Airports and docks across Australia face major disruption over the Easter holidays after the powerful Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) revealed fresh plans for sweeping strike action amid a bitter and protracted industrial bargaining dispute between public servants and the government that has been running for two years.
The main public sector union is appealing directly to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to immediately come to the table and discuss how to end the gridlock on pay and conditions in the public sector bargaining process or face industrial action.
The CPSU has threatened that Border Force officers and other Department of Immigration and Border Protection staff will walk off the job at international airports, freight terminals and other sites on Easter Thursday, March 24, unless Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull makes a concerted effort to end the torturous stalemate and relax proposed cuts to workers’ terms and conditions.
The strikes could drag on for as long as three weeks. The long-running dispute has already sparked industrial action around the country, including at eight international airports in September.
It won’t just be airports included in the go-slow. Thousands of CPSU members are getting ready to strike for 24 hours on Monday, March 21 across agencies including Medicare, Centrelink, Child Support, the Tax Office, the Bureau of Meteorology, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Bureau of Statistics.
According to the CPSU, almost 85 per cent of Commonwealth public servants – or 130,000 people – are yet to sign new enterprise agreements. They have been in limbo for around 18 months to two years and they have minimal chance of getting back pay for their troubles.
Although a handful of smaller agencies have signed off on new Enterprise Agreements have signed new agreements, the main bulk have not despite Public Sector Minister Michaelia Cash upping the government’s pay offer to six per cent over three years in December last year.
Most of the larger departments, such as Human Services, the Australian Taxation Office and Immigration and Border Protection are holding out for a better offer.
CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood said the two-year anniversary of the dispute was coming up and workers were frustrated with waiting.
“There isn’t a major private sector employer in the country who has had a two-year stoush with their own workforce trying to make workers give up a raft of their existing rights, including family friendly conditions, in return for a two-year wage freeze and 2 per cent a year after that,” Ms Flood said.
“This is an Eric Abetz policy special which Minister Michaelia Cash has tinkered with, but not actually addressed workers’ genuine concerns at giving up their rights.
“Most of our members haven’t had a pay rise since 2013 and they want this mess to be resolved, but not if it means they can’t pick their son or daughter up from childcare or even know which office they’ll be working in from month to month.
“Many of these people were optimistic they’d finally be treated fairly and sensibly when Mr Turnbull toppled Tony Abbott nearly six months ago, but time is running out for the Prime Minister to prove that anything has changed under his leadership at all.”
She said the union had given Mr Turnbull almost three weeks to avert industrial action but he had not done so.
“We reckon it could be resolved in three days if they’re willing to talk genuinely with us about fixing this mess,” Ms Flood said.
“Minister Michaelia Cash and other Government representatives have been dishonestly saying they’re not talking to the union because agency heads are the negotiators, except agency heads have repeatedly told us they can’t offer anything reasonable because they’re bound by the Government’s bargaining policy.
“This policy prevents agencies from meaningfully negotiating on the issues workers care most deeply about.”
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