Public servants strike in WA
by Richard Titelius* Late last month Western Australia's Community and Public Sector Union/Civil Service Association (CPSU/CSA) conducted its first sector-wide strike in over 10 years as part of its industrial campaign to achieve better wages and conditions. Despite the CPSU/CSA having moved from its original claim of 30 percent over three years, to 18.9 percent over the same period, the Gallop Government, represented by Industrial Relations Minister John Kobelke, steadfastly resisted meeting the union's demands. The Government insulted the union's legitimate claims further when it offered three percent — or $25.00 per week, whichever was greater — on the eve of the strike. CPSU/CSA Branch Secretary, Toni Walkington, rejected the offer outright and declared that the strike would go ahead. At the Perth Magistrates Courts, the resolve of members, and even some non-members, to strike on the day became increasingly evident as the day of the strike loomed closer. For ten years prior to Gallop's Government coming into power in 2001, public servants were subjected to agency-based enterprise bargaining agreements and workplace agreements (individual contracts). The strike action of November 27 was the litmus test for the resolve of union members to act as a collective. The day started well with The West Australian newspaper, renowned for its unsympathetic views towards unions, running a full front-page story on industrial unrest in the State. The public servants' strike featured prominently in the paper. A picket line of union members and officials was organised for a 7am start at Parliament House. Unfortunately due to the presence of a very small number of union officials and members, it was not very effective and most Members of parliament chose to ignore it. Meanwhile, around the Central Business District a number of picket lines were organised to "publicise the reasons for the strike and to encourage workers to join the action". The pickets were well attended. I participated in a robust picket line outside the Perth Magistrates Courts, where about 50 vocal and enthusiastic workers handed out leaflets, talked to passers-by and the occasional supportive solicitor or judicial officer, and generally made their presence felt. Between 9.30am and 10am members, supporters and union officials marched to the picket line outside the Premier's office, where Toni Walkington addressed the large, colourful and noisy crowd. (It was also a good day for selling The Guardian!) Ms Walkington declared the pickets and demonstrations a success in as far as they conveyed to a mostly receptive public the difficulties and problems associated with public sector restructuring, cut backs, etc. The police recently received a wage increase of 15 percent over three years, whilst the State's teachers are still pursuing their wage claim through the Industrial Relations Commission. Is it not time that the Government recognised the commitment, skills, workload and work value of the State's 30,000 public servants? Minister Kobelke declared the strike "an ineffectual one" and has still not moved to improve the Government's offer. He was quoted as having said only 750 workers participated in the strike when in reality more than 7000 workers did not show up for work on the day. Several services were significantly affected by the strike. The Registrar General's Office and most Traffic Licensing Centres, for example, were closed on the day. The union has indicated that it will step up industrial action with a series of rolling stoppages, further work bans, picket lines and other unspecified actions.
* * ** Richard Titelius is a CPSU/CSA delegate.