Spotlight On: Rita Bhattacharya
This month, we cast our Spotlight on our very own Rita Bhattacharya, an Employment Relations Specialist from the Catholic Commission for Employment Relations (CCER). From an average day of negotiating with unions, representing members at tribunals and providing training, Rita tells us how she focuses on the human aspect of ‘human resources’.
CCER: What do you do?
Rita: I’m an Employment Relations Specialist at CCER. I advise Catholic employers. There are a broad range of them, whether they’re Catholic Education Offices, Catholic Schools Offices, social welfare agencies, or parishes. I advise on all aspects of employment and industrial relations and human resources. That includes recruitment of staff, employment contracts, enterprise agreements, award interpretation, and policies and procedures.
So all of your beginning of employment stuff, as well as matters relevant to the ongoing life of an employment relationship – work, health and safety, restructures and change management, workplace grievances and dispute resolution, workplace investigations and performance management.
I also advise on employment relationships that may need to come to an end – separation management, redundancies, management of ill and injured employees that are no longer able to perform the inherent requirements of their role, and I also advise when matters might end up in courts and tribunals, so discrimination, unfair dismissal matters, adverse action matters in the Fair Work Commission and the Australian Human Rights Commission – giving advice on all aspects of the employment relationship, from start to finish.
CCER: Describe an average day.
Rita: That’s a very interesting question because I don’t think I have two days that are ever the same. I could be doing a number of things. I could be advising people who call CCER directly on the phone. I could be advising people who’ve sent through email enquiries. I could be acting for one of our members in a tribunal, like the Fair Work Commission. I could be working on a project, like an enterprise agreement. So I could be working on negotiating that, or dealing with the union that represents the employees that are also going to be a party to that enterprise agreement. It could be that I’d be collaborating with some of our other employees on the advice that they’re providing, or providing training. We do a lot of training here so I might be doing a workshop or something else.
CCER: What is a great day for you?
Rita: A great day is a day where I feel like I’m making a difference. Helping our members achieve their strategic objectives. Helping them make sure that they’re getting the best outcomes out of their staff, but also for their organisation.
For me a great day is a day where I’m learning something. We’ve got lots of different and diverse clients, so I’m always learning really new and interesting things, and that’s a great part of the job that I do.
‘The greatest asset that any organisation has is its people.’
CCER: What does a challenging day look like?
Rita: A challenging day would be a day where things don’t progress. We all have those days where you feel just treading water and not getting forward in things. Or a day where I have to give advice that isn’t what the client has been looking for. Nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news!
CCER: Why did you choose this kind of work?
Rita: I’m passionate about employment relations. I think that one of the first questions that people ask each other is ‘What do you do?’ There’s a real dignity associated with labour, and I like being a part of advising people on such an important aspect of all our lives, but also business operations. The greatest asset that any organisation has is its people. So being able to give people advice on how to maximise that relationship and get the best for them and their employees is personally important to me.
I also made the decision to come to CCER specifically because I was working at law firms prior to coming here, and I felt that they weren’t structured well to service the needs of clients. I found that I was advising on matters that had already exploded before they even came to me, or clients didn’t want to talk to me about the problems they were facing, because they were being billed in six-minute intervals, and it wasn’t in their interest to spend a lot of time talking to me about the things that concern them and how that could be fixed.
At CCER, we’ve got a membership-based service where people pay a subscription. So I can take the time that a client might need to sit down and really work out what are the challenges that are facing their organisation, and what’s the best strategy to fix them. For me that’s been really rewarding, to roll my sleeves up, and say ‘how can we best address this problem?’ You get more hands on. You get more satisfaction. But also, the client, I think, is happier so it’s been a really fantastic change for me.
CCER: What advice would you give to others, interested in this line of work?
Rita: Come see me! We’re recruiting! It’s a really great challenging environment, and would love to see these people (and hire them!). Just always be open. People do things in all different ways. I’ve actually learnt a lot from the different ways people have structured things. Come in with an open mind.
CCER: What kinds of skills and talents does someone need for this job?
Rita: Technical knowledge is really important. There have been a lot of changes in workplace relations in the last 13 or so years; a lot of different Acts and changes in government have really influenced that as well. So understanding that is important. But also, being creative and practical – that’s really important as well – to advising people on their employment relations structure.
CCER: What is something that only those in your industry would know?
Rita: You don’t need three warnings to sack someone. I have no idea where the urban legend came from. In some circumstances you might need more, or you might need less, but there’s a myth out there that you need three. Not sure where it came from.
‘Just always be open. People do things in all different ways.’
CCER: What role does faith play in your work?
Rita: I’m really fortunate, working for a Catholic employer, that there’s social justice underpinning a lot of what we do, and that’s very important to me. The things that I really value are also valued by CCER and I feel really lucky that I’m working for one of the very few employer organisations that has publicly championed penalty rates, and also wage increases. I understand that there are a number of faith-based employers that have done so.
To me that’s really saying something about the dignity of work, and the view that the Catholic Commission for Employment Relations has, based on Catholic social teaching, about how we think that people should be treated. There is a basic dignity associated with labour, and I think that there are Catholic values that understand and appreciate that you don’t need to have an adversarial employment relations system. There are ways that employers and employees can agree and move forward.
I think in other environments, there might be a suggestion that if you’re ‘for’ employers, you’re ‘against’ employees. I don’t feel that way here. I feel like we’re for good workplace relations, which is something I’m really privileged to be a part of.