Lifeline is in this financial position. Money comes in and goes out and it's the role of management to ensure there is enough money to go around but it seems to be cutting the management position of the part of the business that makes the money.''

It was also revealed on Friday that the then finance manager for Lifeline, described by volunteers as ''very capable and well-liked'', resigned unexpectedly in February without another job to go to.

Lifeline Canberra chief executive officer Mike Zissler denied the resignation was as a result of frustration with the way the organisation was travelling financially. The manager had been replaced.

''It was all very amicable,'' he said.

A former Lifeline trainer also told Fairfax Media her position was made redundant in January.

However, Mr Zissler said her position had been replaced.

''Certainly, the letter I got said I was being made redundant,'' the former trainer said.

Mr Zissler said the financial crisis affecting Lifeline had been the result of reduced sponsorship and donations rather than the new ventures Bean Talkin' and Hipsley Lane draining resources.

''They're both going along nicely for start-up businesses,'' he said. ''They're part of our long-term sustainability plan because we need more revenue streams like the book fairs.''

Mr Zissler said only three redundancies had been made and they had been made reluctantly.

''If we hadn't made the changes we have over the last six months, this time next year we'd be in a big financial hole,'' he said.

Another volunteer contacted Fairfax Media suggesting the book fair workforce of 130 volunteers should go on strike - sorting but not pricing books - until a warehouse manager was reappointed.

''The book fair will survive, in one form or another, but it is my impression that it is not a high priority for Lifeline,'' he said.

Mr Zissler said a meeting on Friday with the book fair advisory committee of about 10 volunteers made no mention of any strike action and he was sure the committee would be ''appalled by that notion''. The meeting with the committee had been ''cordial and pragmatic'' and accepting that changes had to be made.