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Public servants union says government is picking a big fight

The Abbott government has picked a ''big industrial brawl'' with its ''ugly'' approach to the jobs of 160,000 federal public servants, according to the service's main union.

Another union is warning that serious workplace strife is inevitable with below-inflation pay rises predicted and big departments admitting they will not even be able to start talking for at least two months.

Public Service Minister Eric Abetz accused unions of endangering thousands of jobs with a pay claim of 12 per cent over three years.

The bureaucracy's biggest union, the CPSU, will gather more than 200 of its activists in Canberra on Thursday and launch its campaign against the government's policy position, which was released last week.

Do you know more? Send your confidential tips to ps@canberratimes.com.au

The hardline policy offers no pay rises for departmental staffers unless their bosses can prove they have extracted ''productivity gains'', and there is pressure on public service chiefs to crack down on sick leave.

CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood says Senator Abetz is using the jobs of the 160,000 public servants in a broader political fight over the government's industrial relations agenda. ''They're trying to hide a serious attack on workers' rights and conditions behind 45 pages of dry technical language,'' Ms Flood said.

''Minister Abetz is using pay as a distraction to avoid talking about his attacks on workers' job security and conditions. They have effectively decided to use government bargaining as a political football rather than settle agreements and get on with it … they have chosen to make this part of a bigger political fight.''

Ms Flood's union will issue a call-to-arms this week to tens of thousands of public servants in the government's frontline departments.

''This policy asks a frontline Customs officer to accept cuts to jobs, an increasing work load, cuts to rights, cuts to conditions, cuts to real wages,'' Ms Flood said. ''It's not exactly fair and reasonable.

''We did not want a big industrial brawl over public service bargaining, we wanted to settle reasonable deals.

''What this policy does is it says the government wants a fight.''

Departments are telling unions that they will not be able to negotiate until they see in what shape next month's budget leaves their finances and then navigate the bureaucratic and political hurdles contained in the bargaining framework.

The Australian Service Union's tax office organiser Jeff Lapidos said it was ironic the government released its policy after the much-hyped ''bonfire of red tape''.

''They deliberately released the policy after the bonfire so they could tie up the departmental secretaries in red tape,'' Mr Lapidos said.

Professionals Australia official Dave Smith warned that industrial disputes were inevitable, with his members potentially going backward in their pay and conditions.

''They're stripping their agreements, not even having having pay agreements that keep pace with the cost of living, and then they don't expect that people are going to push back at that?'' Mr Smith said. ''We will certainly be supporting our members in talking whatever action in the Fair Work Act they have.''

In a statement supplied through his Canberra office on Wednesday, Senator Abetz accused the CPSU of being out of touch with its own membership.

''The CPSU's job-endangering 12 per cent wage claim is out of touch both with budget circumstances and their own constituency,'' the minister said in his statement.

''It will potentially cost another 10,000 jobs on top of the 14,500 cuts inherited from Labor. I think most public servants realise this.''

45 comments

  • How about keep public servants keep their entitlements, and dont get a wage rise for three years? Im sure no one at the CPSU has considered that.

    Commenter
    SteveU
    Date and time
    April 03, 2014, 6:12AM
    • The word "consider" is not in the union dictionary. They would rather see jobs go, then give an inch. To the unions, the public service in "untouchable"....even though it's been stacked to the rafters during Labor's reign.

      Commenter
      gary
      Date and time
      April 03, 2014, 11:07AM
    • @SteveU and @Gary, You are obviously saying that you would be prepared not to receive a pay rise for 3 years if you agree with this.

      Why not let the government trim what they like? Just don't start bleating when you cannot get services that you take for granted now.

      Commenter
      Chuck
      Location
      Oz
      Date and time
      April 03, 2014, 12:07PM
    • It's disingenuous to talk about this as pay rises. Ultimately it's about pay cuts. If staff accept a 0% pay offer. That's effectively actually a 2-3% pay cut each year of the agreement as cost of living increases and wages do not.

      The APS is established as being the example employer. The fact that some employers in the private sector might not have given pay rises doesn't make it the rule, and it shouldn't mean the example sinks to that bottom line.

      We also should not assume that just because Abbott and his crew are saying something is the case, that that's how it actually is. They have their worldview on how things should look and the role of government in that. They have a plan to get there, which includes steering how we all talk and think about their plans. Is that what we want for our country though?

      Commenter
      D
      Date and time
      April 03, 2014, 2:33PM
    • when inflation is around 3%, a 0% pay offer equates to a pay cut. So when, in previous bargains, you've already traded off pay and conditions for the agreement you have... why would you then be happy to trade off a pay cut to retain those conditions?

      your comment smacks of a complete ignorance of how enterprise bargaining works.

      Commenter
      RandyG
      Date and time
      April 03, 2014, 6:54PM
  • Senator Abetz again showing delusional Government thinking by saying the CPSU is out of touch with its members. Time for him to take a reality check.

    Commenter
    Sam
    Location
    QLD
    Date and time
    April 03, 2014, 6:23AM
    • For all his union bashing, his repeated comment that the CPSU is "out of touch with it's members" demonstrates that Abetz doesn't know how unions work. As a member, I distinctly remember contributing to and subsequently voting on the CPSU claim, as all members were given the option to do. It was the members, not the officials, who have made this claim.

      Abetz is clearly lying - there's no way he's more in touch with CPSU members if he truly believes that we're happy to take an effective pay cut

      Commenter
      RandyG
      Date and time
      April 03, 2014, 6:59PM
  • Funny how many of the ps have quietly gone since Rudd got in and not a squeak from the cpsu?? Thousands went under labour, perms, nons and contractors. Many friends and work mates I know have been unemployed for some time and or left the ACT alltogether.

    Commenter
    Mr Private
    Date and time
    April 03, 2014, 6:51AM
    • not a squeak? the CPSU launched a major, service-wide "Cuts Hurt" campaign in response to the ALPs increased efficiency dividends. your comment is completely inaccurate.

      Commenter
      RandyG
      Date and time
      April 03, 2014, 7:19PM
  • We are no longer in the golden years of economic growth that existed prior to 2008. The days of a guaranteed pay rise each year to, at least, keep up with inflation no longer exists in the private sector. There are many companies going through tough times, requiring a razor gang approach to cut costs to survive, and yes those of us left behind are left to do more with less.

    Employees in some companies are taking pay cuts, to keep the company alive, in some cases workers know this is just for a bit longer. But in the public service, economic pressures aren't a worry, your employer has a bottomless pit of money, they can just borrow and let the next generation pay for your pay rise.

    Unfortunately the Unions won't be pragmatic in these tough times, as they need to be seen and heard as they're fighting for relevancy, it's all about image. And they can of course hold the Government to ransom in a myriad of ways, whereas in may private companies you'd just put the company out of business with such militant tactics.

    Are the rest of us meant to feel sorry for these people? I'll commiserate with any person going through tough times, but that's about the extent of my sympathetic feelings.

    Commenter
    JR
    Location
    Welcome to the real world!
    Date and time
    April 03, 2014, 7:11AM

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