WA public service union claims a win and bides its time for the next battle

By Stephen Easton

Monday August 19, 2019

Like sandgropers through the hourglass… Getty Images

Western Australian public servants have overwhelmingly voted to take what they can get from the McGowan government now and bide their time before taking up the fight against capped pay rises in the lead-up to the next state election in 2021.

In WA, the limit on public-sector pay rises is $1000 a year — less than a 2% increase for anyone on more than $50,000 — and that is what about 38,000 state government employees will get for 2019 and 2020.

A new two-year enterprise agreement has been accepted by the Civil Service Association in a ballot that attracted a record number of votes, with 87% of them in the affirmative. The CSA, also known as the WA branch of the Community and Public Sector Union, had rejected the government’s first offer.

The Labor government came back to the table in June with a deal so good the CSA/CPSU and the police union both said it went well beyond the limits of McGowan’s strict wages policy, the former presenting this as a proud win for members and the latter complaining of unfairness. The wages policy was then updated by the Public Sector Labour Relations agency on July 5.

CPSU/SCA secretary Rikki Hendon notes the next round of enterprise bargaining will line up with the 2021 election campaign. She hopes by then, politicians will be prepared to return to actual negotiation.

“We will continue to campaign for change to the government’s wages policy until it reflects a commitment to genuinely negotiate fair pay increases that support employees and stimulate our local economy,” said Hendon.

The annual pay increases are backdated to the expiry date of the last agreement and public servants have also won several other conditions.

The new deal offers 12 weeks’ worth of superannuation when on unpaid parental leave; three days of bereavement leave instead of two; an extra day off in lieu of Easter Sunday; and five days of paid cultural and ceremonial leave for Indigenous staff members.

The government has also agreed to clauses the union hopes will make it harder for government to put the work done by their members out to contract and sell off whole parts of the public sector.

Casual staff will now get a loading of 25% on top of the permanent pay rate for their roles and three-hour minimum shifts, and the subsidised rent for regional public servants will not go up.

“In finalising this Agreement, we have secured conditions which provide practical and financial benefits to public sector workers, and broken the government’s wages policy in the process,” said Hendon.

“The innovative, ground-breaking conditions won in this campaign will not only improve the lives of public sector workers in the short term, but will also contribute to breaking down inequality in our workplaces and society in the longer term.

“With thousands of members voting overwhelmingly to accept the offer, it is clear that public sector workers see real value in these improved conditions, which will now be embedded into the public sector for generations to come.”

Industrial Relations Minister Bill Johnson says he is “very pleased” with the deal and optimistically suggests “this issue is now resolved” because union members are willing to play a role in helping dig the state out of a financial hole.

“Without the public sector our society wouldn’t be able to function, so I’d like to thank these workers for their continual efforts and contribution,” Johnson said.

“The CPSU/CSA has recognised that the State is in a dire financial situation, however we have worked with the union to introduce some new and improved conditions which has helped us reach this agreement.”

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