Immigration and Border Protection staff vote 91% against pay offer

Sydney Airport
On a wing and a prayer … Immigration and Border Protection staff reject the government’s offer. Photo: Simon Clancy

As airport strikes hit day two of ten days of stoppages, staff from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP), including the new Border Force, have voted decisively against the government’s pay offer of 3.4 per cent over three years.

There was a record turnout at the ballot with almost 82 per cent of the department’s staff casting their vote. The result was an emphatic ‘no’, with more than 91 per cent of unionised staff – more than 10,000 workers – voting to reject the agreement, which the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) said represented cuts to multiple allowances, leave and rights to arrangements such as flexible hours and part-time working.

The union warned last week that strikes by DIBP and Agriculture staff would affect international airports, cruise ships, freight, parcel and mail delivery centres around the country. Union staff are staging two-hour stoppages in the morning and evening at eight airports: Adelaide, Brisbane, Cairns, Coolangatta, Darwin, Melbourne Tullamarine, Perth and Sydney.

Queues and delays were reported at Sydney, Perth and Cairns Airports but travellers at Melbourne Tullamarine appeared unscathed by the industrial action so far. Sydney Airport has warned international travellers to arrive early and allow extra time to get through customs during the strike.

The CPSU said staff reported up to 500 people waiting in Sydney Airport’s departure hall with reported delays of up to 90 minutes.

DIBP staff staged strikes earlier this year in July, coinciding with the merger of the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS) and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the creation of the Australian Border Force on July 1.

Workers in other departments, including Human Services, the Tax Office, Defence, Veteran Affairs, Environment, Employment and the Australian Bureau of Statistics will strike from Thursday this week as the public sector enterprise bargaining process grinds on and into its eighteenth month.

CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood appealed to the new Minister for Public Services Michaelia Cash, who took over from Eric Abetz on Monday, to heed the message workers were sending to the government.

“Minister Cash has inherited a mess across Commonwealth Government agencies, with workers rejecting this draconian bargaining policy,” Ms Flood said. “More than 10,000 Border Protection workers have said ‘no’ to an unfair agreement that cut the take-home pay of many staff by $8000 a year or more.

“The creation of Border Force through this merger of Customs and Immigration has been difficult and divisive. What we’ve seen today is this workforce coming together to reject a fundamentally flawed agreement.”

Ms Flood said the numbers indicated that even middle managers who were being flown in to cover strike action must have voted strongly to reject the draft agreement.

Last night, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said on ABC’s 7.30 program that his aim was to avoid conflict with unions.

“The industrial relations reform, which is – labour market reform, has been a very vexed one. It’s obviously been a pitched battle in some respects between the Government and the unions and business and the unions,” Mr Turnbull told the program.

“I think the important thing is to seek to explore ways in which we can achieve more flexibility, higher levels of employment, higher levels of business activity and do so in a way that reassures Australians, Australian workers in particular, that this is not threatening their conditions.

“The challenge for us is not to wage war with unions or the workers that they seek to represent, but really to explain what the challenges are and then lay out some reform options.”

Ms Flood challenged Mr Turnbull to return to the negotiating table and give some ground.

“Right now there is a massive group of working mums and dads, your own employees, who are worried and angry about cuts to their rights and conditions,” she said.

“I have asked Minister Cash to meet and discuss a sensible resolution to this 18-month impasse.”

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