Certified agreement in Health and Family Services

March 11, 1998

By Phil Shannon

Voting on a certified agreement in the Commonwealth Department of Health and Family Services (HFS) finished during the last week in February. The agreement, which will determine the wages and conditions of HFS staff for the next 18 months, was accepted by a vote of 1449 to 1370 (51.1% to 48.5%).

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) had campaigned against the agreement on the grounds that it would cut allowances and overtime pay, introduce a divisive and cumbersome "performance pay" system, pressure workers into working longer hours, and remove award conditions and rights.

HFS management, which for months maintained that it would not proceed to certification of the agreement without a mandate of at least 60-80% of staff, announced with indecent haste that it will now seek certification in the Industrial Relations Commission.

The CPSU is considering whether to oppose certification on the basis of voting irregularities, the "no disadvantage" clause in the Workplace Relations Act and management's threat to delay a wage rise should the staff vote no.

The CPSU has demonstrated that half the HFS staff dislike the agreement and have a deep distrust of management. It has ensured a role and voice for the union in the department that management cannot ignore.

Staff on the verge of retirement and hundreds of temporary staff were eligible to vote, with the vast majority probably voting yes to receive an increased superannuation pay-out or a once-off, back-dated windfall pay cheque.

Management's rush to certify shows their priorities are to screw more work out of its staff for less pay and to deliver on the government's ideological drive for "micro-economic reform" in the public service.

They may have narrowly won a battle but the war is far from over.

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