Tens of thousands of public sector workers, including those from Medicare, Centrelink and Child Support, are preparing to go on strike for 24 hours on September 9, as the three-year APS bargaining fiasco drags on.
Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) members from agencies, including Human Services; the Tax Office; Defence; Agriculture and Water Resources, the Bureau of Meteorology, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet will go on strike from midnight on Thursday September 8 until midnight on Friday September 9, in an attempt to break the deadlock in negotiations with the government over pay and working rights and conditions.
It has been three years since about 100,000 APS workers received a pay rise. While around 50,000 workers have signed up from about 54 agencies there are still some major departments and agencies that are holding out, for example Human Services and the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. Their workers have repeatedly voted down agreements, saying that they attack conditions such as flexible working arrangements and guarantee no back pay as compensation for the pay freeze.
The public sector enterprise bargaining agreement process began in 2013 under former Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his strident Employment Minister Eric Abetz but if public servants thought Malcolm Turnbull and his strident Employment Minister Michaelia Cash would usher in a new era of velvet glove diplomacy they were mistaken.
Despite the pay offer on the table creeping up to 2 per cent per year over three years and a few concessions made on keeping clauses within agreements, rather than shifting them into policy (where they could be changed), the government has kept a tight rein on what agencies can offer their employees.
Cash has instructed agencies that no compromises are to be made, strikes or no strikes.
“The 2015 Workplace Bargaining Policy remains unchanged,” the Minister recently said.
“Agencies will continue to be able to offer wage increases averaging up to 2 per cent per annum, with costs to be met within existing budgets.”
CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood said: “The Turnbull Government’s mean-spirited and unfair treatment of public sector workers has now stretched for 1,000 days. It’s part of a broader agenda to undermine and run down the public services that Australians know, trust and rely on. The repercussions are becoming increasingly clear, with the Census debacle just the latest example of what happens when public institutions and the people who work in them are run down.”
She acknowledged that the strike would bring “temporary disruption” but appealed to the general public for their support.
“Around 100,000 workers still remain without new agreements. The only way for this protracted dispute to end is for the Turnbull Government to realise that its attempts to force workers to give up family friendly rights and other conditions have failed, and instead engage with us on a sensible alternative.
“These workers are prepared to compromise but they’re absolutely determined to get a decent outcome. That’s why we’re taking a multi-pronged approach to settle this unfair and protracted dispute by getting the Turnbull Government to fix its public sector bargaining mess.”
Minister Cash said the affected agencies would implement contingency plans to minimise the disruption of the delivery of their services during the strike, “It is unfortunate that the CPSU resorts yet again to strike action. This will cause harm to the public and involve a needless loss of pay for employees.”
Union members from DIBP went on strike at airports and ports last week, action that will not be repeated during this round of strikes.
The Union is taking Cash to the Fair Work Commission, accusing her of not bargaining in good faith. Cash has in turn accused the union of standing between its workers and a pay rise.
Flood said: “Rather than engage constructively with us, Minister Cash has refused to meet and instead misrepresented the CPSU’s position and the facts more broadly as cover for dudding these workers.”
“There’s a bitter irony that we’ve had to take Minister Cash to the Fair Work Commission to get her to fulfil even her most basic obligations. This is the person who as Employment Minister is responsible for the Fair Work Act she’s flouting by actively undermining bargaining, and her telling response was to again misrepresent the facts.”
The all-day strike is being announced as officers in the Australian Border Force’s Marine Unit commence rolling stoppages, building on the pressure applied in early August by strikes at international airports and elsewhere across the Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
The September 9 strike will not impact on airports.
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