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CPSU decries ‘gag’ on Bureau of Meteorology protest; Federal Courts in pay deal

Administrative employees of the Federal Court system have a new enterprise bargaining agreement after four years of negotiations, while an even longer impasse in the Bureau of Meteorology continues.

The courts staff resorted to industrial action 43 times during the extended process, including the first stop-work action for this group of federal employees in 25 years, according to the Community and Public Sector Union. The CPSU members were advised to take the deal in the latest vote on Wednesday, resulting in a 96% ‘yes’ vote among the 78% of staff who took part in the ballot.

The deadlock was broken after the dispute went into mediation at the federal industrial relations tribunal, the Fair Work Commission. “While it is still far from perfect, this agreement will deliver significant gains, in particular for approximately 60 per cent of staff who will have improvements to their working hours and better redundancy and redeployment entitlements,” said CPSU deputy national president Rupert Evans.

Pay will go up 5.5% in the next 18 months, but Evans admits that isn’t enough to cover the inflation in the cost of living that has occurred during the stalemate.

The arguments from both sides are now well rehearsed. The union blames the federal government’s strict workplace bargaining policy, which rules out backdated payrises and limits what agencies can offer, for the incredibly slow process.

The keeper of that policy, the public service commissioner John Lloyd, claims the CPSU has been doing their members a disservice and suggests they should have advised them to take what they could get years ago, as he reminded The Mandarin once again last week.

Meanwhile at the Bureau of Meteorology, staff are still holding out, four years after their EBA expired in 2014. Their legally protected industrial action involves adding protest messages to the weather updates they provide, but the CPSU has accused BOM management of trying to “gag” these employees.

The insertions include #BOMonStrike and #5yearpayfreeze as well as links to a union petition placed in weather forecasts and official social media posts. The union says a “heavy-handed” crackdown followed.

“Management responded to the action by imposing what they described as “additional quality control”, requiring an additional level of checks before forecasts are transmitted along with a system that will require an administrator to review all social media posts.

“Live radio crosses have also been stopped in some areas after weather forecasters notified management they would be reading an authorised statement to let the public know about current situation.”

The BoM responded to the “gag” claims in a statement to The Mandarin, claiming it is all about quality control. “The Bureau respects the rights of union members to take protected industrial action,” a spokesperson said by email.

“The Bureau has a responsibility to ensure that its products and services, including its forecasts and warnings, are not compromised. The Bureau is putting various measures in place to meet that responsibility and to maintain the standard of its products and services.”

Staff have voted down three proposals, and unlike in the case of Federal Courts staff, the BoM has declined to seek a mediation process at the FWC. CPSU deputy secretary Beth Vincent-Pietsch said the staff had “no choice but to seek public support to resolve this protracted industrial dispute” in the statement.

The agency says it put the latest draft EBA to staff “for consideration” before it goes to a formal vote in two weeks’ time on June 22.

“The proposed agreement provides a substantially front-loaded pay increase, protects core conditions, is financially sustainable and complies with the government’s Workplace Bargaining Policy,” the BoM spokesperson said.

“It enables the Bureau to continue to provide the critical services we provide to the Australian community in an affordable, sustainable way. The proposed new Enterprise Agreement follows ongoing negotiation in good faith with staff and unions.”

Vincent-Pietsch, however, said the BoM leaders “refuse to move on key conditions that other agencies have restored” and noted that the weather bureau was one of only a few Australian Public Service agencies still in the bargaining process, as the unprecedented industrial stand-off that has continued throughout the present term of government grinds slowly to a conclusion.

“Rather than sit down and talk about how this increasingly bitter dispute can be resolved, management have instead gone to the extraordinary lengths of attempting to gag employees from taking part in lawful industrial action,” she said.

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.