By Joe Casella
SYDNEY — The national secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union, Wendy Caird, accompanied by the president of the ACTU, Jennie George, met Department of Defence delegates on May 6 at the Defence Plaza here.
Union members are concerned when the recommendations made under the Defence Efficiency Review (DER, now renamed Defence Reform Program) go ahead, up to 3100 civilians jobs (15%) and some 2000 service positions will vanish over three to four years — the biggest job-slashing exercise ever in the Department of Defence.
There will also be the selling of Defence assets and testing of another 12,900 positions (both civilian and service) to determine whether their activities can be undertaken by the private sector.
In 1991 the federal Labor government introduced the Force Structure Review and a recruitment freeze. Other reviews led to cuts and redundancy packages, resulting in the destruction of 4000 civilian jobs to date.
A new structure is expected to be put into place by July 1, amalgamating logistic support functions. This "modernisation" will be achieved mainly at the expense of civilian jobs.
Whilst civilians in Defence have been briefed about the restructuring by means of letters and documents, no consultation with unions in the development of the DER/DRP has really taken place.
The feeling amongst civilians is generally one of disbelief. Staff are questioning how the proposed changes are going to improve their own efficiency while support functions are being managed by skeleton staff. The devolution of the workload to other areas will definitely increase the problem.
At the delegates' meeting, Caird stated that she had no hopes that an APS-wide agreement concerning wages, awards and condition could be achieved. According to Caird, the only way forward is to work towards establishing agency agreements. It was brought to her attention that there is already an APS-wide log of claims, which the union voted for in December.
Whilst the rolling stoppages across the country are still going ahead, Caird has already conceded defeat and is prepared to accept agency agreements.
It was in Defence that the first agency agreement was ratified, in 1992. That agreement was pushed through without any discussion or members' involvement prior to voting.
Caird is now attempting to draw one up in Defence and parade it as a model for the rest of the APS.
Members should ask the union officials what the result of agency agreements will be in two to four years:
- How are wages going to be brought to a unified level after a certain period? Will they ever be?
- Could the government take away the right to transfer from one department to another, since we could be split under different agreements?
- Will staff be able to maintain their level of pay if they transfer to another department?
- How is the CPSU going to deal with additional workloads on fewer staff?
- If we don't try to stop contracting out and outsourcing by using the strength of the entire union, how are we going to do it at the agency level?
[Joe Casella is a CPSU Department of Defence workplace delegate and member of CPSU Rank and File Action and National Challenge.]