By Ray Fulcher
MELBOURNE — The new leadership of the State Public Services Federation (Victoria) has accepted the Kennett government's industrial program of individual contracts. The move was welcomed by Premier Jeff Kennett and Trades Hall secretary John Halfpenny, although Kennett was cautious, stating he would "wait and see if their action supports their rhetoric".
The new SPSF leadership team, headed by Karen Batt, is described by Melbourne's daily papers as "moderate-left". In the recent union elections, with the support of the Pledge Group of unions (ALP left) they ousted the previous militant leadership team headed by Bill Deller and Kay McVey.
At the first committee of management meeting the new leadership gave itself a pay rise, with the secretary (Batt) receiving an extra $34,000 per annum and the assistant secretary an extra $26,000 per annum. The previous leadership had reduced their own salaries by these amounts.
Kennett has taken advantage of the collapse of opposition and stepped up his attacks on the public service with the abolition of the independent appeal tribunals. Public servants must now appeal to their department heads on such issues as promotion and unfair dismissal.
Kennett envisages a public service of less than 5000 by 1997. In future all temporary officers employed and all permanent staff winning promotion or transfer will have to sign individual contracts. The Batt leadership will now sit down with the government and work out how individual contracts will be introduced throughout the public service.
Batt explains her new strategy by saying: "We are employed under an act, the employer we are employed by controls the processes associated with the act. They determine regulations and determine the conditions. So what we have to do is take stock ... we can either fight, which if the members decide to do that we will, or we can talk to the government."
According to Bill Deller, the union's membership is confused by the actions of the new leadership. "They may have wanted a less political campaign against Kennett but they certainly didn't expect to play dead for Spring Street", he told Green Left.
The taming of the SPSF fits in well with Trades Hall's anti-Kennett "campaign", which has been constantly wound down since November 10 last year, and explains why Halfpenny was so quick to support the new "pragmatic" approach. The only action projected by Trades Hall is a rally in October to "Commemorate the election of the Kennett government." Continuing campaigning within and by the SPSF for action against the government's attacks would have been an embarrassment for Trades Hall officials. Their only desire is to wait patiently for the next state election in the hope that the ALP wins.
Deller says that the Kennett government's attacks will mean, among urs, no overtime and extended trading hours. "We were prepared to deal with contracts if the members said to do it. We had already had preliminary discussions with the government, but we still pursued a federal award. The Batt team now puts individual contracts as the primary focus in its dealings with the government."
The Batt team will be overseeing the process of the government's cutbacks and attacks and will be focussing more attention on the pending amalgamation with the PSU, according to Deller.