Are we heading for Christmas airport strikes?


The major public sector union is preparing to roll up its sleeves and resume negotiations with the Turnbull government in an attempt to resolve the epic Australian Public Service bargaining stand-off, with strike action at international airports still on the table.

The Federal election was a ballot-free zone while the government was in caretaker mode but now the Community Public Sector Union (CPSU) has written to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull asking for a sit down.

Three-quarters of the Commonwealth’s 150,000 public servants remain without an enterprise bargaining agreement after almost three years of wrangling and a succession of failed votes.

Major departments such as Human Services and Immigration and Border Protection are holding out, saying they will not sign agreements which dilute their working rights and conditions.

Despite this, a cluster of smaller departments, such as Australian Public Service Commission, Treasury and NBN Co have signed new agreements, along with departments with sizable workforces such as Education and Employment, Foreign Affairs and Health.

The government has offered a pay rise of 6 per cent over three years but the union claims the major sticking point is not necessarily pay – although it would like to see a more generous offer and back pay, requests which the government has repeatedly denied – but what it views as an attack on family-friendly working conditions.

Now the union maintains that the post-election landscape is a very different one and claims it is in a stronger position since the election swing against the government and the success of Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s Mediscare campaign, alongside public’s distaste for cuts to agencies such as CSIRO.

Government News spoke to Community Public Sector Union National Secretary Nadine Flood about what happens next.

Ms Flood said that union members were prepared to take industrial action and mount a widespread political and community campaign if the government would not listen and act on their concerns.

This could mean Christmas strikes at international airports, something the government – not to mention the public – would rather avoid.

The dispute has already resulted in strikes by a number of agencies.

March saw rolling strikes by workers from Immigration and Border Protection and the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, causing delays for travellers and hold-ups at customs.

Other agencies, such as Medicare, Centrelink, Defence and the ATO also took part in the March strikes.

There were strikes too in November 2015, as thousands of Immigration and Border Force workers walked off the job at international airports, ports, container examination and international mail facilities.

Ms Flood said strike action was still a necessary weapon during the dispute.

“The last pay rise most of them had was in 2013. They’ve been subject to a pretty nasty strategy, known in industrial relations as starving workers out,” Ms Flood said.

“Right up until the election the Prime Minister was pursuing a policy where the only way workers could hold out and protect rights and conditions was by voting ‘no’ to agreements and rejecting any pay offer.”

Ms Flood said workers were sick of the stand-off and just wanted to get on with their jobs.

“This [government] remains the only major employer in the country which starts an industrial dispute and will not talk to representatives in their workforce.

“It’s been an incredibly long and difficult process, not just for workers but also the agencies. This has not happened in twenty years of enterprise bargaining.

“With the election now settled, the CPSU is pulling out all the stops to help these workers and break this impasse.”

The union has also said that it will haul Federal Employment Minister Michaelia Cash before the Fair Work Commission (FWC) because it claims she has not bargained ‘in good faith’ by refusing meetings and  “misrepresenting the union’s position and engaging in capricious conduct that undermines collective bargaining.”

The union claims that Ms Cash has made it impossible for agency and department heads to get agreements signed by giving them nothing to negotiate with.

“We’re looking at a range of agencies to identify the potential breaches of good faith bargaining on behalf of the Minister and to seek the assistance of the Fair Work Commission in that dispute,” Ms Flood said.

“This action would focus on several agencies and build on the successful FWC action we took before the election which confirmed that the Minister is a ‘bargaining representative’ and therefore obliged to bargain in good faith.”

Ms Cash’s office has been contacted for comment.

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