Industrial action winning gains in public service

Industrial action in the federal public service has already forced concessions, as endless negotiations, which have rolled on in slow motion, continue. Early this year, the government backed away from removing the 15.4 per cent superannuation guarantee. Then they agreed to change the basis for calculating productivity improvements required to get pay rises.

No wonder more than 16 agencies are now in the process of taking action. The vast bulk of Australia’s 160,000 public servants remain opposed to the government’s attacks and EBA policy. Most, particularly the large agencies, held one hour and four hour stoppages in June and July with well-attended mass meetings.

It is more than a year since most agreements expired and the government is saving its Budget partly through the wage freeze – members have not had a wage rise for about two years.

Happening more quickly have been 11,000 job cuts in the last 18 months, combined with a recruitment freeze and structural changes, like the merger of Customs and Immigration (forming the “Australian Border Force”) with attempts to reduce conditions.

As CPSU national secretary, Nadine Flood put it: “We’ve just seen Immigration and Border Force take strike action twice in a week, and hundreds of Centrelink and Medicare offices virtually seize up through strike action.”

The new Border Force was disrupted on its first day, 1 July, by effective industrial action causing senior managers to be flown in to assist at Sydney Airport and in Adelaide.

As a direct result there has been a “temporary” reprieve for staff who would have lost around $8000 in annual allowances due to the merger. Instead, the allowance issue will be negotiated during bargaining.

About 69 per cent of staff in the Attorney General’s Department recently voted NO to a deal which included a pay offer of 1.5 per cent per year, a real pay cut, offset by significant cuts to conditions.

The Minister for Employment, Eric Abetz, is attempting to undermine the union’s resolve in a handful of smaller agencies.

About nine small agencies have accepted deals, like the Communications Department (391 staff) and the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (100 employees), Treasury and the Australian Public Service Commission.

The Prime Minister’s department has thrown another $8 million in pay rises on to the table in a second attempt to reach a wages deal.

Most staff continue to hold out for a better agreement because they learnt from experience last time that if they hold out, the government may agree to better terms. With 110 agreements still unresolved, only three of the large agencies have faced a draft agreement vote, and they all delivered large “No” votes.

The union’s strategy is to use industrial disruption to force the government’s hand, and if necessary change the government at the next federal election.

APS workers would wield serious political and social power if they take united industrial action –a strike across all departments, even for a day, could send a crippling message to the government.

Meanwhile action is developing and membership has grown. By increasing momentum, we have a chance to smash government policy before any election, which is necessary, as we can’t rely on the ALP to treat us any better. Members have already waited long enough. Now is the time to use united strike action to step up the pressure, before any more agencies are picked off.

By CPSU delegates, Melbourne

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