By Steve Rogers
CANBERRA — A well-attended September 16 press conference here heard plans for a new direction for the ACT branch of the Public Service Union (PSU). In the face of current job losses and union leadership failures, PSU Challenge announced that it would be contesting all positions in the November branch elections.
The group is putting forward an alternative approach on issues across the board, including jobs, decision making within the union, ALP affiliation and public service cuts.
Cath Garvin, standing for the full-time position of branch secretary, described the major issues: to reinvolve union members in the activities of the union; to defend members' jobs, conditions and wages; to stop cuts to the public service; to develop democratic decision making in the union; and to get the union office working for members.
Garvin currently is an assistant secretary in the union. She recently led a campaign by Australian Protective Service (APS) workers which resulted in the payment of several years' back pay, one of very few wins for the union in recent years.
Other leading candidates include: Department of Industrial Relations deputy delegates' committee chair Peter Dickerson for president; Department of Finance delegates' committee chair Bronwen Taylor for one assistant secretary position; and APS delegates' committee chair Doug Hoar for the other assistant secretary position.
Taylor played a leading part in the national campaign against agency-based enterprise bargaining in 1992. She has also been an outspoken opponent of ALP affiliation.
In all, the 13 candidates come from 12 different agencies, reflecting the breadth of opposition to the current leadership.
Some of the key PSU Challenge policies include:
- Introduction of democratic decision making, including well-resourced regional mass meetings, in place of the current 100 or more isolated workplace meetings.
- Return to public service-wide pay negotiations in place of enterprise bargaining, along with opposition to the Accord.
- Defence of jobs through opposition to privatisation of the public service, and for a shorter working week without loss of pay.
In all, some 23 areas have been developed in PSU Challenge's policy statement.
On ALP affiliation, the group has taken a neutral position. The incumbents support for affiliation. The Challenge policy statement says:
"The independence of our union from our employer and from external political influence is an important principle ... The union should be an organisation free from external interference. Our membership must be able to wholly determine the rules and activities of the union, the way in which resources will be used and directed and whether the union will be a participant in wider political and social issues, and on what basis."
In response to claims by PSU national secretary Peter Robson that opposition to ALP affiliation is an attempt to keep the union apolitical, the policy states: "Our pursuit of a socially just society does not end with our concern for the working conditions of our members. Issues affecting health, welfare, education, and the environment are some of the examples of wider issues that have long been the concern of unions in creating a better society for all people. This is clearly provided for in the objects of our union contained in our rules."
A number of candidates on the team have been outspoken opponents of affiliation, and any decision on the issue would be referred to members for a democratic and informed vote.
While the PSU is not an ALP affiliate, Labor Party factional manoeuvring has dominated day-to-day life of the union. Many of the problems of the incumbent leaders, most of whom are ALP members, stem from trying to balance between ALP federal and local governments out to chop jobs, and the public servants the union is meant to represent.
The day that PSU Challenge announced its campaign, branch secretary Winsome Hall declared that she would not be recontesting her position. Current assistant secretary Ross Campbell would stand in her place. According to some reports, Hall was dumped as candidate after losing support within her ALP faction.
PSU Challenge is seeking support across the ACT Public Service. If you want to help or receive information including the policy statement, phone Bronwen on (06)299 4122.]