The gloves have come off in the battle between federal public servants and the Abbott government after the Community and Public Sector Union warned air travelers and welfare recipients to expect delays and disruption at airports and Medicare and Centrelink Offices across Australia over the Easter break.
The CPSU on Monday issued a warning that around 15,000 members across 500 worksites will launch a coordinated series of actions over the next two weeks as the union attempts to force the government’s hand on deadlocked enterprise bargaining talks that have failed to reach a resolution after more than a year.
The warning of Easter travel disruption is the biggest escalation to date by the CPSU which had until Monday largely targeted its action at directly agency management in an effort to minimize public inconvenience.
While the union is again emphasising the direct target of the bans and stoppages are the Abbott government and agency management it’s also candidly warned the public could well be affected by the action.
“The community is not the target here but people will be affected. We would strongly advise people to take extra time in travelling and avoid calling or visiting Centrelink or Medicare during this period,” said CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood.
“Department of Agriculture biosecurity staff at airports, ports and regional centres across the country will stop work at 10.30am for half an hour on Thursday 2 April. They will also be reading statements and distributing flyers to tens of thousands of passengers over the busy Easter long weekend,” the CPSU said in a statement.
Aviation industry sources said they expected that while there may be some minor disruption for travellers, it was more likely that there would be a concerted effort by union members to leaflet travellers to try and garner public support for the CPSU’s campaign.
The prospect of uniformed staff working in critical areas of the transport industry and openly protesting the Abbott government’s industrial relations tactics has the potential to become a major publicity problem for Employment and Public Service Minister Eric Abetz as the Prime Minister and his Cabinet attempt to demonstrate their capacity to better take on board the concerns of the public and stakeholders after large parts of the Budget were either voted down or withdrawn in the face of a hostile Senate.
Despite an easy win by the Coalition in the New South Wales state election on Saturday, industrial relations changes at the federal level remain a highly volatile issue in the electorate against the background of a sluggish economic growth, stubborn unemployment and growing fears over job security.
The scale of public service cuts in Queensland under the now ousted Newman government provided a catalyst for public anger after the axe swung on as many as 14,000 public sector jobs.
Those cuts were then compounded by federal job losses that often re-centralised regional departmental resources outside Canberra leaving state offices often reeling.
The CPSU is pushing the topic of cuts particularly hard in its publicity as it seeks to characterise the dispute as a fight that was triggered by an unnecessarily heavy handed and ideologically driven push by the Abbott government to prove its toughness against unions in its own backyard.
“These are frontline workers who do not take industrial action lightly. But they have been pushed to this point by a belligerent government that has already hurt services by cutting 11,000 jobs and is now intent on attacking workplace rights and conditions,” Ms Flood said.
The looming action, which is legally authorised by the government’s industrial relations umpire the Fair Work Commission after a series of protected action ballots comes after the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) finally backed away from trying to strip out explicit references to government employees’ superannuation guarantee in the next agreement.
It’s believed that that move came at the instigation of new APSC chief John Lloyd so that the government could exhibit some flexibility in the bargaining process.
Although the CPSU hailed that development as a victory for common sense, it is adamant the rest of the deals offered to APS staff still stink.
“For too long Employment Minister Eric Abetz has been trying to force workers to accept his unfair and unworkable bargaining policy. Clearly that strategy isn’t working. Minister Abetz now needs to take the next step and sit down with us and talk about how we can reach sensible agreements,” Ms Flood said.
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