The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) says part-time workers and casuals, many of whom are women with children, will be the hardest hit if the latest Department of Human Services (DHS) enterprise agreement goes through.
DHS staff have until Friday 10 September to vote on the offer, which includes an annual pay rise of 1.5 per cent for the next three years. The result is likely to be declared on Saturday.
CPSU Deputy President Lisa Newman said the agreement on the table – a product of more than a year of negotiations but still unlikely to pass muster with DHS’s 34,000 staff – hit women hardest by reducing their rights to flexible working arrangements.
The union has said the latest DHS draft agreement removes the workers’ rights to work part-time until a child’s third birthday and does not require DHS to consider workers’ individual circumstances when deciding applications for part-time work, as well as removing job sharing.
“The key changes and cuts they want to make are going to make it incredibly difficult for part-time women, which is more than 30 per cent of their workforce, to have any real control over their hours. These are people that need to pick up their kids at the end of the day,” Ms Newman said.
Last week, DHS announced a proposal to remove casual loading from casual staff who work on weekends, public holidays or outside normal hours, although they will still receive overtime for these periods.
“it’s really starting to impact on their service delivery – it already has – because casuals are not given access to the kind of training and support that permanent staff are. It’s not a sustainable situation,” Ms Newman said.
“We are really concerned about seeing a class of employees that is actually just trapped in really low paid work.”
Meanwhile, the DHS has been busy liberally sprinkling exclamation marks on its posters as it spruiks its pay deal, declaring: “1.5 per cent is better than 0.00 per cent – that’s a fact! Low pay offer? It’s the best pay offer around – and that’s a fact too!”
The Department has denied that workers will lose control over their working hours and accused the CPSU of making “a number of misleading claims about the Agreement.
“The department has an established system for managing rostering and working hours – our new proposal does not change this,” the spokesperson said.
While negotiations have been torturous, the vote itself has also been dogged with problems. On Friday, the Department’s electronic voting booths had a meltdown as thousands of public servants rushed to make their feelings known about the deal.
Ms Newman said she was concerned people couldn’t get through to vote.
“We’re getting reports of people having difficulties voting on the electronic ballot system, which is really disappointing, and it’s continuing today. We’ll be writing to the department to express concern about that,” she said.
“People are really under the hammer in this department. They are super busy but they also want to vote. If they’re trying and can’t get through that’s simply not on.
“How many people have tried and failed to vote? It would be awful if this voting system turned out to be like their online systems.”
A DHS spokesperson said the Department was aware that some staff had experienced issues submitting their vote through ballot provider, Boardroom, on Monday morning but said: “we were advised by Boardroom that this issue was resolved in less than 30 minutes”.
“Staff still have plenty of time to participate. Voting is open until 7 pm AEST Thursday 10 September. Staff who are having difficulty with the online voting system can submit their vote over the telephone,” the spokesperson said.
All the signs so far are pointing to a resounding ‘no’ vote.
Asked what the union’s next move would be if that were the case, Ms Newman said negotiations would continue as soon as possible.
“We’ve been negotiating for more than a year. The problem is that government policy is pretty much unworkable and that’s got to change,” she said.
A fair agreement, said Ms Newman, would be one that did not seek to cut conditions, combined with a moderate pay increase which took into account the cost of living: “that would probably get up”.
“We did a survey of delegates and their pay expectations are incredibly realistic. The government want to make it about pay but primarily it’s about conditions.”
The battle for souls over at DHS represents just a portion of the industrial unrest stemming from the large number of enterprise agreements still not signed with a number of big government departments.
Staff at the newly-minted Department of Immigration and Border Protection will begin voting on their 1.1 per cent pay offer on September 15 while the Tax Office proposed wage deal of 1.5 per cent has been delayed.
Comment below to have your say on this story.
If you have a news story or tip-off, get in touch at email@example.com.
Sign up to the Government News newsletter