Federal public service workplace bargaining season has kicked-off in earnest with the Community and Public Sector Union directly accusing the Abbott government of seeking to use “negotiations to make it easier to sack workers.”
The main public sector union is angry over what it claims is the use of an official position on ‘streamlining’ agreements to “remove provisions from enterprise agreements that protect employees’ rights when jobs are cut.”
Redundancy and retrenchment conditions are a visceral issue for those in the firing line of what the government has estimated will be a reduction of 16,500 jobs because of a combination of Labor’s previous efficiency dividend and cuts contained in the latest Budget.
The present round of enterprise agreement negotiations are seen an essential test of wills between the government, the public service and unions because they will act to set up how the wider public service operates over the first term of the new Coalition government.
The showdown is also being watched closely by employer groups, who are keen for wider workplace reform, as a litmus test of the government’s resolve because it will have to eat its own industrial relations cooking.
The biggest test that employers will be watching is whether ministers, their agencies and departmental heads are prepared to tough out potential industrial action that could yet flow from the negotiations.
A major issue for public servants, especially those facing the chop, is they could effectively have very little to gain from trading away existing conditions that could in turn dilute the size and terms of redundancy packages.
The CPSU claims that major agencies are already moving to try and reduce “the amount of time that workers have to find a new job before they are shown the door as well as “reducing the obligation on employers to consult staff about major job cuts.”
The union similarly claims that the government is trying to make it “harder for unions to represent employees during redundancy rounds.”
“It’s clear Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Workplace Minister Eric Abetz’s real agenda is to use bargaining to make it easier to sack public servants. Senator Abetz has his fingerprints all over this attack on workers job security,”said CPSU National Secretary Nadine flood.
Ms Flood said that “job security will be a flashpoint” in the workplace negotiations, a statement that indicates that the union is ready to dig-in for a long-term fight over conditions to preserve its core membership.
One concern known to be worrying some parts of the Coalition is whether such a hardball initial offer on pay and conditions could backfire and unwittingly increase CPSU membership and influence when the broader aim of the Abbott government is to curtail union power.
Another is whether the timing of the negotiations, especially the pushing out of bargaining time frames to their outer margins, could leave agencies with the biggest ‘public-facing’ footprint exposed.
Two of the Australian Public Service’s biggest single employers are the Australian Taxation Office and the Department of Human Services, where customer service problems light-up not only customer care switchboards but those at talkback radio stations.
Treasurer Joe Hockey has already said blamed long waits at DHS’ call centre on the need to upgrade aging technology that he indicated would cost “billions.”
How the potential for industrial action, and its cost, might sit in the mix of a major technology refresh is something the government is now likely trying to calculate in terms of risk as negotiations endure.
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