'Negligible impact': APS commissioner unfazed by public service strikes

By Stephen Easton

March 22, 2016

For the second day in a row, Australian Public Service commissioner John Lloyd has waded into a war of words with the largest and most vocal union in the public sector to play down the impact of its campaign.

Following on from Monday afternoon’s statement condemning strikes at airports which began today and will continue up till the Easter long weekend and beyond, Lloyd has attempted to water down the impact of the Community and Public Sector Union’s action in March and April. The unconcerned commissioner says:

“Most agencies targeted by yesterday’s CPSU inspired strikes have reported negligible impact. Media reports that thousands walked off the job exaggerate the real impact of the disruption.”

Despite the air of unconcern, Lloyd does appear to be taking a more proactive approach to the public relations battle than in previous flare-ups.

It has been suggested that the commission has come under increasing pressure to resolve the dispute since Prime Minster Malcolm Turnbull took office, although the PM had no comment on the dispute when asked yesterday.

Yesterday’s strike was the largest to hit the Australian public service so far in a dispute that has gone on for over two years. The CPSU points out the majority of federal public servants have gone without a pay rise rather than accept the new “streamlined” enterprise bargaining agreements featuring strictly limited pay rises and cost-cutting demands that have been offered under since the Coalition came to power.

Lloyd says the public servants who are now working under new agreements still “enjoy good conditions of employment” and reiterates his claim that their conditions are not under threat.

The union argues that the removal of various rights from the new agreements leaves them vulnerable to being pared back in future with little legal recourse for employees.

In Lloyd’s second public intervention this week, he suggests the industrial action is not causing much concern with the government or senior executives:

“The CPSU claims that the strikes are targeted at politicians and bosses. The reality though is that where the strikes have an impact, it is the public that suffers.”

“Fortunately, in the spirit of public service,” Lloyd writes optimistically, “most employees ignored the union’s tactics and remained at work.”

The commissioner also played down the CPSU’s size and influence in Senate Estimates earlier this year, saying the dispute was having little impact on operations and that he felt the momentum was shifting the government’s way. He predicted more agreements would be signed in the first quarter of this year, but employees have continued to reject them en masse.

While Lloyd and the minister with responsibility for the public service, Michaelia Cash, continue to call for the union to return to the table and bargain “in good faith”, the CPSU maintain that the blanket enterprise bargaining policy constrains agency negotiators to the extent that meaningful negotiation is impossible.

UPDATE: The CPSU announced on Wednesday night it would challenge the government’s service-wide bargaining policy in the Fair Work Commission, specifically in relation to its stalled negotiations with the Australian Electoral Commission.

“The Australian Electoral Commission has made it clear to the CPSU through negotiations that they would be willing to reach agreement and retain many of the workers’ rights and conditions that are at the centre of this dispute, but Minister Cash through the Public Service Commission has refused to let them, despite her public statements,” said national secretary Nadine Flood.

Meanwhile, the Australian Services Union also wants to take a complaint to the FWC regarding its negotiations with the Australian Taxation Office, which have descended into claims and counter-claims from each side that the other is not bargaining in good faith.

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