It’s less than a month until the end of financial year, but the Abbott government already has a damaging fight on its hands with Tax Office staff over an alleged attempt to downsize expensive staff redundancy entitlements.
As the clock ticks town to 30th June, efforts to slash 3000 staff from the Australian Taxation Office could soon be headed to the Fair Work Commission after the Community and Public Sector Union lodged a formal dispute with the revenue agency over what it claims is an attempt to shrink the amount of money paid to staff whose jobs are on the chopping block.
The CPSU is accusing the ATO of attempting to truncate a previously agreed redundancy process that includes a provision for a mandatory one month consultation period for tax staff – a move that could equate to outgoing staff losing a month’s pay.
The escalation of the row also comes as the deadline looms for a second round of expressions of interest (EOI) for voluntary redundancies at the ATO. It is believed Tax wants requests for voluntary redundancies put in by 3rd June as it tries to move as many bodies as possible off its payroll as quickly as it can.
“Tax Office staff are furious about this brazen attack on their legal entitlements and the CPSU will be fighting hard – including through the FairWork Commission if required – to ensure these workers’ rights are respected,” said CPSU deputy president Alistair Waters.
“Trying to wriggle out of clear commitments in an enterprise agreement is an appalling way to treat staff, many of whom have been deeply worried about their livelihoods and families since the horror Budget came down.”
The fresh row at Tax over entitlements is being closely watched at other agencies looking to drop staff because it is likely to be a signal for how the Abbott government will prosecute its deeply unpopular downsizing agenda to cull 16,500 Australian Public Service staff.
The Abbott government had promised during the 2013 election campaign that it would be able achieve staff cuts of 12,000 trough ‘natural attrition’. However that pledge conspicuously failed to factor in Labor’s previous efficiency dividend cuts that would take out 14,500 APS jobs and essentially relied on paid redundancies.
The CPSU is also deeply suspicious about the timing of the ATO’s mass cull, especially how the redundancies will be funded.
The union is demanding clarification on whether there is any extra funding for ATO to pay for the redundancies flowing from the Budget – and whether there is now a related shortfall that is triggering the hard-nosed industrial tactics.
“We suspect the ATO is trying to fast-track this process, and claw-back staff redundancy entitlements, because the government hasn’t provided the resources to pay for such a massive job cut process,” Mr Waters said.
With so many jobs facing the axe, Tax’s staff ultimately have nothing to lose by holding out for the government to fully pay-up, especially when they collect the government’s money.
Although CPSU isn’t yet talking-up the prospect of industrial action, the union certainly is discounting it either.
“Bargaining has now commenced at the ATO. We will genuinely negotiate with the ATO in good faith,” Mr Waters told Government News.
“We have the right to take industrial action if that is supported by our members – and if it becomes necessary we will be talking with our members about that option.”
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