Public service union pledges 'fight of our lives'

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The Australian Public Service is facing its worst industrial strife for 30 years after the main workplace union dramatically escalated its strike action on Friday.

Tax officials will walk off the job during the upcoming federal budget and government resources will be used to distribute nearly four million pamphlets highlighting public servants' grievances over pay and conditions.

A gathering of Community and Public Sector Union leaders in Sydney on Friday was told they were in the "fight of our lives" and voted unanimously to up the ante in the dispute with the Abbott government, which has been simmering for months over new workplace deals for 160,000 public servants.

The CPSU is threatening the biggest public service industrial dispute since the Fraser government and its bureaucracy went to war in the 1970s over the prime minister's spending cuts.  

The union's latest move brings closer the prospect of the dispute reaching into the lives of everyday Australians with ill-feeling running high at "service delivery" departments like Human Services, the ATO and Veterans' Affairs, and the Tax Office.


Officials at 15 departments and agencies, representing three-quarters of the service, are either taking or planning industrial action against offers they say strip real wages and entitlements or to try to force their bosses to the negotiating table.

Major departments like Human Services, which runs Centrelink, Medicare and the Child Support Agency, as well as the ATO, Customs, Immigration and the Defence are heavily embroiled in the unrest and at varying stages of preparing for strike action.

But Public Service Minister Eric Abetz was not budging on Friday from the tough bargaining stance he has imposed on his agencies, and again blamed the CPSU's ambit 12.5 per cent pay claim over three years for the stalemate in negotiations.

There will be protest work bans at the ATO as Treasurer Joe Hockey brings down the budget on May 12, which will kickstart a campaign of rolling stoppages at the Tax Office.

More disruptions across the public service will follow in the coming weeks and months, the CSPU said on Friday.

The union's National Secretary Nadine Flood said in her speech to the delegates at the "council of war"  in Sydney that the union was determined to take its fight to the Abbott government.

"Our members will take strike action, they will take stoppages but they will also reach out to the Australian community and tell them what this government is doing to their workers' rights," Ms Flood said.

"Over the course of the next month our members will hand out over 1.3 million flyers to Australians accessing government services to tell them what this government is doing in cutting services and attacking workers rights and conditions.

"The month after that it will be 2.5 million.

"It will go on and on."

But Senator Abetz was unmoved by the week's developments, repeating his position on Friday that the union was to blame for the disputes.

"Government agencies have been bargaining in good faith to flexibly explore bargaining options with their workforces," the minister said.

"The CPSU should stop overestimating support for its industrial action, abandon its ridiculous 12.5 per cent wage claim and stop standing between public servants and the entirely responsible wage rises on offer.

"The sooner the CPSU adopts a reasonable approach to bargaining, the sooner public servants will benefit from affordable deals which don't endanger their own jobs."