Public servants angry over pay deal

Wednesday, August 14, 1991

By Barry Healy

Public Servants are facing massive attacks on their working conditions, extraordinary leaked documents have revealed. The papers are the offers put to the government on July 28 by officials of the Public Sector Union in wages negotiations that have dragged on for a year.

The documents show that in return for a $12 weekly pay rise, union officials were prepared to concede on measures to reduce absenteeism by 20% within a year and to continue to reduce it thereafter, to allow individual agencies to create their own rules for sacking staff, to reduce higher duties entitlements and to move towards the government's aim of eliminating promotions appeals.

"They put this on the table to try to grab a quick $12 and make Bill Kelty look good. The membership comes last with those people", Trevor Deeming, of the Rank and File Alternative (RFA) group in the NSW PSU told Green Left Weekly.

In the event, the government rejected the officials' offer as insufficient. None of this would have seen the light of day if the RFA had not obtained the documents.

In stormy PSU mass meetings beginning on August 8, rank and file members in three states initiated motions in response to the perceived inability of the ALP-dominated leadership to confront the Hawke government.

At the Sydney city meeting, PSU assistant national secretary David Bunn accused Hawke and finance minister Ralph Willis of immorality for attaching trade-off demands to the previously agreed $12 rise. The PSU leadership supports the ALP's parliamentary left faction.

Having failed completely in negotiations with the government, the PSU leadership is now desperate to get back into the Industrial Relations Commission to get the 2.5% available under the April national wage ruling and swallow the attached no-extra-claims agreement. IRC guidelines exclude any possibility of back pay for the time lost since April.

However, there is a possibility that industrial relations minister Senator Peter Cook will legislate for payment back to the original deadline of May 16. While this would be a welcome move for many, it could also mean the end of the paid rates award, which would open the way to slashing of rates and department-by-department enterprise bargaining.

In Victoria, mass meetings accepted an official recommendation to

go to the IRC with the $12 claim, backdated to May 16. PSU secretary Peter Robson admitted that the IRC would probably convert this to a 2.5% increase, consistent with the national wage ruling.

The second half of the Accord Mark VI package, extra productivity payments, will be negotiated further with the federal government, which is demanding trade-offs. Robson promised no trade-offs but only discussions on productivity increases. The central Melbourne mass meeting passed a resolution from the rank-and-file PSU Action Group, rejecting wage bargaining on an agency-by-agency basis — enterprise bargaining. Robson opposed this motion but was defeated.

In Brisbane, an August 9 mass meeting of PSU members endorsed a national executive resolution to apply to the IRC for a $12 rise.

The resolution was accepted by the meeting only after assurances by acting secretary Phil Statham that the federal government had guaranteed to pay a $12 rise to all lower paid workers, even if the IRC orders a 2.5% rise as expected.

The resolution also demanded that the government immediately withdraw its list of trade-offs. It endorsed "the PSU's position ... that these matters are not negotiable even with the prospect of an increased pay offer".

Opponents of the motion said the government could not be trusted and there were no guarantees on trade-offs it was demanding. The official motion was carried rather than an alternative position calling for a 24-hour strike to press for the full $12 claim backdated to May 16, with further rises according to a market survey of wage comparability.

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