Staff at the Department of Agriculture have narrowly rejected a third pay offer, hurtling the federal government towards widespread strikes later this month.
The vote went 51 per cent against and 49 per cent for, with an 86 per cent turnout and 3897 votes cast.
The Defence vote last month was even closer, with 50.9 per cent of the department’s public servants knocking back the government’s offer.
It is likely that Defence will push for another vote quickly in a desperate bid to get the enterprise bargaining agreement over the line. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will be eager to bag a major agency in the protracted public sector pay wars.
The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) has said that although the two sides are relatively close together on pay on many of the proposed agreements – the government has offered 6 per cent over three years – workers are most concerned about losing rights as these are moved out of agreements and into policy, which can change.
The rights they are most fearful of losing include the ability to speak up when work days and hours are set or changes to work location are proposed. Changes to allowances such as shift allowances are also highly contentious.
CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood said it was the first time a major agency had rejected the government’s offer three times during the bitter dispute. Most agreements have not been renewed for two years and the government has promised there will be no back pay.
“Line-ball results like this show the government is flogging a dead horse with its divisive strategy of forcing agencies to split their workforce with pushing cuts to rights for many, rather than sitting down and making the relatively modest changes that would allow a fair and sensible resolution after two years of unnecessary conflict,” Ms Flood said.
“As at many other agencies, staff also remain deeply concerned that important rights and conditions are being moved out of agreements into unenforceable policy that can be unilaterally changed in the future.”
She said that union members in the Agriculture would now join Department of Immigration and Border Protection staff in striking at international airports on Easter Thursday (March 24) likely to slow down quarantine procedures.
There is an APS-wide strike on March 21, including agencies and departments such Human Services, Education, Defence, the Bureau of Meteorology, Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Australian Tax Office.
“Given Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has not taken up our offer two weeks ago of talks to fix this mess, we have no choice but to proceed,” she said.
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