ACT government executives must "actively encourage" their staff to join a union, under a new policy that has been criticised as politicising the public service.
Directorate bosses now have to supply new starters with union membership forms and fee structures, according to the new "Union Encouragement Policy" distributed to ACT public servants last week.
The policy requires all executives, managers and supervisors to put aside their personal views, and adopt a "positive and supportive role, not simply passively accept membership recruitment and representative activity by unions".
Union officials or representatives also must be given the chance to recruit new members during work hours "provided that work is not unreasonably disrupted".
They must also be invited to address new employees as an "integral" part of their inductions.
An accompanying letter from the deputy director-general of workforce capability and governance Meredith Whitten said the policy "clearly articulates to managers and staff what a positive relationship with unions looks like".
The policy, signed off on in June by Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Workplace Relations Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith, was one championed by Unions ACT, with the full support of the CPSU and other affiliated unions, CPSU ACT Regional Secretary Brooke Muscat-Bentley said
Ms Muscat-Bentley said union membership in the ACT public service had been "under significant pressure" for decades now, in line with declining membership across the Australian economy.
However she said CPSU membership had been growing in the ACT public service , which had given the union a stronger voice at the bargaining table.
“This policy is more about providing some local solutions to what’s a national problem. The Liberal and National parties have been doing everything they can to discourage union membership, knowing that serves their friends at the big end of town, so we think it’s time the balance was restored," Ms Muscat-Bentley said.
“Some areas of the ACT public service have been unnecessarily hostile to union members, with morale and working conditions in those directorates suffering accordingly and casualisation increasing. Those negative outcomes hurt not just workers but ACT residents who rely on the services they provide.”
However the Canberra Liberals' industrial relations spokesman Andrew Wall said the policy rang alarm bells for him, as it demonstrated that unions continued to exert influence over the decisions of government.
The CPSU is also the dominant union in the local Labor party, and Mr Wall said he feared this was an attempt to "overly politicise the public service".
"Labor members of the Assembly, including Rachel Stephen-Smith have made it undoubtedly clear in the chamber the Labor party and the union movement are one and actively encouraging union membership in that instance is flying very close to politicising the public service," Mr Wall said.
"This is a classic example of the faceless men and women of Labor calling the shots over those elected to office."
Mr Wall also said he was concerned the policy could be in breach of the Fair Work Act, which also gives people the right not to join a union, as well as the freedom to associate.
However a spokeswoman for Ms Stephen-Smith said the policy was not a requirement for public servants to join a union, and the government would not apply pressure on staff to do so.
" The policy is designed to provide ACT public service staff, particularly new staff, with information about the unions that represent them and actively encourages staff to participate in their union," she said.
"This policy does not disadvantage staff who choose not to join a union, and the government does not condone any measures or policies that may disadvantage staff that are not part of a union."
The Barr government has reshaped its industrial relations policies this year in consultation with unions.
Companies that want to tender for ACT government contracts in the areas of construction, security, cleaning, and traffic management will need to be audited to prove they have not ripped off their workers starting January 15.
They'll also have to comply with a Secure Local Jobs Code, which requires them to give new starters union membership forms, allow union fees to be directly debited and to give union officials access to their photocopiers and tea rooms.
The CPSU also successfully lobbied the territory government to create a taskforce to identify casual workers within its ranks to convert to permanent staff.
Ms Muscat-Bentley said the taskforce had made excellent progress, particularly in Access Canberra and the Health Directorate, with more than 150 labour hire and contract positions converted to permanent jobs.
"That’s more than 150 people now heading into Christmas with paid leave and decent wages and working conditions. The taskforce will continue to identify more insecure jobs to be converted to permanent positions,” Ms Muscat-Bentley said.