The Department of Human Services has hit back hard against the Community and Public Sector Union’s bid to seek clearance for a strike ballot of its members at the 30,000 strong welfare agency, directly accusing the union of dishonesty and deliberate fearmongering.
The war of words between government-backed senior management at the welfare juggernaut and the CPSU hit fever pitch on Thursday evening, following reports that annual welfare of $180 billion in welfare payments to the general community could be disrupted because of looming industrial action.
While the CPSU has not so far suggested welfare payments might be disrupted as part of its industrial campaign, but the reports were enough to send DHS’ management into overdrive to counter the idea that pensions and unemployment benefits could stop flowing.
“Claims that health and welfare payments will be disrupted by industrial action are incorrect and reckless,” said DHS General Manager Hank Jongen.
“I want to reassure the community that the department will remain open for business, and that it has robust processes in place to ensure the delivery of health and welfare payments in the event of industrial action by union members.”
Potential for radio shock jock eruptions deflated, Mr Jongen turned his sights onto the CPSU and said the Department was “extremely disappointed” that the union had chosen to pursue industrial action.
The rapidly escalating industrial row has also triggered a predictable round of blame shifting over a breakdown in negotiations that was widely anticipated after the Abbott government’s offer of a below inflation or “peppercorn” pay increase offer for DHS staff contingent on a substantial rollback of conditions and a small incremental increase hours.
“It is outrageous to suggest that the department has walked away from bargaining. As the CPSU is well aware, we are in the process of reviewing all the feedback we’ve received from our staff and bargaining representatives, including the CPSU, on our working draft agreement. This is consistent with our obligations under the Fair Work Act 2009,” Mr Jongen said.
“It is the CPSU that has effectively walked away from the bargaining process by initiating this action, and we will be exploring our options in this regard.”
One of those options is likely to be a sustained series of legal attempts to block union industrial activities deemed disruptive to the flow of money to welfare recipients, or the assessment of applications needed to obtain benefits.
One advantage the government holds in bringing DHS to the industrial negotiating table as the first agency to negotiate a new agreement is that traditional disruptive tactics could potentially hit vulnerable sections of society, triggering a public backlash.
Labor sources said last night they expected further ‘provocations’ from the government and subsequently DHS management.
Meanwhile, tactical accusations of who’s stalling who continue in earnest.
“The CPSU is seeking to frighten the community with this course of action and their dishonest claims,” Mr Jongen said.
“We still hope to have a draft agreement for our staff to consider as soon as possible.”
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