CENTRELINK WORKERS are well placed to fight the Rudd government’s razor gang cuts to the public sector-but the union needs to organise a much more effective campaign if we are to turn staff anger into action.
Labor’s Centrelink policy is contradictory. For example, on winning government, it immediately scrapped the Liberals’ Access Card, which was hated by everyone except the wealthy. But Centrelink’s resourcing model has only led to job cuts and increased workloads for staff. In February Centrelink CEO Jeff Whalan last year told a Senate Estimates hearing that 2000 staff must go.
Queues are often out the door with many staff suffering through stress. Team leaders at one call-centre in Coffs Harbour have bullied staff into more hours and less leave. There is tension as we await Rudd’s razor gang budget.
During the last campaign, Moreland, Broadmeadows and Darebin offices in inner-city Melbourne were at the core of the unions’ rolling stoppages strategy. There is a tradition of local actions giving members confidence-for example, a speak-out was organised in front of Moreland office. At one stage, 100 Moreland call-centre staff walked off the job.
Unfortunately the rolling stoppages were easily undermined by management bringing in extra staff from other offices.
This time, the staff union (CPSU) has issued two excellent bulletins addressing the staff cuts. But we need workplace and delegates’ meetings so that bulletins become a call to action, not just good information. In Melbourne there has not been a delegates’ meeting for over a year.
There is a positive mood following the federal election result, despite Centrelink’s best efforts to prevent union organising. There is a layer of activists and delegates that can be mobilised. Labor’s abolition of public service AWAs gives the union a big opportunity to win graduates recruited on an AWA-only basis. Some have joined already even though they could not access the collective agreement.
Now we have to use this momentum to start organising a campaign against staff cuts linked to our next collective agreement. We will need larger and more effective stoppages across Centrelink to win. We have to organise across the country, making sure there are activists and delegates in every office.
By CPSU Section Councillor, Victoria