By Julian Bajkowski and Paul Hemsley
Anger within the Commonwealth public service over fresh funding cuts by the Rudd government has boiled over after the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) announced it had “voted to extend the suspension of all CPSU election campaigning in protest at Government plans to cut $1.8 billion from federal government agencies.”
The controversial and potentially politically damaging move is an unwanted headache at the start of Labor’s election campaign and comes the Mr Rudd attempts to restrain the strong influence of union-backed factions over the Australian Labor Party’s internal operations.
The move by the CPSU to suspend campaigning support for the ALP is problematic for both the party and its relatively recent industrial affiliate because the public service union is still telling its members to vote for Labor and Mr Rudd at the election … despite pulling its on the ground support for the campaign.
The Australian Capital Territory and Queensland branches of the CPSU only formally affiliated with the ALP in 2009, a move that many public servants were wary of because of its potential to weaken bargaining power against incumbent Labor governments.
The current conflict stems from what the union says are fresh government plans “to cut $1.8 billion from federal government agencies by increasing the efficiency dividend from 1.25 per cent to 2.25 per cent.”
The CPSU is worried that the cuts of $600 million a year for three years could equate to as many as 5000 jobs being cut as agencies reach for the razor to strip staff costs.
“That number is based on the Budget papers about the cost of public servants and our experience of previous efficiency dividend,” CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood the ABC’s Radio National breakfast program on Tuesday morning.
“[Federal Finance Minister] Penny Wong is right to say that a lot of this might be managed through natural attrition and voluntary redundancies, but the jobs still go. So the Department of Human Services, which has lost 4000 staff over the last two years would be looking at having 1,200 to 1,500 staff than they do now and that puts enormous pressure on services,” Ms Flood said.
Ms Flood described the on the ground campaigning work by the CPSU as “critical” but said that her organisation “had to make a decision to suspend our election campaigning until we’ve got clearer commitments from government on what they will do on jobs and services.”
Yet for public servants it could well be a case of better the devil you know in the case of former public servant, self-confessed policy-wonk and two-time Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
The Opposition has proposed to cull around 12,000 public service position if it is elected, a figure that Labor and the CPSU have warned could be more like 20,000 to 30,000 jobs if a Coalition government led by Tony Abbott government is elected.
“We know Tony Abbott will cut 12,000 to 20,000 public sector jobs, but public sector workers expect something different and better from Kevin Rudd,” Ms Flood said.
“If any other industry announced it was cutting thousands of jobs there would be a national outcry. Public sector workers are real people too; with families, mortgages and bills.”
Ironically, one of the key areas that all governments are eyeing off to make savings is the through the increased use and cheaper availability of new technology.
The Department of Human Services has already revealed extensive plans to allow its customers to interact with it through secure mobile applications that greatly increase the efficiency and speed of once cumbersome paper based transactions that required substantial manual labour.
What is less clear is whether the government expects the rollout of such customer-facing services to translate into hefty savings that can be realised through reduced headcount.
For its part, the CPSU is arguing there is no substitute for real people on the ground.
“The cuts announced on Friday are a blow for public sector workers who are already struggling with the impact of previous cutbacks and job losses. We understand that times are tough, but you only have to walk into a Centrelink office to know the queues are already long enough,” Ms Flood said.
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