Members of the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) covering more than half the public service are planning a series of half-day strikes to attend mass meetings around the country between June 18 and 26. The industrial action is to protect their rights, conditions and pay from federal government attacks.
The agencies taking strike action are: Human Services; Australian Tax Office (ATO); Veterans Affairs; Defence; Agriculture; Employment; the Australian Institute of Criminology; Geoscience Australia; CSIRO; Environment; Bureau of Meteorology (BOM); National Library of Australia; the Australian Bureau of Statistics; Education; and Immigration/Customs.
The industrial action follows a series of one-hour stopwork meetings last month in 17 agencies to protest the “bargaining framework” advice given to government departments by industrial relations minister Eric Abetz. This advice limits pay offers to under 1% with the loss of a large range of conditions leaving only the bare minimum of legislated conditions.
On May 12 Greg Miller, CPSU ATO section president moved a national motion to 500 striking ATO members, rejecting cuts to pay, conditions, representation rights, and announced "public sector-wide stoppages in the lead up to the first anniversary of our agreements on 1 July".
The motion also foreshadowed a publicity campaign about government cuts to services and to workers' rights, and rejection of management-proposed agreements that cut rights, conditions and pay.
The motion passed, as did an ACTU motion from its secretary Dave Oliver, calling on the government to defend and extend workers' rights with secure jobs, universal healthcare, quality education, public services owned and benefiting everyone, a secure retirement with decent pensions and superannuation, and "a fair go for all: everyone supported and everyone contributing their fair share of tax".
The ATO action was the first stopwork in an escalating campaign. By June 1, 86 agencies had issued their Notice of Employee Representation Rights to their employees, kicking off bargaining. Twenty-nine agencies tabled pay offers along the lines of the federal government’s “bargaining framework”, which were overwhelmingly rejected.
The attacks on pay and conditions come on top of the Abbott government cutting 17,300 federal public service jobs since September 2013, raising workloads and stress. The recent federal budget announced further cuts of 1082 jobs in the BOM and Defence, as well as "contestability" reviews of agency functions across the federal public service, to determine which can be privatised or made more “efficient”.
Each stopwork meeting has voted to continue industrial action with longer stoppages in June, in the lead-up to the anniversary of CPSU industrial agreements expiring on June 30. Half-day stoppages will be held in the last half of June in agencies that have voted for “protected bargaining action”, with mass meetings organised in 19 cities and regional centres. The union has not conducted such comprehensive industrial action for at least twenty years.
[Paul Oboohov is a member of the CPSU and the Socialist Alliance.]