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Issue #1586      March 20, 2013

WA public servants rally

A mass meeting of members of the Community and Public Sector Union-Civil Service Association on March 6, at the Perth Convention Centre, was called with a week’s notice to help inform members of the issues at stake in the state election and what may happen if a Liberal/National Party government is returned.

Though both major parties are tied to the capitalist system and therefore an ideology that seeks to cut costs and reduce services, the Liberals and Nationals are the least restrained about carrying out this agenda (see election analysis, Western Australian Labor Party routed in state election, Guardian March 13).

This was evident when the CPSU/CSA sent a questionnaire to the Liberals, Nationals, Labor and the Greens asking them why union members should choose one of them as their employer. The Greens came out as the most friendly of employers pursuant to the unions requirements.

More than 600 members and fellow activists attended the meeting to listen to a number of union officials give an update of what lies ahead for public sector workers and the people of Western Australia.

CPSU/CSA branch secretary Toni Walkington addressed the meeting to echo the sentiments of many public servants when she stated, “Public servants have had enough of efficiency dividends, privatisations, contracting out, Public Private Partnerships and having to work harder to do more with less.”

All government departments had felt the pressure of these demands being put on them by a government which has increasingly politicised public service and led to service cuts and increased workloads. These were especially felt in the Department of Child Protection, Department of Housing, Department of Education, Health Department and the Juvenile Justice section of the Department of Corrective Services.

In February the CPSU/CSA had received the report from Professor Bill Mitchell, an economist at Charles Darwin University of Melbourne called, “A critical appraisal of the Western Australian Budget 2012-13” which was critical of the surplus budget mantra being trotted out by conservative governments around Australia including that of Liberal Premier Colin Barnett. The report was critical of the mentality that in a so-called boom economy; a government was adopting fiscal austerity in this generation which will have detrimental effects on future generations. They pursued AAA credit ratings when it was these ratings agencies which helped to precipitate the GFC by “fraudulently providing the highest ratings to assets they knew were of inferior quality and were of a high risk of failing”. They funded capital expenditure from savings in recurrent expenditure which includes paying the salaries of public servants.

Walkington also observed what many public servants have known for some time: that the WA public service had not kept up with population increases, especially as WA had one of the fastest growing populations in Australia.

There was also the discourse of contestability which had come out of the Costello Report which had been commissioned by the Liberal Premier of Queensland, Campbell Newman. This recommended that all services which are contestable should be contracted out to take advantage of efficiencies in price and value.

There is also a Bill sitting in parliament, the Labour Relations Legislation Amendment and Repeal Act 2012, which seeks to make changes to industrial relations including to not make it obligatory for an employer to bargain. This provision currently exists for those workers and employers in the federal system who are subject to provisions of the Fair Work Act 2009.

In Western Australia we have seen how this provision has played out with the workers at Recall Records in Malaga, where the management has refused to negotiate on the claim by members of the National Union of Workers. Since February 21 the members have been camped outside their place of work waiting for the employer to bargain and negotiate. The employer wishes to crush the union so that the workers will have to enter into a non-union agreement.

The meeting also heard from members at three agencies where the austerity and privatisation agendas had started to have an effect: the Conservation and Environment, Child Protection and the Transport (Traffic Licensing Branch) Departments. The latter private operators are already providing services which are leading to more work for the public servants as they are called upon to fix up the errors of the private providers.  

Next article – Translink review a blueprint towards a privatised system

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