Border Force staff, who imposed work bans in support of their campaign for a new enterprise bargaining agreement on November 4, were stood down without pay by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP), despite the industrial action being authorised by the Fair Work Commission.
The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) condemned the department's action as a heavy-handed escalation of the long-running dispute.
More than 500 workers in freight areas, covering cargo, mail and goods were stood down and docked all pay for applying limited work bans. This latest management attack came ahead of a wider 24-hour strike that will also cover airports and all other sites across the department on November 9.
The CPSU had notified the DIBP that the November 4 industrial action would be restricted to limited work bans, with staff planning to continue carrying out the vast majority of their duties at ports, air freight terminals and mail centres.
But the department advised staff that any member who chose to participate in a work ban would lose their full pay for that day, regardless of how long workers took the action or how many of their regular duties they continued to perform.
CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood said on November 4: "The strong view of Border Force staff is that they will absolutely not be intimidated and will proceed with industrial action. All the department has achieved is to force these workers to escalate their work bans into what amounts to a management-initiated strike.
"Members were already outraged that the government's bargaining policy was putting many of their conditions and rights at risk, with many staff facing cuts to their take-home pay of $8000 a year or more.
"We are asking government to genuinely consider our proposals for fair and realistic outcomes, maintaining the rights and conditions workers are so worried about losing, with a pay offer of 2.5% to 3%.
“Instead, the government's policy has locked this department and every other agency into offering wholesale stripping of rights, despite over 90% of Immigration and Border Protection staff already voting to reject those cuts," Flood said.
Border Force workers were so angered by the department's action, they proceeded with industrial action for a second and third day.
Flood commented on November 5: "This ill-conceived action by Immigration and Border Force management to try to intimidate workers has backfired spectacularly, adding to the anger of our members and exacerbating the impact for business and the public.
"Workers have to be pretty angry to give up on a full day's pay, let alone more. In this case, we've got members who are prepared to be stood down yesterday, today, and tomorrow and then walk out during Monday [November 9]'s department-wide strike that will also hit airports," Flood said.