Staff at the federal Department of Human Services (DHS) started voting on a new enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) on September 4. The public service union strongly recommended a No vote.
The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) has been campaigning hard against new departmental EBA offers that cut wages and conditions.
About 34,000 workers at DHS are set to vote down a management proposal that reflects the Abbott government's hard line against workers and unions in its own workforce, as a test case for wage and conditions cuts throughout all sectors of the economy.
The DHS vote has become a key battleground in the broader public service wage dispute. DHS has the strongest union coverage of any federal department and the most casual, part-time and lower-paid public servants.
The CPSU reports that more than 90% of its members in DHS said in a snap poll that they would vote No. The union said: "We know that the upcoming vote is not just important in DHS, but is being keenly watched across the APS [Australian Public Service]. A strong No vote will put pressure on the government to change its failed bargaining policy."
CPSU deputy national president Lisa Newman told the August 27 Canberra Times that the DHS vote would be a setback for public service minister Senator Eric Abetz.
"DHS workers are not going to allow their rights, conditions and take-home pay to be ripped away,” she said.
“This agreement will be rejected by workers because the offer still contains cuts to important conditions that workers rely on, and the proposed pay increase falls short of covering the loss from the cuts.
"The CPSU has polled workers in DHS — including non-members — and we are seeing an overwhelming intention to reject this unfair agreement that strips away workplace rights and conditions.
“Workers have been saying for months that they will vote No to protect their rights to reasonable working hours, access to union delegates and protecting their take-home pay from cuts to allowances."
Nine enterprise agreements have so far been agreed under the government's harsh bargaining policy: three at NBN Co and one each at ComSuper, the Australian Office of Financial Management, Treasury, the Australian Public Service Commission, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau and Communications.
Agreements have been rejected at the Industry and Attorney-General's Departments. And EBAs appear a long way off in the largest agencies: Defence, Tax, Immigration, and DHS.
The CPSU has recruited strongly from the current campaign, and is urging non-members to join up to help secure better agreements in the various agencies.