By Steve Rogers
CANBERRA — Quarantine and food quality issues have been cast aside in the latest round of cuts to the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service. On February 14, management released a proposed structure to staff which chopped 145 jobs: 70 positions here and 75 positions at regional offices in other capital cities.
For the Canberra office, the cuts represent about a quarter of existing positions. The purpose of the job cuts is purely financial, as the 1993 federal budget required "a reduction in expenditure".
A well-attended meeting of Public Sector Union members at AQIS on February 15 adopted a resolution pointing out that the proposed cuts represent a threat to the viability of AQIS.
AQIS is part of the Department of Primary Industry and Energy (DPIE) and provides a range of functions which prevent the introduction and spread of diseases and pests. The organisation also certifies food exported from Australia as free from disease and major pesticide contamination.
Pressure has developed on AQIS since the introduction of "user pays" for inspection services by the Hawke Labor government. This was a thinly disguised move towards privatisation of the service.
Alongside the planned staff cuts in AQIS, hundreds of jobs are also targeted in the rest of the department. Once again the purpose is cost cutting, as remaining staff are expected to carry an essentially unchanged workload.
While some positions are expected to be cut through voluntary redundancies, sackings are also expected. In DPIE the difference between these is sometimes minimal. When cuts were being carried out in DPIE's Australian Geological Survey Organisation, for example, management drew up a hit list and harassed some staff members for several months until they took a "voluntary" package.
The newly elected Public Sector Union leadership in the ACT is facing major job cuts in several government agencies, including the Department of Administrative Services, DPIE and the Australian Customs Service. Discussion is under way on the need for a broad campaign in defence of all public sector jobs.