Public servants prepare for escalation in industrial action

Federal public servants have been told to dig in for a large-scale campaign of attrition against the Abbott government.

A rally of 2000 public servants on Thursday was told thousands more bureaucrats within the 160,000-strong workforce would be called on to escalate industrial action in the coming "weeks and months" in a tactical war that will avoid public servants striking and losing pay.

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CPSU Canberra public servants rally

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Industrial action will instead target the Coalition and the bureaucracy's management, partly by letting potentially millions of Australians dealing with departments and agencies know about the "attack" on wages and conditions during phone calls, emails and face-to-face. 

Wide-scale industrial action will force Employment Minister Eric Abetz to prove to private industry he can withstand union pressure to keep a lid on rising wages, as he has previously lectured weak-kneed employers who have caved in to union demands. 

The Community and Public Sector Union's revelation 5500 new members had signed up since the federal budget in May will make his challenge greater. 

"It won't be a short, sharp industrial campaign," Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Nadine Flood told the lunchtime rally.


She said the smart and strategic campaign would not "hit our community or low-paid members who can't afford to be out on a picket line for weeks" and added members simply voting 'no' to a government offer would not be enough to force any breakthroughs.

"We would be prepared to thrash this out at bargaining tables," she said. 

"But in the face of this draconian position from this government, a government that won't talk, we face this decision and we are ready for it."

The Fair Work Commission's permission for industrial action of union members at the Department of Human Services and Department of Veterans' Affairs was already being sought. 

"Industrial action is not our preference but in the coming weeks and months we expect other departments and agencies to get to the same point," Ms Flood said. 

Senator Abetz has previously said the union should abandon its 12 per cent pay increase over three years because it would lead to the loss of 10,000 public service jobs on top of the 16,500 already in the pipeline – of which 8000 were slashed in the past year. 

"Instead, help its members negotiate what small productivity-backed increases are possible given the mess left by the former Labor government," he said in September.  

"The CPSU has been falsely claiming the government is stripping public service rights and conditions – this is incorrect.

"The government bargaining policy aims for less complex enterprise agreements that do not repeat rights, conditions and responsibilities already provided for in legislation elsewhere."

Many of the public servants who turned up the rally wore red as a sign of solidarity. 

Parts of the crowd jeered when speakers referred to Prime Minister Tony Abbott's comments on the 1.5 per cent annual pay increase – seen by many as a real wages cut – for 57,000 Australia soldiers, sailors and Air Force personnel when he suggested on Tuesday it would be highest pay rise anyone in the public service would receive this year.