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Human Services votes to down tools: 95% want action

An overwhelming majority of Community and Public Sector Union members at the Department of Human Services have voted to take industrial action rather than accept the federal government’s tough stance on public service pay and conditions.

According to the CPSU, close to 80% of its 15,000 members from DHS voted in the ballot, with 95% in favour of some form of industrial action. The total number of DHS employees stood at 34,757 when the last Australian Public Service statistics were reported in June.

The union did not provide details of exactly what kind of industrial action members supported out of the many options on the ballot paper.

The ballot is the largest of its kind ever held in Australia, and the union has reported a large increase in new members coinciding with its campaign against the Abbott government’s strict workplace bargaining policy. CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood said in a statement today that public servants were becoming “increasingly alarmed” at the framework.

Enterprise bargaining has been going on for more than 70 Commonwealth agencies over the past eight months, but no agency has yet put a proposal to a staff vote.

Flood said “the target here is the government, not the community”:

“Minister Abetz’s extravagant claims that we will be hitting Centrelink payments in the run up to Christmas are just plain wrong, the CPSU has never said anything of the kind. Our member’s actions won’t hit payments that families, pensioners and others rely on but they will show the Government we mean business.”

“If the Government is serious about finding a sensible solution then there’s still time to sit down and hammer out fair and reasonable agreements before we get to more serious industrial action. We repeat the call that Senator Abetz should sit down and discuss the problems caused by the Government’s bargaining policy with the CPSU.”

Flood described the ballot result as a “wake-up call” for Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Employment Minister Eric Abetz, whose role it is to assist Abbott on matters relating to the public service. She also contrasted unionised public servants with Australian Defence Force members:

“Like the ADF, working mums at Centrelink and Medicare are being asked to cop cuts to leave and other rights as well as a low-ball pay offer. Unlike the military, though, they can and are doing something about it – by sending a clear message to Government that they are prepared to take it to the next level.”

A similar ballot will be held soon at the Department of Veterans Affairs.

More at The Mandarin: DHS and Australia’s largest union vote — what happens now?

Author Bio

Stephen Easton

Stephen Easton is a journalist at The Mandarin based in Canberra. He's previously reported for Canberra CityNews and worked on industry titles for The Intermedia Group.