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Department of Human Services public servants vote to take industrial action

Industrial action: CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood says union members have voted in favour of protected industrial ...
Industrial action: CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood says union members have voted in favour of protected industrial action. Photo: David Tease

Department of Human Services union members have overwhelmingly voted in favour of taking protected industrial action in protest of cuts to pay and work conditions in return for a pay offer of less than 1 per cent, a union says. 

Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support employees will take action within the next month after almost 80 per cent of union members participated in a ballot in which 95 per cent voted in favour of protected industrial action.

Employment Minister Eric Abetz said the Community and Public Sector Union's "irresponsible" industrial action threatened to disrupt services to millions of Australians, and the union's claims could cost the jobs of 10,000 public servants.

The union said action could take a number of guises. Workers may pass on authorised union statements to clients and customers both verbally and in writing and participate in stop-work sessions of up to 24 hours.

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Employees may also set aside more immediate, pressing tasks in order to first complete overdue work.

Clients and customers could avoid re-queuing or being transferred as workers deal with inquiries where they have the skills, training, qualifications and classification to do so.

Other actions endorsed in the ballot include avoiding the use of auxiliary codes in the computer and telephone operations system; ignoring the dress code; and bans or limitations on answering telephone calls, responding to voice mail messages and replying to internal emails.

Employees could also avoid working outside regular hours unless overtime was paid and take breaks earlier or later than allocated. 

The DHS decision follows a rally of 2000 public servants earlier this month in which bureaucrats were called on to escalate industrial action without striking and losing pay.

Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Nadine Flood said workers were targeting the federal government and action would not affect Centrelink payments.

"Minister Abetz's extravagant claims that we will be hitting Centrelink payments in the run up to Christmas are just plain wrong, the CPSU has never said anything of the kind," she said.

"Our member's actions won't hit payments that families, pensioners and others rely on but they will show the government we mean business."

But Senator Abetz said the 

union should abandon its claim for a 12 per cent wage rise over three years.

"[It] is simply not affordable and, if granted, would cost the jobs of 10,000 public servants," he said.

"Any wage increase will see a further increase in Australia's borrowings. This claim is not about profit sharing but increasing our debt which taxpayers will need to repay with interest."

Ms Flood said staff would not accept a below par pay offer without a fight and described industrial action as a wake-up call for Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Senator Abetz.

"You can't treat your staff like this and get away with it," she said.

"Like the ADF, working mums at Centrelink and Medicare are being asked to cop cuts to leave and other rights as well as a low-ball pay offer. Unlike the military, though, they can and are doing something about it – by sending a clear message to government that they are prepared to take it to the next level.

"If the government is serious about finding a sensible solution then there's still time to sit down and hammer out fair and reasonable agreements before we get to more serious industrial action."

Ms Flood said a similar ballot at the Department of Veterans Affairs would open soon.

She said the DHS ballot was one of the largest of its kind undertaken in Australia.

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