Senator Eric Abetz — Tony Abbott’s hand-picked industrial hard man tasked with reducing union influence in Australian industry and the public sector — has been delivered a stinging rebuke by staff within his own Department of Employment after a ballot on strike action delivered 90 per cent yes vote for industrial action from 82 per cent of eligible voters.
The vote result, announced by the Fair Work Commission on Tuesday, has put Employment staff on an industrial collision course with their minister and senior management as the agency became the latest to reject low-ball workplace agreement offers that have primed the public servicer for a winter of bans and stoppages.
The announcement of the landslide vote for strike action comes new Australian Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd attempts to restart stalled negotiations with the Community and Public Sector Union which has seen its membership bolstered by fearful bureaucrats seeking increased protection for their rights and entitlements in the escalating dispute.
A major problem for the government has been that the its stance on negotiations to date, especially around superannuation and increased hours that create real pay cuts, has to date left departmental heads and negotiators nothing to trade with in talks with their workforce.
Now, just weeks out from its next Budget which is expected to try and temper the government’s slash-and-burn image among voters, an increasing priority has become the search for a way to defuse the threat of disruptive APS-wide industrial taking hold as new measures are rolled out.
It’s an invidious dilemma for parts of the Coalition because it will be forced to choose between an image of generating more strife through questionable cutbacks or being seen to cave into a union movement it has accused business of being too soft on.
Meanwhile, the Community and Public Sector Union is dining out on the irony of the Employment Minister’s own department telling him to go jump.
“This strong result from within Minister Abetz’s own Department sends a very clear message to management and to the Government. Public servants are prepared to fight for fair agreements that maintain superannuation protections, safeguard rights and conditions, and deliver pay outcomes that keeps up with the cost of living,” said CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood.
“Union members in agencies covering more than half of the public service have won — or are seeking — the right to take protected action against the Government’s attack on their pay, conditions and rights at work.”
The Labor Opposition — which is formally affiliated with the union movement — also took it’s obligatory bite.
“The current offer on the table would see workers receive a pay cut in real terms as well as a loss of decent and fair conditions,” said Shadow Employment Minister Brendan O’Connor.
“Understandably employees are completely disenchanted with their boss.”
“Labor believes in an affordable and productive public service, but the Abbott Government’s obsession with axing jobs and cutting wages and conditions does not lead to a more effective workforce,” Mr O’Connor said.
Prior to losing office in 2013, Labor’s application of an efficiency dividend to the public service that translated to around 14,500 APS job cuts — a move that made many CPSU members question the value of having formally affiliated with the party in the first place.
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