Public servants demand a better deal

Issue 

Alison Thorne

Activists in the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) are mobilising to back a number of proposals to go before the union's 26-28 March National Council.

Most motions were developed by activists from around the country aligned with the rank-and-file group Members First. Already they have won support from union members in a range of workplaces and from delegates councils in Centrelink, the Australian Tax Office, Family and Community Services (FaCS), the Australian Bureau of Statistics and other CPSU workplaces.

Members First wants to return to a single Australian Public Service-wide wage structure with a base set of conditions for all public sector workers. We strongly support a proposal from the FACS Section Council which argues that "flexibility of wages and conditions has made career flexibility more complex and has left some groups of workers weaker and more disadvantaged." The motion proposes that the first step be "working to achieve corresponding end dates for agreements in areas with similar interests and eventually rolling agreements together."

Another priority adopted by Members First is campaigning to win improved access to email for union organising and social concerns. In some agencies, for example Centrelink, strict policies about use of electronic facilities limit email access for union organising to delegates and then only for discussion of immediate workplace matters with the additional proviso that industrial action cannot be discussed!

These policies have resulted in some delegates within the Centrelink Call Centre network being officially instructed not to use email to distribute CPSU Bulletins around issues such as defence of Medicare.

Members First is calling on the CPSU National Council to campaign to win improved access for union organising in it broadest sense and guaranteed access in the workplace to the CPSU web site.

CPSU members are also fighting outsourcing. Hundreds of jobs have been outsourced by Telstra to private companies such as IBM GSA, Teletech and Sensis with disastrous consequences for workers in terms of job security, wages and conditions. Outsourcing must be fought, regardless of weather the jobs are being outsourced to low paid casualised workers in Australia or overseas.

Members First activists, therefore, reject the crude "defend Aussie jobs" nationalism that has been a feature of a recent CPSU campaign opposing outsourcing and offshoring by Telstra and IBM. Members First instead places the blame squarely at the feet of Telstra and IBM managements raising the demand that "all workers, whether from overseas or not, working for employers who hold existing contracts for Telstra work must be employed under wages and conditions at least as favourable as equivalent positions within Telstra."

A militant fightback, including stopwork action and imposing bans, is what is required to reverse the trend and force the government to restore Telstra to full public ownership.

Resisting the ongoing US occupation of Iraq is a key task facing the trade union movement. Members First are backing a proposal which condemns the US occupation and supports unions and workers in Iraq. If passed the proposition commits the CPSU to a more vigorous educational role with the union printing articles about the situation of Iraqi workers and their trade unions.

The final proposal aims to help break the stranglehold of pro-big business parties in the upcoming federal election. The proposal calls for the union to send questionnaires to all the pro-working class parties seeking their views on key issues such as outsourcing, the importance of the public sector, union rights, health and education and that the results be published in the union journal and on the web site.

Members First will not only be mobilising support for the range of positive proposals. Activist will also resist a motion that targets "criminal and violent behaviour in the union movement". Although this motion purports to be targeting "criminals", it is designed only to isolate militants within the union movement on the pretext that they have flouted reactionary anti-union laws.

Socialist Alliance activist and national councillor Terry Costello who will speak against this motion, questions the very definition of criminality and argues that bad laws should not be respected by unionists standing up for their rights. As part of the struggle to change bad laws they may need to be broken.

[Alison Thorne is coordinator of the CPSU Workplace Organising Committee at Moorabbin Call Centre. She is also on the National Executive of Socialist Alliance. To join Members First, or for a copy of the motions, visit <http://www.users.bigpond.com/membersfirst>, email <membersfirst@bigpond.com> or phone Alison Thorne on (03) 9388 0062, Judy McVey on 0418 347374 or Andrew Hall 0438 624 744.]

From Green Left Weekly, March 24, 2004.
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