EPA managers' conference at Merewether Surfhouse on the nose with unions amid dispute over laundry allowances

Beach yoga, an afternoon at Merewether Surfhouse, fine dining at Rustica before tucking into bed at the Novotel: it reads like the itinerary for an idyllic getaway along Newcastle’s glorious coastline. 

But – according to unions – it was actually the agenda for a managers’ conference held by the NSW Environment Protection Authority this week. For unions, it’s raised eyebrows at a time when management have been squabbling over laundry allowances and threatening to cut jobs. 

Another source slammed the event – held on Wednesday and Thursday – as a “managers’ love in”. 

Industrial Manager with the Public Service Association Nathan Bradshaw said the “real kicker” was that the EPA had hired the surfhouse when it had conference rooms available for free in its offices. 

“If they felt the need to get away from the office, across the road is the Newcastle Workers’ Club,” he said. 

“I dare say they’re a hell of a lot cheaper … they even give free conference rooms to the EPA occasionally.” 

According to its website, the Merewether Surfhouse charges $350 for its southern conference area, $500 for its northern area, or $850 for both. Meals and breaks cost between $34.50 and $75 per attendee, with the premium package covering two breaks and a two-course meal. 

A standard room at the Novotel on a weeknight in April would cost about $271, searches using corporate rates showed. 

The spend has rubbed salt in the wound for unions, which say management is refusing to pay a $4 a week laundry allowance.

“They were arguing if they had to pay the allowance they would have to lose staff,” Mr Bradshaw said. 

The union claims management has also been requiring EPA officers to drive back to Sydney from Newcastle after a 12 or 13-hour shift, rather than paying an overnight allowance. 

“The EPA are crying that they don’t have any money … they’re penny pinching on the one hand, but organising extravagance for their management,” Mr Bradshaw said. 

When the Herald sent questions to the EPA, it confirmed an event took place for “key regional staff” but would not release details. 

It was unclear how many EPA staff attended the event. 

Port Stephens MP Kate Washington attacked it as the “height of indecency”, especially in light of the EPA’s involvement with the ongoing contamination crisis in Williamtown. 

“The residents of Williamtown aren’t being put up at the Novotel,” she said. “Maybe that’s the solution”.