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Public service in revolt, union says, with Defence seeking vote

Half the Commonwealth public service is in revolt over pay offers, the union says, as the federal government holds firm in the face of rolling industrial action.

Workers at the Department of Defence have rejected their pay offer from the government, with the Community and Public Sector Union applying to the Fair Work Commission tomorrow for permission to hold a ballot on strike and other industrial action.

The CPSU says if the move is successful agencies that count for more than half of the Commonwealth’s 159,126 public servants will have started or are planning industrial action.

Defence civilian staff would join colleagues at the departments of Human Services, Veterans’ Affairs, Employment and Agriculture, along with staff at the Australian Taxation Office and the CSIRO.

Australian Defence Force personnel were handed a 1.5%-per-year pay increase in November. The offer to Defence civilians — 1.05% plus cuts to conditions and the removal of two days of leave and working an extra 3.5 days a year — is “insulting”, according to CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood.

But last week in Senate Estimates, Defence secretary Dennis Richardson defended the differential between civilians and military personnel:

“From where I sit, for what that is worth, the greater the differential you have, between base salaries in the ADF and base salaries in the Defence APS, the greater are the difficulties we are going to run into in terms of an integrated workforce. The Defence leadership, both ADF and APS, have worked very hard over the years to develop a sense of being together and a sense of working together. We are still on that journey. The ADF salary outcome is 1.5% each year over the next three years. The APS offer that we have put on the table is 3.16% over three years, which is fully offset. I do not think that differential between 3.16% and 4.5% over three years is something, from where I sit, to be overly concerned about.”

Questioned on the offer being below inflation, Richardson said “the latest inflation figures even make that statement questionable”:

“… it was not a pay cut. By no dictionary definition was it a pay cut. Secondly, simply in terms of where the inflation rate looks to be moving, even the comments about inflation may be wrong. I am not making a judgement; I am just saying it.”

Agency bosses have been hamstrung by a tough bargaining position from a government desperate to make savings across government spending and a requirement that they prove efficiency gains to justify any pay increases. All current deals on the table cut some rights and conditions in return for annual pay offers of between 0-2% a year.

“The government’s draconian bargaining policy means that public sector workers are facing cuts to their rights, conditions and hourly wages,” Flood said today. “Each day more public servants are standing up against Minister Eric Abetz’s unprecedented attack. They are saying no to these nasty low-ball deals which seek to slash their rights and conditions.

“It is becoming abundantly clear that the Abbott government’s bargaining policy is unworkable and is the source of industrial unrest. It is their policy that narrowly defines productivity as cutting rights, conditions and hourly wages. It’s their policy that’s producing deals which leave people worse off than they are now. And it’s their policy that makes it impossible for agencies to put forward sensible agreements.”

Flood says taking industrial action is a “last resort” but Defence staff want to send a message “they are not going to cop this”. She says Defence staff will vote on a range of work bans and stoppages of up to 24 hours if granted permission.

Staff at the Department of Agriculture are moving to vote on industrial action later this month, while the Department of Employment, the ATO and the CSIRO are preparing an application for a ballot to take protected action. Workers at the Australian Institute of Criminology are also pushing for a vote on industrial action later this month.

Action continues across Human Services and Veterans’ Affairs, which has included reading out messages to clients, putting messages in internal emails and bans on wearing corporate uniforms.

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The Mandarin

The Mandarin staff journalists.