BY RAY FULCHER
Centrelink and the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) are back in negotiations over a new "development agreement" after a rejection by 72% Centrelink staff of management's attempt to get an unpopular pay and conditions agreement, which included extended opening hours and restrictions on personal leave, accepted in a non-union ballot in December.
Since the rejection of the management proposal, Centrelink workers have been waiting for Centrelink to re-commence negotiations with the CPSU.
On January 7, Centrelink CEO Sue Vardon emailed all staff stating that she and members of her executive would be conducting a national tour in January and February to get "feedback about what the real issues are". This has infuriated many workers, as evidenced by their postings on Centrelink's internal discussion e-list (CentreThink).
Many Centrelink workers are cynical about management's claim that following months of "direct feedback" via email, meetings and a dedicated website, management claims to still not know what the "real issues" are. Many postings pointed to the millions of dollars Centrelink (and the federal government) would save by continuing to delay a payrise. Some linked this fact to the proposed war against Iraq, musing that delaying government workers' pay rises was a way for the government to help fund the war.
A CPSU bulletin on January 17 announced that negotiations had recommenced on January 14 with an agreed list of "principles", including a "no industrial action" commitment so long as Centrelink continues negotiations in "good faith", reinstatement of CPSU facilities such as email and staff access to the union website, and an "acknowledgment" that Centrelink is "constrained by the relevant government policy in place at the time".
This last point represents a concession by the union to Centrelink's position that it will not back date any pay rise as it is government policy not to do so. This was a threat that management continually held over workers in an attempt to force them to accept its proposed agreement in December.
From Green Left Weekly, January 29, 2003.
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