By Nick Everett
On April 27, the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) Centrelink section council voted to recommend Centrelink's proposals for a new industrial agreement to union members.
The vigorous debate that preceded the vote, and the 10 votes (out of 29) against Centrelink's proposals, reflect a growing sentiment among rank and file union members in favour of a campaign to defend jobs and conditions. The proposals will be put to workplace meetings of all CPSU members in Centrelink on May 3-5.
Following Centrelink's announcement last November of 5000 job losses, CPSU members have, from the outset of negotiations on a new agreement, known that a wide range of employment conditions would be under threat. Since negotiations were finalised on April 22, a growing number of union delegates and section councillors have been distributing an open letter to CPSU members calling for the proposed agreement to be rejected.
The statement asks union members to "vote no to the Centrelink agreement and support a CPSU campaign to defend jobs and conditions". The reasons for rejecting the agreement include: its failure to protect against further job losses, the introduction of performance-based pay (replacing annual increments), the displacement of the award for Centrelink employees and conditions that discriminate against call centre staff.
Under the proposals, call centre staff would be required to endure "blind monitoring" in one week out of every four as a method of quality control. Staff would be unaware of when their calls are being listened to.
This proposal, and the use of different criteria for pay progression than are used for all other Centrelink staff, have made unionists in call centres angry with the CPSU leaders' support for the proposals. Call centre members strongly rejected the proposed new classification structure, which incorporates performance-based pay, at union meetings on April 15.
During debate in the section council meeting, section secretary Mark Gepp declared that the proposals provided the basis for a good agreement, which section councillors should be prepared to go out and campaign for amongst the members. He claimed, incorrectly, that the issue of blind monitoring was now acceptable to call centre members because "safeguards" (which he called "a wall of protection") had been incorporated into the agreement.