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DHS's wage ballot is huge for everyone in the APS

Date

Noel Towell

COMMENT

The DHS' upcoming wage ballot has huge implications for the entire public service.

The DHS' upcoming wage ballot has huge implications for the entire public service.

The Department of Human Services' wage ballot  carries huge implications for every worker in the Australian Public Service.

If DHS bosses pull off an audacious industrial smash-and-grab by winning the snap poll of their 30,000 workers, it will be a stunning victory for the Coalition's public sector industrial relations policy.

A vote to accept a pay rise of 1.15 per cent a year would be a triumph in the heartland of the public sector union, the CPSU.

It would strike a crippling blow to trade union power in the public service and Employment Minister Eric Abetz knows it.

But if the below-inflation deal is rejected, the federal government's plans for its 160,000 APS bureaucrats are in real trouble and the door opens to at least 12 months of public sector industrial strife, offering Labor a handy political opportunity.

DHS is the government’s biggest department, a behemoth that runs front-line agencies such as Centrelink, Medicare and the Child Support Agency.

Most of its workers are women, they are paid less than their counterparts in other departments, are more likely to work part-time, more likely to be in the union and not many of them live in Canberra. They are the very opposite of the lazy stereotype of contented, well-paid public servants.

Expect to hear a lot of those figures from the CPSU.

If the government can force through a low-ball wage at DHS, it can win one anywhere in the broader public service. Other departmental bosses, none of who have come clean yet on their own wage positions, are paying very close attention to how this plays out.

The government’s stated position is a familiar one; the budget’s in crisis and everybody – including the lady behind the desk at your local Centrelink – must do their bit to fix it.

But that’s a hard sell to a workforce that knows there was money – $102 million – for plush offices to house DHS’s hierarchy in a posh part of Canberra when perfectly good offices in a less salubrious part of town were available.

They know too that tens of millions – the exact figure is a closely guarded secret – could be spent on a customer service computer system that does not work much of the time.

''Labor waste'' will be Abetz’s refrain. Well, maybe. But he has to convince 30,000 rank-and-filers that the fix-up should come out of their pockets.

If the offer is rejected, the prospect of industrial action comes into play very soon. DHS workers carry a big stick: any disruption to Centrelink payments, for example, and there would be hell to pay for Abetz with his colleagues.

But any strike action might leave the CPSU, touchy about its public image at the best of times, vulnerable to attacks as the old-school union baddies holding the business of government to ransom.

A protracted IR brawl between the federal government and its public servants is an opportunity for Labor to fight on ground where it feels strong. Two opposition frontbenchers were quick to jump into the fray on Thursday as the details of DHS’s gambit went public.

They know it too: this is huge. 

22 comments so far

  • DHS is simply doing what it always has done, treat its workforce with utter disdain. The last-gasp low offer and snap poll have been used before in DHS, it is a huge gamble. Staff have rejected better deals than this in the past because they were substandard. Abbott and co. are just trying it on where they think they have the best chance of getting away with it, in a department with lots of part-time women.
    The comment about the money shortly to be wasted on already-working customer IT systems is worth a LOT more investigation, as an ex-insider I can tell you it is all about one personality, with no foundation in reality or justifiable need.

    Commenter
    Truthy
    Date and time
    July 25, 2014, 10:47AM
    • There’s no doubt the phrase ‘fat cat bureaucrats’ was coined specially about the DHS executive. As noted by the CT, they erect empty useless edifices to house their frail egos and to ensure that they are close to their favourite shops and coffee houses in Manuka. They shun their nose at the real workers and find it repulsive that they should be asked to work in somewhere like Tuggeranong. Shame on them for wasting the tax payer’s money and shame on the Minister for Human Services for allowing and encouraging this. These people are not Public Servants, they are greedy overpaid, underperforming Self Servants.

      Commenter
      DecMac
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      July 25, 2014, 10:47AM
      • Where are all the right wing zealots and their anti-public service tripe. "Those fat cats don't deserve air conditioning!". Waiting for the Alan Jones style comments, complete with their typos and poor grammar.

        Commenter
        A Current Affair
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        July 25, 2014, 11:16AM
        • Let's start right here. You forgot your question mark!

          Commenter
          Hairy
          Date and time
          July 25, 2014, 9:32PM
      • The Australian politicans look after their wages, increases, super. Australia is no longer the Lucky Country, someone needs to do something big, real big to jolt our decision makers and soon or there'll be no turning back - Australia, headed to be the Unlucky Country!

        Commenter
        NannyGoatGreen
        Location
        Canberra
        Date and time
        July 25, 2014, 11:17AM
        • You got it in one NannyGoatGreen.

          Commenter
          NITRO GANGSTER
          Date and time
          July 25, 2014, 12:15PM
      • Easy - just vote no. Ladies its over to you.

        Abbotts mendacious, punitive mob will use all their cunning & power to destroy workers rights.

        They still havn't explained why the poorest Australians are expected to prop up the lifestyles of the richest.

        Commenter
        punch
        Date and time
        July 25, 2014, 11:28AM
        • I think the sky would have to fall from the weight of flying pigs before the staff at DHS agree to this proposed agreement. The sentiment is that this is an insult. Not so much for the 1.15% (increase to 2.75 if it starts before 1 September), but the stripping of pretty much every other condition from leave to higher duties to performance management to redundancy and consultation.

          Commenter
          A DHS public servant (not a union member)
          Location
          not in Canberra
          Date and time
          July 25, 2014, 11:36AM
          • Spot on. The one that I particularly like is no sick leave without a certificate. If you have a sick child or are bed ridden, then you will somehow have to see a doctor (if one is available). So not only are you inconvenienced, you have to pay for it as well.

            This is a great way to build morale in a department that is suffering badly already.

            Is DHS a preferred employer? I will leave that up to you to decide...

            Commenter
            A DHS public servant (not a union member)
            Location
            in Canberra
            Date and time
            July 25, 2014, 12:44PM
          • Voting No is a good start but if you want to move the Govs bargaining policy you should join the union fighting for public sector workers. Join with your workmates by joining the CPSU

            Commenter
            You should join
            Date and time
            July 25, 2014, 3:26PM

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