Even more disruptive strikes across key frontline areas of the Australian Public Service are firmly on the cards – and just in time for Christmas.
The Community and Public Sector Union has revealed it is moving into urgent fundraising mode to financially support members who are stood down or lose pay while taking protected industrial action.
The move to raise funds as a buffer to support CPSU members who lose pay during disputes is a strong signal that there is plenty more trouble ahead.
It’s also an unambiguous message to the Turnbull government that strong responses such as those from Border Force which sharply ratchet-up financial pressure on public servants who are contemplating or taking part in legally authorised industrial action will not go unchecked.
The union’s call for cash follows the recent move by Border Force’s management to use the upper-end of pay related sanctions to respond to partial work bans –a response has widely been interpreted as a test of resolve and staying power of CPSU members during the protracted APS-wide bargaining dispute.
While the online donation facility might be new, unions in the UK have for decades with great success used so-call ‘bucket’ appeals – where members or supporters conspicuously collect public donations in high traffic locations – to compensate for lost wages.
“The Campaign Fund announcement comes as more than 500 CPSU members in the Department of Immigration and Border Protection prepare for another round of work bans from Monday 7 December targeting cargo and freight areas including ports, air freight terminals and international mail centres,” the CPSU said in a statement to members.
“This action is expected to impact on goods entering the country including parcels, mail and cargo. When workers applied similar bans in October many were stood down by the Department without pay for up to five days.”
The ongoing industrial action by Immigration and Border Protection staff is a potent symbol for the CPSU in its long-running dispute because it counterbalances previous attempts by the Abbott government to portray public servants as lazy, change resistant bureaucrats protecting their cushy, well paid jobs.
The union’s trump card to date has been that staff at Border Force could lose as much as $8000 a year in take home pay under changes proposed in the new enterprise agreement. That position is a far cry from unions pushing for an unsustainable pay rise.
“The people who protect our borders and provide critical public services are heading into Christmas with the threat of deep cuts to their rights and conditions hanging over them, while many in Border Force still face getting thousands of dollars slashed from their take-home pay,” CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood said.
“Our Immigration and Border Force members in particular have been in a lose-lose financial situation caused by Government. They have been foregoing pay to go on strike or be stood down as they fight the Government’s continued attempts to cut the take-home pay for many by thousands of dollars a year, while all face losing rights and conditions.”
Ms Flood also accused Public Service Minister Michaelia Cash and Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd of refusing to budge on workplace conditions, saying that after returning to the bargaining table “we have confirmed that not much has changed.”
The latest pressure tactics aimed at the government follow the demotion by new Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of right-faction aligned Public Service and Employment Minister Senator Eric Abetz.
Senator Abetz’s demotion was bookended last week by more house cleaning in the form of the resignation of the head of the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet, Michael Thawley, who appears likely to be replaced by former Treasury chief Martin Parkinson.
Although the Turnbull government is highly unlikely to buckle to CPSU pressure, it is still actively seeking to reset the relations with the bureaucracy, with a re-examination of workplace productivity centred around innovation rather than labour costs expected in December.
A common theme privately raised by some senior public servants is that there are plenty of opportunities to reduce spending in non-productive areas such as duplicated or incompatible back office systems that require a small army of contractors and consultants to maintain.
A Fairfax Media analysis over the weekend claims consulting and contracting costs across 18 major federal agencies have soared by a massive $205 million to eclipse wage bill savings of just $109 million, with costs associated with replacing the Department of Human Services’ legacy core payments platform soaking-up around $100 million.
Abnormal items at Human Services aside, there are again renewed warnings over the potential to repeat the disastrous mass public sector outsourcing exercise of the 1990s that cast decades of corporate memory overboard and produced ongoing cost blowouts and declining service levels.
The Assistant National Secretary of the CPSU, Michael Tull wasted no time in pouncing on the figures as fresh evidence that reliance on the so-called ‘Coalition-of-the-Billing’ to make up for big permanent job cuts was a false economy.
“Arbitrary budget cuts force Departments to use contractors and consultants to replace workers who should not have been made redundant in the first place,” Mr Tull said.
“The Government’s growing addiction to multinational consulting firms also raises questions about how much influence big corporate interests are getting over policy development. A properly funded public sector provides impartial advice that is absolutely in the public’s interest.”
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