Look out Abetz: Industrial action looms at the Department of Employment

Public servants will take industrial action to Employment Minister Eric Abetz's doorstep within weeks. 

Tasmanian senator Eric Abetz.
Tasmanian senator Eric Abetz. Photo: Andrew Meares

The Fair Work Commission has given permission to unionised Employment Department bureaucrats to express their displeasure through the disruption of normal work activities.

Ninety per cent of Community and Public Sector Union members at the department, who voted in a recent ballot, supported taking action. A total of 82 per cent of eligible voters took part in the ballot and potential industrial action which could be taken is broad ranging.

Thousands of CPSU members across the Commonwealth bureaucracy were preparing to take protected action in coming weeks which included work bans, stoppages and talking to clients about the deepening impasse in negotiations between staff and the government during enterprise bargaining agreements.

In late 2014 almost all Employment Department staff – inside unions and out – rejected the government's low pay offer of 1.4 per cent during three years that came with another 46 job cuts, a 30-minute-longer working week and the loss of a Christmas half-day shutdown.


CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood said the Abbott government was attacking the rights, conditions and real wages of public service workers.

"CPSU members aren't stupid and won't support agreements that leave them significantly worse off," Ms Flood said.

"Union members in agencies covering more than half of the public service have won – or are seeking – the right to take protected action against the government's attack on their pay, conditions and rights at work.

"Minister Abetz can no longer duck and dive on this issue."

His unworkable bargaining policy narrowly defines productivity as cutting rights, conditions and hourly wages, which is making it impossible for agencies to put forward sensible agreements."

Senator Abetz has regularly said publicly that existing public service pay offers were in line with the need to reduce the nation's debt levels.

In February the senator said industrial action would have the opposite of the desired effect.

"It would be a counterproductive exercise for the CPSU to organise industrial action in support of its claim for a 12 per cent pay rise, which is utterly unrealistic and would cost the jobs of 10,000 public servants," Senator Abetz said.

Bargaining for 160,000 Commonwealth public servants has been under way since April 2014. Agreements in more than 100 agencies expired in June 2014.