The Department of Human Services has confirmed it will slap unionised staff participating in protected industrial action with pay deductions of up to four per cent per day if they read out messages to customers calling into welfare agencies.
The move comes as around 15,000 Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) members on Thursday staged a series of legally authorised low-impact protests in the workplace which included refusing to wear corporate uniforms to work and telling Human Services customers that staff were in dispute with their employer.
The union-instigated messages to welfare clients is by far the biggest irritant for Human Services management and the government because it causes negligible disruption to customers but has the potential to swing public opinion towards supporting the union’s case against a below inflation wages deal and the stripping out of conditions.
“The pay deductions primarily apply to Smart Centre staff who take inbound calls,” a Human Services spokesperson said.
“These staff have been advised their pay will be reduced according to the estimated usual time spent a day on performing work that is the subject of the partial work ban. This ranges from two per cent to four per cent of their pay for the day.”
However the pay docking is unlikely to have any material effect on the CPSU’s campaign.
For a Human Services worker on $70,000 a year – a purely theoretical figure – a four per cent loss of income would equate to just over $7 – or about two cups of takeaway coffee.
Just how who gets docked how much pay is far less clear.
Government News asked Human Services how the amount of time was calculated, what increments were used and how industrial activity was monitored to no avail.
Another unanswered question is what the cost of applying staff monitoring and the subsequent pay docking would be.
Because of the sheer size of Human Services, the application of activity monitoring – especially by managers is likely to outweigh any clawback of costs the punitive measures are meant to achieve.
However the dispute now looks likely to endure for months into the future. It is believed that bargaining will now not resume until well into January after initial negotiations quickly hit an impasse.
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