The Fair Work Commission (FWC) will decide the outcome of the dispute over pay and conditions between Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) staff and the federal government but the department has warned it could take up to 18 months.
The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) won its battle yesterday (Thursday) to terminate strike action at airports, cargo ports, cruise ship terminals and trigger compulsory arbitration to enable the independent umpire to step in and end the bitter, tumultuous three-year dispute with a binding decision on pay and conditions.
The two sides have 21 days to agree on as much as possible under the supervision of the FWC before the Commission’s Full Bench intervenes and gives its verdict.
But the victory may not meant that a verdict is imminent. Fairfax Media reported that Immigration Department secretary Mike Pezzullo wrote to staff and said past cases had taken between six to 18 months to decide.
Government News understands that there is also some precedent for the Commission to grant backpay to staff, an outcome that the government will not be keen to see eventuate, given how long the dispute has staggered on. Backpay is likely to begin from the date the arbitration was granted but a period any longer than that is up in the air.
The decision is a blow to the government, which had argued that workers should instead take a third vote on the enterprise bargaining agreement, despite staff rejecting it twice and there being little movement on pay or conditions. It also argued that strike action be suspended until late November and arbitration denied.
CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood said that the decision was an indictment on the Turnbull government’s bargaining policy, which she said was ‘broken.’
“For three years CPSU members have taken a strong stand against the Turnbull Government’s attack on pay and conditions and today’s decision is recognition that this dispute has gone on too long,” Ms Flood said.
“This is good news for Immigration and Border Protection staff because there is finally a light at the end of the bargaining tunnel. It is also good news for travellers who could have seen the government’s intransigence leading to more strikes and disruption in the Christmas holidays.
“The fact that union members had to take this sort of action to bring the issue to a head is a searing indictment on the failure of the Turnbull Government to deal sensibly with workers’ rights.
“We welcome the fact the Commission has determined it’s time to end this bargaining charade, at least for Immigration and Border Protection workers.”
It will be a nailbiting process as both sides keenly await the outcome.
The Union said that the Commission’s decision had to take into account the government’s position but did not have to follow their bargaining policy, which is a 6 per cent pay rise over three years with no back pay and the dilution of some work rights and conditions.
“The FWC must take into account a range of factors when deciding which terms to include in a workplace determination, including: the merits of each proposal; the interests of employees and the employer; the public interest; and the conduct of bargaining representatives,” the Union told members.
The decision could also have significant ramifications for staff in other Commonwealth departments and agencies that are still waiting for an agreement. This includes Human Services and the ATO. In all, about 100,000 workers remain without a new enterprise bargaining agreement.
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