Campaign against Centrelink agreement gathers pace

Issue 

By Jim McIlroy

BRISBANE — A number of Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) delegates and section councillors around the country have launched a campaign to reject the proposed 1999-2002 Centrelink agency agreement 1999-2002, which is being put to a vote of union members on May 3-5, and all staff on May 7.

Negotiations were finalised between the union leadership and management on April 22. There is widespread opposition to the agreement among CPSU's rank and file.

An open letter to Centrelink CPSU members opposing the agreement is being circulated and has been endorsed by a growing list of section councillors and union delegates.

The statement lists six reasons why the agreement should be rejected: "1. This agreement will enable Centrelink to continue shedding jobs", as it provides no retreat from the program of cutting 5000 jobs, announced by management last November;

"2. Annual increments will be replaced by performance based pay." Centrelink's proposed new classification system will mean that annual increments are replaced by management assessment of an employee's "shared behaviours" and progress against a set of work objectives. This is a mechanism to divide the work force, creating different classes of staff doing essentially the same work;

"3. This agreement will displace (and ultimately destroy) the APS [Australian Public Service] award", and make it significantly harder to mount an APS-wide industrial campaign in support of the rights of all APS employees;

"4. Call Centre staff will be forced to accept 'blind monitoring'." This is a crunch issue for call centre workers, as a union survey showed that nearly 90% of members oppose "unannounced listening" to phone calls as a means of quality control;

"5. This agreement is discriminatory to call centre members." Centrelink's proposals not only enforce different criteria for pay progression on call centre staff than other employees, they also maintain other forms of discrimination, such as 10 hours' "learning and development time per four weeks", compared to 12 hours for other staff;

6. Centrelink's pay offer of 9% over three years is only half that demanded in the CPSU's original log of claims, and is not supplemented by government funding. It is funded by the 5000 job losses and depends on further productivity increases, many of which are outside of the control of Centrelink staff.

"Vote No to the Centrelink Agreement and support a CPSU campaign to defend jobs and conditions", the open letter concludes.

The mounting anger against this agreement has been most strongly expressed in the call centres. A straw poll of CPSU members at a meeting at the Brisbane Call Centre on April 21 condemned the agreement by 70 to one. Other workplaces have also strongly opposed the draft, or expressed severe misgivings about sections of it.

"Now is the time to take a firm stand against the cutbacks, job losses and reductions in rights and conditions imposed by this agreement", Brisbane Call Centre delegate Nick Everett told Green Left Weekly. "Despite ultimatums from Centrelink management and union leaders' warnings that this is 'the best we can get', CPSU members can still vote down this agreement and force Centrelink and the government to back off.

"A strong no vote will be a severe setback to management and the Howard government. The union will have to consider a renewed campaign, including industrial action, to defend our jobs and conditions", Everett said.