CPSU to sack staff and set up a call centre
By Stuart Martin
CANBERRA — The national management committee of the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) has voted to restructure the administrative functions of the union, cutting staff and setting up a call centre in Sydney instead.
The call centre will handle membership services, provide advice to members, and assist members and delegates in dealing with grievances. CPSU members have been fighting against poor working conditions in call centres in Telstra and Centrelink for years.
Receptionists, membership officers and publications officers in the union's state branches will all lose their jobs. Production of all publications will be concentrated in the national office in Sydney and finances will also be centralised. Industrial organisers will be focused on a national recruitment drive.
The biggest loss for members will be the redeployment of industrial organisers from attending to industrial issues, especially grievances and giving on-the-spot assistance to members and delegates dealing with a hostile management.
It remains to be seen how successful the recruitment campaign will be. The absence of any union campaign to save information technology staff from outsourcing, the union's willingness to abandon the industry-wide award and its silence over proposals to outsource corporate services throughout the public service all indicate that the union leadership doesn't do enough for its existing members.
Shifting organisers' attention away from giving direct assistance to delegates and members and towards recruiting new members is not going to solve the problems besetting the union.
CPSU national secretary Wendy Caird and assistant national secretary Doug Lilley have sought for some time to abolish the union's state branches and increase their control over the union. The last attempt to formally abolish the state branches and to centralise finance and membership functions, in January 1999, was overruled before it even made it to the national executive.
Caird's approach since then has been to avoid an open fight and instead impose "administrative" changes, such as the "CPSU renewal" program announced in October which reduces the role of branch secretaries and expands the role of the salaried section secretaries.
None of the union's staff, members or members' elected representatives in the branches or smaller sections have been consulted about the call centre proposal.
A motion put to the national management committee which would have required such consultation was soundly defeated. ACT branch secretary Graham Rodda voted for this restriction of democracy, even though he promised in his October election campaign to consult with members on important union issues.
There are moves afoot by rank and file CPSU activists to oppose the reduction of union services and staff. The response from the CPSU members in the Department of Workplace Relations has been so violently opposed to the decree that Caird is making a special trip here on February 16 to try and quell the dissent.
Members in IP Australia (formerly the Patents Office) and ACT government have also opposed the changes, with many members threatening to resign. The ACT rank and file group Members First is circulating a leaflet and collecting members' signatures to call a general branch meeting to oppose the changes.