"We are in the fight of our lives," Nadine Flood, national secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), told a central meeting of workplace delegates in Sydney on May 1. "The [federal] government has launched the deepest public service cuts in a generation, cutting 11,000 jobs in one year.
"They have gutted the CSIRO, with 21% of the workforce gone — they have given up researching Alzheimer’s. They have gutted the Tax Office, with 4000 jobs gone, and that means that wealthy people and big business will pay even less tax.
"We will see more cuts to Medicare, more cuts to health and education, and more cuts to the services that Australians rely upon.
"But that's not enough for this government. They want to outsource and privatise government services, from Medicare payments to more across the board.
"Now they are attacking the rights, conditions and real wages of 160,000 public sector workers. They have taken a position so draconian no major private sector employer in Australia is offering worse than this government.
"And that is why we are fighting back, launching the biggest round of industrial action that Commonwealth government has seen in 30 years.
"Our members will take strike action, they will take stoppages, but they will also reach out to the Australian community and tell them what this government is doing to their workers' rights," Flood said.
The stepped-up CPSU campaign will include increased stoppages, work bans, and the distribution of millions of leaflets explaining the government's attack on public services and employees' rights and entitlements.
CPSU members are acting against government demands for cuts to rights and conditions, in return for real wage cuts — including agency offers of pay rises between 0.1% and 1% a year, well below inflation.
Industrial action is currently under way, or planned, in 14 Commonwealth agencies, covering more than half of the federal public sector workforce.
These include the departments of Agriculture, Tax, Human Services, Defence, Veterans' Affairs, Environment, Employment, Geoscience Australia, CSIRO, the Australian Institute of Criminology, Bureau of Meteorology, and the soon-to-be-merged Departments of Immigration and Customs.
So far, no agreement has been reached in any of the 117 federal government agencies, despite bargaining on pay and conditions being under way for more than a year.