Another wave of industrial action is on the horizon as Canberra-based staff from departments and agencies including Human Services, the Australian Tax Office (ATO), Immigration and Border Protection and Employment begin with a half-day strike and lunch-time rally on Tuesday September 15.
The the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) said the rally would be followed by more strikes and industrial action across the country in response to what it called the government’s “continuing attack on their [public servants’] rights, conditions and take-home pay”.
The union has said thee strikes will affect service centres, call-centres, international airports, ports and a range of other public service workplaces although it is difficult to predict the extent or seriousness of the disruption.
CPSU National President Nadine Flood said thousands of public servants were expected to go out on strike, including staff from the Department of Human Services, Agriculture, Immigration, the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the Australian Tax Office and a range of others.
“The target of action is the government, not the community, but we are expecting there will be an impact on services,” Ms Flood said.
“As with previous rounds of action there will be processes in place to ensure life critical and emergency services and national security are not impacted.”
She said there would potentially be disruptions to air travel during the strikes.
Asked if it was possible that the general public could lose sympathy for striking staff if the industrial action interfered with their lives Ms Flood said: “We have actually seen a lot of support from the public in areas like Centrelink or Medicare and Border Force as workers explain that the government is asking to cut rights like working family’s protection and cut take home pay.
“We’ve got working mums concerned about the possibility of being directed to work full-time when they’re a part-time earner that has to pick the children up from school or childcare.”
The significant bout of industrial action is a barometer of the mounting frustration on both sides as Federal Employment Minister Eric Abetz and the CPSU negotiate a raft of enterprise agreements for a range of large government departments, including Human Services, ATO and Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP).
DIBP staff will vote on their pay offer of 1.1 per cent a year next Tuesday and Human Services staff have until this Friday to vote on their pay offer of 1.5 per cent per year over three years, which also includes changes to part-time working and removing penalty rates from casual workers.
A spokesman for Mr Abetz said the CPSU’s 12.5 per cent wage claim was totally irresponsible and would cost 10,000 jobs. Government News understands this was an initial wage bid for 4 per cent for three years with the expectation it would be negotiated down.
“The CPSU should stop standing between public servants and the responsible and affordable pay rises on offer in the current low inflation environment,” the spokesperson said.
“The government has already been flexible. The CPSU has shown total inflexibility on their irresponsible 12.5 per cent wage claim which will cost 10,000 jobs.”
Asked what measures Mr Abetz would put in place to enable services to continue despite the strike, the spokesman said: “agencies affected by industrial action will implement contingency planning”.
CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood said the union wanted to achieve a resolution and would continue to bargain on behalf of members.
“We are happy to meet with Senator Abetz – anytime, anywhere – but the Government seems more interested in grand-standing than finding sensible solutions,” Ms Flood said.
“These workers are facing nasty, low-ball agreements that strip important workplace rights and conditions from enterprise agreements. Under this policy, Border Protection workers stand to lose up to $8,000 in stripped allowances, while working parents in Centrelink and Medicare are being pushed to give up essential work and family protections and other rights.”
Ms Flood said that only a fraction of enterprise agreements covering 2 per cent of public sector workers had been agreed so far, despite more than a year of fitful bargaining.
“Over recent months we’ve seen unprecedented levels of industrial thousands by public sector workers. This will continue unless the Abbott government drops its attacks and sits down with the CPSU to try and find a common sense settlement.
“We’re looking for a sensible approach from the government to resolving a bargaining round that has been dragging on for 18 months. We’re seeking to maintain rights and conditions and maintain real wages.”
Ms Flood said there had been “some movement” from the government with some cuts to conditions being changed, pay increases frontloaded or productivity demands dropped but most government agencies and departments approached the negotiations empty-handed.
Widespread national strikes also occurred in June when CPSU members from a number of departments went out on strike including, Defence, Employment, Education, CSIRO and Human Services.
The CPSU has been gathering feedback from more than 1,000 union delegates asking for their views on what would be an acceptable bargaining outcome.
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