CPSU marks three years of dispute with another airport strike

By David Donaldson

August 12, 2016

Government employees at international airports and other sites are striking today over pay disputes soon to enter their fourth year.

A 24-hour strike at airports, ports and other facilities by staff at the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, including Border Force, began at midnight. Community and Public Sector Union members in the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, including quarantine and biosecurity officers at airports, are also staging a one-hour stop-work meeting.

After almost three years, new enterprise agreements are yet to be concluded for around 100,000 public sector workers.

The union has agreed to more than 50 exemptions during the strike action, covering areas such as counter-terrorism and intelligence, out of concerns regarding national security and safety. In March the union called off a planned strike following the Brussels airport terrorist attack.

CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood said: “This 24-hour strike by Immigration and Border Force officers is just one part of our broader plan to resolve this protracted and unfair dispute. This is a taste of what’s to come if Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull insists on maintaining this harsh and unreasonable attack.”

“This dispute is about to pass the three-year mark, yet Prime Minister Turnbull won’t talk or do anything to resolve the situation. No other major employer would allow such a crazy situation to drag on for this long. It’s immensely unfair to these workers, who are ordinary mums and dads who deserve a fair deal.”

Flood said the Prime Minister could avoid further strikes by working with the union to resolve the dispute.

Pay in step with inflation

Although 100,000 are still without a current agreement, the government under Malcolm Turnbull’s prime ministership has proven to be less intransigent than it was under Tony Abbott. Of the 56 agreements reached during the current round of bargaining, 45 have occurred since release of the revised bargaining policy in November 2015, following the replacement of hardline minister Eric Abetz with Michaelia Cash.

The Australian Public Service Commission pointed out in its recent newsletter that although the union was concerned that low pay rises would translate into wage cuts after inflation, low inflation means this has not eventuated:

“A number of agencies, including the Department of the Treasury, the Australian Public Service Commission and the Department of Communications are approaching 12 months since the commencement of their new enterprise agreements. Employees in these agencies will soon receive their second pay increase. As CPI increased by only one per cent over the past year, these employees have made meaningful gains in real wages.”

Conditions as policy still contentious

The union is concerned that the push to move a range of conditions from enterprise agreements into agency policy, which can be changed any time, will render conditions legally unenforceable. Breastfeeding is one such issue; the APSC says the changes will make no difference on the ground, arguing “prescriptive” terms limit productivity.

The APSC’s August newsletter was rosy about those public service agencies which had already finalised new agreements with fewer enforceable conditions:

“Flexible work arrangements and other highly valued terms and conditions are available to employees of those agencies. Both the agencies and employees have benefitted from enterprise agreements that clearly and simply set out entitlements and employees continue to be consulted on changes in their workplaces.

“Employees in these agencies will soon have the opportunity to vote on new agreements that provide access to wage increases and continue their valued terms and conditions.”

Flood argues employees wanted to ensure they retained existing conditions. “Workers across the Commonwealth public sector perform crucial roles, providing services to and for the public, and they deserve better than this. All they want is to hang onto their existing workplace rights and get a fair wage outcome that recognises their wages have been frozen for three years,” she said.

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