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Employment Minister Michaelia Cash accused of stalling pay negotiations by public service union

The union behind proposed strikes at international airports across Australia has accused Employment Minister Michaelia Cash of overruling bargaining representatives and refusing to negotiate in good faith.

The Community and Public Sector Union will lodge a complaint with the Fair Work Commission on Wednesday, claiming it is necessary to ensure productive negotiations can continue at the Australian Electoral Commission.

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The complaint comes a day before customs and immigration officials are set to walk off the job for 24 hours, which is likely to result in lengthy delays at airports over the Easter holiday period.

CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood said the circumstances at the AEC were similar to many other departments and agencies that have been negotiating enterprise agreements for close to two years.

Employment Minister Michaelia Cash says 48 of 79 Heydon royal commission recommendations will be adopted by a returned ...
Employment Minister Michaelia Cash says 48 of 79 Heydon royal commission recommendations will be adopted by a returned Turnbull government. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

"The Australian Electoral Commission has made it clear to CPSU through negotiations that they would be willing to reach agreement and retain many of the workers' rights and conditions that are at the centre of this dispute, but Minister Cash through the Public Service Commission has refused to let them, despite her public statements," she said.

"The government's harsh and unreasonable approach throughout this bargaining process effectively means AEC Commissioner Tom Rogers does not have the authority to bargain effectively with his workforce on issues he's absolutely willing to negotiate."

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But a commission spokesman accused the CPSU of "deliberately misrepresenting" their efforts to work within the government's policy framework.

"The AEC's proposed enterprise agreement, which was rejected by staff in February, retained entitlements from the extant agreement," he said.

CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood has accused Ms Cash of interfering with pay negotiations.
CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood has accused Ms Cash of interfering with pay negotiations.  Photo: David Tease

"The AEC remains committed to settling an agreement for its staff and is disappointed to see the CPSU seek to cause further delay."

A spokesman for Ms Cash said the minister was not a bargaining representative and it would be inappropriate to comment on a matter before the Fair Work Commissioner.

"AEC management, its employees and representatives should continue to negotiate to reach an agreement in line with the government's bargaining policy so employees can enjoy a pay rise and the AEC can return its full focus to operating its business," he said.

When the pay deal was rejected with a 60 per cent majority, union representatives described it as a "deal that would have stripped important rights and conditions – such as consultation rights, a fair performance management system and reasonable control of working hours".

Ms Flood said the fraught negotiations demonstrated why the government's approach was proving unsuccessful at many departments and agencies.

"AEC staff voted no to a dud deal just last month and staff in many other agencies have rejected proposed agreements several times," she said.

In recent months staff at the Australian Tax Office, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Department of Human Services have all rejected revised enterprise agreements by a majority of 80 per cent of higher.

Ms Cash and Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd have condemned the CPSU's decision to strike at airports and key government services as cynical and designed to hurt the public.

"To strike on the day before a long weekend is a cynical move by the CPSU," Mr Lloyd said. "It will simply cause difficulty and stress for the public. This action will cause delays and inconvenience on one of the busiest travel days of the year."