The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) has launched a wave of half-day stoppages, and other industrial action, in support of its campaign against the Tony Abbott government's attacks on wages, rights and working conditions.
"This is the largest industrial action taken by Commonwealth public servants in a generation," Nadine Flood, national secretary of the CPSU, told a mass meeting of about 500 workers in the Sydney Masonic Centre on June 18.
Strikes and meetings took place in many centres across NSW, the Northern Territory and Western Australia, with more set for the following week in Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania.
Delays and disruptions occurred at many Centrelink and Medicare offices on June 18, and Customs Services at international airports had to be substantially reorganised.
Flood told the Sydney meeting: "The Abbott government has slashed 17,300 public sector jobs since taking office and now it's going after the conditions, rights and take-home wages of Australians who work in the public sector.
"Under the government's unfair and unworkable bargaining plan, customs officers are potentially losing up to $8000 a year from their take-home pay, while part-timers and casuals in Centrelink and Medicare would get less money for doing the same work.
"For more than a year the government refused to sit down with us to try and sort this mess out. Public sector workers feel that they have been left with no choice but to take this action to show the Abbott government that its unfair bargaining policy must be scrapped.
"Today is just the beginning of the strike action we are taking to encourage the Abbott government to sit down with us and negotiate a fair agreement that protects the rights and conditions of public sector workers.
"We are currently facing an unprecedented attack on the public sector by this government. This is essentially public sector bargaining as ideological warfare.
"We are always willing to talk. But if the government refuses to discuss our claims, we will have further significant industrial action.
"We have already made some gains from previous action in May, including on superannuation. Your action has made a difference.
"About 12,500 people have joined the CPSU since the campaign started and 95% of members have voted in favor of industrial action.
"Agency agreements, which have been put to staff by management in some sectors have been overwhelmingly rejected.
"We are also taking this campaign out to the community. In July, we will be distributing 2.5 million leaflets explaining our case to customers," Flood said.
ACTU president Ged Kearney also addressed the meeting, declaring, "The whole union movement supports you. Your fight is our fight."
A five-point resolution under the heading, "Safeguard jobs, pay, rights," was put to the meeting and carried unanimously.
It read in part: "We commit to support further strategic industrial action until we receive fair and reasonable outcomes from negotiations; and, take our campaign into our communities to ensure the Australian community is aware of the government's attacks on its own workforce."