THE NEW federal Department of Community Services (DHS) is moving to ballot workers on a new agreement based on the 3 per cent pay cap being imposed across the federal public sector. This comes after workers have voted down new agreements in the ATO, Defence, Customs, Immigration and the Bureau of Meteorology. Hundreds of quarantine workers took strike action in late August after rejecting their agreement.
The stakes are even higher at the DHS, as the merger which created the department means six previously separate agreements are being rolled into one. The new department employs 45,000 staff, about 25 per cent of the federal public service—encompassing Centrelink, Medicare, the Rehabilitation Service and the Child Support Agency.
DHS management are desparate for their offer to be voted up. Some managers have even threatened staff with job losses if there is a “no” vote. They have argued that there is no money for pay rises, even putting out material claiming productivity savings “cannot be used to fund a pay rise”.
This is especially galling as senior management are not cutting their own recreation or personal leave. Management are keeping the good conditions for themselves, while overworked staff must struggle on.
Australian Salaried Medical Officers successfully argued at Fair Work Australia that they must be covered by their own Agreement—showing that doctors want out of this horrible offer. This will delay management putting their offer to a vote and the CPSU is asking that they take this opportunity to re-open the negotiations.
Management will not move witout industrial action. Members and delegates are angry at the inadequate offer. But the law that created the new merged super-department means no one can take industrial action until the last of the old agreements expires in December. Even so the union’s efforts to boost its membership and make its presence felt are having an impact.
A day of action where union members showed their opposition to management’s offer by “wearing red” in July was strongly supported and caused management to shift. Their new offer backtracked on an effort to cut recreational leave by 1.5 days a year.
Concurrent negotiations on new agreements across multiple public sector departments are a product of the CPSU’s efforts to line up expiry dates in order to push for a service-wide agreement. The Labor government has refused to agree to this.
But with so many agreements now up for negotiation, the union has the chance to organise united industrial action across the public sector.