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Union members at Veterans’ Affairs vote to join industrial fray

Union members at the Department of Veterans’ Affairs have followed their comrades at the Department of Human Services with 95% voting to take industrial action.

The Community and Public Sector Union has claimed the result as “another blow” to the federal government’s “harsh” position on public sector remuneration.

But Employment Minister Eric Abetz, who has responsibility for the public service, shows no sign of backing down. Yesterday in the Senate, Abetz said the median of public service payrises over the past decade was 14% above the rate of inflation, and denied the union’s repeated claim that the government is intent on cutting rights and conditions.

CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood says members at DVA have “made a commitment not to disrupt payments to veterans, widows and their families”.

While much smaller than Human Services, where staff are “poised to start” their own industrial action according to Flood, Veterans’ Affairs operates in similar territory, managing the delivery of welfare to people who need support. Flood said:

“Our members want to get on with the job of serving the community. Our actions won’t hurt the community but they will show the Government we mean business.”

The protected action ballot proposed six kinds of industrial action, similar to that devised for DHS union members to disrupt internal processes, like taking breaks earlier or later than scheduled, and work bans on answering phone calls, voicemails and emails. The six proposed actions received an average of 95% approval.

DVA staff might also stop work for up to 24 hours, refuse to attend some meetings with management, or relay messages from the CPSU explaining the reasons for the campaign, either in person, by email, over the phone or in recorded messages. According to Flood:

“Veterans’ Affairs is one of more than 80 Commonwealth agencies unable to make a deal because of this Government’s inflexible and harsh bargaining policy. Public Service Minister Eric Abetz is forcing agencies to strip conditions from workplace agreements and cut workplace rights in exchange for low-ball pay offers.”

She added that “pay is an issue but it is not the most important one” for the DVA staff and accused the government of using enterprise bargaining “as cover to attack workers”.

A spokesperson for the department told The Mandarin it would “use every endeavour” to minimise any disruption to services but that ultimately:

“The nature and extent of the industrial action will determine the level of impact on the veteran community.”

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.