By Jennifer Thompson
Department of Employment, Education and Training officers struck for 24 hours on February 1 for the necessary staff to carry out additional duties associated with the government's 1994 white paper on unemployment.
The workers, members of the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), face changes associated with the creation of a new section of DEET, Employment Assistance Australia (EAA), to provide individual case management, targeting the long-term unemployed. As well, 10% of case management will be contracted out to private employment agencies.
Work bans had been in place since December, including the collection of statistics. Responding to the proposed strike action, the federal Industrial Relation Commission (IRC) on January 31 ordered the CPSU to cease industrial action. DEET management applied to the IRC on February 3 for stand-down orders as DEET workers voted nationwide on whether to continue industrial action.
The white paper provides for an increase to 40% of case management to be carried out by private employment agencies. Case management by both EAA and private sector agencies will be reviewed by a new private body, the Employment Services Regulatory Authority.
The implications of this "outsourcing" are ominous for both the unemployed and public sector workers. The private agencies will be paid on the basis of the number of workers they shift from the list of long-term unemployed. Since the government defines this as achieved by 13 weeks of employment, private agencies' focus will be shifted from finding lasting jobs.
It will be in the interests of these agencies to place people in work, however unsuitable or short term, providing it lasts 13 weeks.
The strike follows months of negotiations over implementation of the new work practices. The union has determined that 800 additional staff are required to deal with the new workload, but the department has set its final offer at 150 additional staff plus 250 staff made available by the "streamlining" of DEET functions. The management of DEET, of which CES is a part, plans to redeploy these workers by squeezing other areas of the department.
The response amongst union members to the campaign has been patchy, depending on the level of organisation and leadership provided by branches. Canberra members held spirited pickets outside DEET offices, followed by a rally in Times Square. Members in Canberra voted by a two-thirds majority to continue industrial action at a February 3 mass meeting.
In Sydney, there was only one central picket organised and no meetings on the day of the strike. A stop-work meeting scheduled for February 3 was cancelled in anticipation of poor attendance and replaced by office meetings.
Nationwide results of voting on the motion were not available when Green Left Weekly went to press.