By Sue Bolton
MELBOURNE — Ray Fulcher, a Public Sector Union delegate for Department of Social Security Area West B Victoria, has had his rights to use departmental facilities withdrawn.
In a letter dated October 27, Kerry Blackburn, the assistant secretary of the Industrial Relations and Personnel section of DSS, withdrew Fulcher's access to "telephones, facsimile equipment, electronic mail, wordprocessing equipment, photocopying, and noticeboards" for any union business.
This action tears up the Facilities Agreement between the PSU and the DSS, which guarantees delegates access to departmental facilities for carrying out union business. Most unions have similar agreements with employers.
The actions of DSS management also break the conventions of the International Labour Organisation, to which the Australian government is a signatory. Article 2 of Convention 135 requires that "such facilities ... shall be afforded to the worker representatives as may be appropriate in order to enable them to carry out their functions promptly and efficiently".
"Management's action sets a very dangerous precedent", says Fulcher, "especially as the PSU is in the middle of an industrial campaign, where stand-downs of members have been threatened. During the campaign, there was a very real fear amongst many members that the APS would specifically target delegates."
Although no stand-downs have occurred, Fulcher is the only PSU delegate nationally who has been targeted by management.
When asked why he thought management had singled him out, Fulcher replied, "As a delegate I have actively participated in the discussion about enterprise bargaining and the conduct of the industrial campaign the PSU is currently involved in.
"Much of this discussion with other union delegates has been conducted via electronic mail, because that is the only way in which DSS delegates can talk to delegates in other towns or cities. This discussion has been especially important now that the PSU takes most of its decisions at small workplace meetings, keeping the members atomised and not allowing a broad discussion about the pros and cons of enterprise bargaining."
Fulcher said that he had "opposed enterprise bargaining from the first time that PSU officials proposed it to union members. My worst fears are being proved true by the demands management is making on members in the negotiations over a DSS enterprise deal.
"Because the PSU officials are wedded to the idea of enterprise bargaining as a result of their close political relationship with the ALP government, they have not told the members the full facts. They keep telling each small workplace meeting that all other union members support enterprise bargaining. But the electronic mail discussion amongst delegates reflects the fact that most members are opposed to enterprise bargaining.
"Management is unhappy about delegates having a free exchange of ideas via the electronic mail system because that discussion makes it harder for DSS management to ram through its proposed deal."
A membership meeting in Fulcher's workplace unanimously adopted a motion that management's action "is in breach of the facilities agreement between the PSU and the department" and would "seriously inhibit [Fulcher's] ability to represent our interests". The motion threatened industrial action if he were disciplined for ignoring the directive.
To ensure that DSS management doesn't set a precedent with this attack, DSS delegates nationally have been asked to send resolutions of support to Area West. This support also needs to come from delegates and offices of other unions, as well as anyone involved in campaigns around civil liberties.
All motions and messages of support should be addressed to: Ray Fulcher, PSU Delegate, Area West B Victoria, PO Box 481, Footscray Vic 3011; or fax (03) 680-1181.