Public sector industrial briefs: Hodgman pulls the plug, McGowan sweetens the deal

By Stephen Easton

Thursday June 27, 2019

Picture: Getty Images

Tasmania’s opposition has called for clarity around where state service job cuts will fall amid an escalating industrial dispute in the public sector, while in Western Australia the austerity-focused government has drawn accusations of unfairness after it delighted the main public service union with a substantially revised employment offer.

Down south, the Liberal government has had enough of trying to bargain with unions and turned the dispute over to the independent umpire. In WA the Police Union has made the same call, after rejecting an offer from the Labor government it said was “disrespectful” to members and reacting angrily to news that other government employees got a much sweeter offer, including an extra day off.

Tasmania: Hodgman just wants it to be over

Tasmania’s Liberal government has called off any further negotiations with representatives of most its workers and referred the enterprise bargaining process to the state’s Industrial Commission for arbitration. Nurses and midwives alone are reportedly prepared to roll over their current agreement for a further year while a three-year deal is expected to emerge from the mediated process in the commission.

On Wednesday, Premier Will Hodgman decided there was no prospect of an end to the year-long dispute, which has been marked by various protests, including prison lockdowns and school-cleaner strikes of late. Hodgman accused the unions of failing to negotiate in good faith after some ignored the government’s recent pleas to stop taking industrial action, and decided arbitration was the best way get the process over with.

“I have today written to union leaders with a draft Terms of Reference for arbitration so the matter can be independently determined,” he said. “The government is taking this course of action because we will not accept further delays to progressing the now overdue pay rise to our employees, nor the continued disruption that industrial action is causing the Tasmanian community.”

Unions will have to agree to the terms of reference, and the campaign of industrial action is set to continue.

Amid the brouhaha, shadow treasurer Scott Bacon called on the Hodgman government to explain where exactly it will find $450 million in savings in the public sector and explain whether health and housing were in line for budget cuts.

“Mr Gutwein said he was meeting with departmental bosses three weeks ago,” Bacon said this week. “Does he honestly expect Tasmanians to believe departmental budgets haven’t been set five days out from the next financial year?”

WA: McGowan sweetens the deal, but only for some

The WA branch of the CPSU is quite pleased with a new two-year “general agreement” offer from the state’s Labor government, but early indications are it’s so good it might make negotiations with other unions more difficult.

The WA Police Union has filed for a conciliation process in the state’s Industrial Relations Commission after firmly rejecting an offer it said would lead to a cut in real wages. It was “unfathomable” to think a Labor government was playing hardball in enterprise bargaining, in the view of WAPU president Harry Arnott.

“We consistently come to the negotiation table to discuss our claim items and the government simply stonewalls,” Arnott said last Friday. “Their tactics have ensured that we will not reach a negotiated outcome before the expiration of the current agreement, much to the immense frustration of our members.”

The CPSU/CSA have had a happier experience. The majority of its members will now vote on the proposed general-agreement and their delegates seem pretty pleased with what it contains, noting it is “drastically different from the first one” and contains conditions that “absolutely break” the rules of the government’s wages policy in a missive to members. While “initially it seemed that any improvement of conditions beyond the strict $1000 per annum cap would be rejected by the government out of hand” — and the cap remains — the new deal contains “nearly every condition” the union’s bargaining team first asked for early in the negotiations, which began last December.

Acting CPSU/CSA branch secretary Melanie Bray said the new agreement offered “significantly better entitlements” to the first offer.

“I think there’s lots to be extremely proud of as far as new entitlements won in this offer,” she said in a statement. “Bargaining on conditions builds quality into the lives of public sector workers that cannot easily be undone.”

The government’s agreement to provide various new non-salary conditions was inevitably questioned by some media commentators, and it seems a particularly controversial new entitlement in the agreement is an additional public holiday. Then there are other negotiations with other smaller groups of public sector workers to consider.

Last Friday, the WAPU president was already complaining that the government wages policy seemed more flexible for other groups of public sector workers and was hopping mad to hear additional paid time off work was put on the table for some.

“Other unions have received offers or negotiated outcomes which contain costed items far in excess of the same wages policy which is being rigidly applied to police,” Arnott said.

“Considering more time away from the rigours of policing is central to our claim, it is infuriating that other public sector workers have been granted additional time off. This shows that we are being snubbed by the McGowan government, but we are not sure why the government won’t consider the welfare of police officers.”

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