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Issue #1520      28 September 2011

Customs and Quarantine staff strike

Thousands of Customs officers – members of the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) – at around 50 locations around Australia, including international airports, are expected to walk off the job for up to two hours on Tuesday morning (as The Guardian goes to press) to protest stalled pay negotiations.

At the same time, staff from the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF), including Quarantine Inspection staff at international airports, will also be holding stop-work meetings in relation to their own stalled pay negotiations.

According to the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), Tuesday’s industrial action is part of growing dissatisfaction within the public service about the way the federal government is handling pay negotiations.

Over the last two months, over 120,000 staff in agencies such as Human Services, the Tax Office and the Defence Department have voted overwhelmingly to reject new enterprise agreements because they contained low pay offers and in some places, cuts to conditions.

“Taking protected action is a last resort for Customs and DAFF staff, but we have been driven to this by the lack of progress on negotiations, and the refusal of the federal government to offer a pay deal that matches cost of living increases,” said CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood.

“At Melbourne Airport alone, passenger volumes have increased by 11 percent in the past year and mail volumes are up 28 percent yet the pay offer from Customs and DAFF doesn’t even keep up with inflation,” Ms Flood said.

“We would urge people collecting inbound international passengers on Tuesday morning to factor possible delays into their plans. Customs management have rejected all union offers to resolve this dispute. The CPSU is keen to keep negotiating and find a settlement, but management have walked away from negotiations,” Ms Flood said.

She said Customs management should bear the responsibility for any inconvenience because they have given staff no option other than taking strike action,” Ms Flood said.

The industrial action is also expected to impact on other services including cargo inspections, the release of imported goods and x-ray screening of international mail.

The union says it was clear that the federal government’s three percent pay cap on public sector agreements is preventing genuine negotiations with staff.

“Staff have been offered just 3 percent a year over three years, while the most recent figures from the ABS showed the CPI is now 3.6 percent,” said Ms Flood.

“Both Customs and DAFF staff perform essential frontline roles in protecting Australia’s borders, but they are not prepared to accept substandard agreements that devalue their work.

“They have a tough, dirty and often dangerous job and they deserve a reasonable pay rise. We are keen to make a decent agreement and we believe it is possible. The recent breakthrough agreement in the Department of Immigration demonstrates it’s possible to get a deal that delivers decent and affordable pay rises,” said Ms Flood.  

Next article – TWU seeks good faith talks from Qantas

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