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Issue #1628      February 26, 2014

Govt offensive on public sector wages and conditions

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) has accused the federal government of duplicity after details of its new public sector enterprise bargaining policy were revealed to the union.

These details reveal that the government plans to start making radical cuts to the pay and conditions of 160,000 of its employees within weeks. These plans include:

  • significant cuts to employment conditions and allowances
  • all pay rises to be linked to trade-offs in conditions
  • wage increases from between 0% to a maximum of 2.5% depending on employees accepting reduced rights and entitlements
  • no central negotiations with the CPSU
  • tightly directed control of what agencies are allowed to negotiate.

CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood said “The Coalition government is telling us it is not ready to talk about bargaining, yet it appears it has all but drafted the fine print on a highly-aggressive policy to cut real wages, conditions and rights.

“Under this government’s approach, public sector workers are facing a double whammy. Firstly thousands of jobs are being cut and the remaining staff are being flogged harder to get the work done. Secondly, no-one is going to get a pay rise that keeps up with inflation, unless they agree to have their rights and conditions cut.

“As we saw with SPC Ardmona and Toyota, this government is more interested in having a political go at workers and unions than making fair and productive workplace agreements.

“Does the community really want their local Centrelink office or Customs checkpoint to become the next battleground in Prime Minister Abbott’s war on wages and conditions?” Ms Flood asked.

The union has 160,000 workers in the Australian Public Service (APS) on agreements that expire on June 30. Instead of talking to the CPSU about its bargaining policy, the government has drawn up a plan to force agencies to cut workers’ rights with no genuine negotiations.

“Multiple sources across the public service have told us the government has completed its bargaining policy and has briefed APS agencies,” said Ms Flood.

The new policy will be called Australian Government Employment and Workplace Relations Policy and will apply to all APS agencies as well as non-APS agencies such as the CSIRO. It has been through a Cabinet process and could be released within a week.

The government is blocking any whole-of-service negotiations with CPSU, and is instead imposing a centralised system designed to severely restrict how agencies can bargain. The new policy also includes:

  • move to stripped back “principle-based agreements”: strip matters out of enterprise agreements and move them into policy which the employer can change without union and employee agreement
  • agency level negotiations only: drive to deliver central government agenda, but no central government negotiations with unions, bargaining only at agency level with agencies expected to deliver set agenda
  • agencies will have limited room to negotiate: this is already causing serious concern from agencies
  • agencies directed to have an Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) representative at negotiations: APSC person in room to oversee what agencies discuss with the union and ensure adherence to central agenda
  • central vetting: APSC, working closely with Minister Abetz, to closely vet all agreements
  • no pay increases unless linked to narrowly defined productivity: only cuts to direct employee costs are recognised, no recognition of productivity improvements delivered through savings measures, including reduced jobs, increased workloads, and pressure to deliver same outcomes with significantly less staff
  • pay rises from between 0% to 2.5% and linked to significant employment conditions trade-offs to fund any increases: employees could receive 0% if unwilling to reduce existing rights and entitlements
  • cut personal (sick and other) and carers leave to 15 days maximum: cut from current 18-20 days to a service-wide maximum standard of 15 days
  • all allowances subject to central vetting: move to abolish or reduce agency allowances, allowances to be vetted by representatives from Secretary, APSC and Minister Abetz’s office
  • voluntary redundancy under pressure: tightening of redundancy processes
  • reduce role of unions: move to reduce engagement with unions and limit recognition of union delegates.

What remains of the union’s role and rights to negotiate hardly constitutes collective bargaining.

The policy for public sector workers may well be the blueprint for the rest of the workforce. The trading off of conditions for wage rises is bad enough, but the stripping back of “principle-based agreements” to “policy” which the employer can change without union and employee agreement takes it to a new level. Employers won’t need individual contracts with that sort of power and flexibility.

This attack on federal government employees is of nightmare proportions compounded by the prospect of mass sackings. It is vital that the rest of the union movement and ACTU give their full support to the CPSU and members under attack.

Next article – Electricity privatisation – “record of failure”

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