Services Australia staff across the country will take part in a one-hour work stoppage on Tuesday after rebuffing the agency’s proposed changes to workplace conditions and the Albanese government’s 10.5 per cent pay offer.
The escalation comes as negotiations between management and the Commonwealth Public Sector Union (CPSU) become increasingly strained, with the union labelling the agency as “out of step” with the government’s proposed workplace reforms.
Later this year the government plans to legislate changes to workplace laws that include making it easier for casual workers to become permanent, regulating the gig economy, and cracking down on labour hire arrangements.
The CPSU is pursuing a wage increase of 20 per cent over three years, almost double the offer from the federal government.
The union is also opposing proposed changes to workplace conditions it claims will “cut existing employee rights”. These cover rostering negotiations, call monitoring and performance management obligations of the agency.
For the last two weeks, CPSU members at Services Australia have undertaken protected industrial action by refusing to enter prescribed codes that enable management to track the tasks they are completing.
Protected industrial action, including work stoppages, cannot occur without approval from the Fair Work Commission before being approved with a staff vote.
The CPSU has satisfied both these requirements, with its members voting overwhelmingly in support of protected industrial action which includes an unlimited number of full-day strikes at the agency.
CPSU national secretary Melissa Donelly said the ‘attack’ by Services Australia on employees rights and conditions was “out of step” with the commitments made by the Albanese government.
Ms Donnelly said the negotiations also stood in stark contrast with other bargaining negotiations across the public service.
“While the APSC, and other Agencies, are generally taking a collaborative and positive approach to bargaining, Services Australia management seem to be stuck in the past with their agenda of cuts.
“No other Agency has proposed cuts in this round of bargaining.
“Our members in Services Australia have already been through so much and are calling on Services Australia to abandon this current approach,” Ms Donelly said.
In a letter to Public Service Minister Katy Gallagher sent in July, the CPSU also requested the government reconsider Services Australia’s rejection of disability leave, gender affirmation leave, and a 4-day working week.
In a statement, Minister Gallagher said the Australian Public Service Commission was currently undertaking negotiations and aimed to reach an agreement soon.
“The Albanese Government is committed to being a model employer and these negotiations with the public sector unions represent the first time in a decade that a federal government has been at the table and willing to engage in genuine enterprise bargaining,” she said.
In March, Minister Gallagher, who is herself a former CPSU organiser, labelled the union’s wage claim as “impossible” to deliver, granted current budget constraints.
Services Australia spokesman Hank Jongen said that the agency was prepared for the worker stoppage and expected it to have little effect on operations.
“The recent auxiliary code ban had no impact on our services or customer payments, and we don’t expect this will either.”
“We are committed to the bargaining process being as simple as possible for everyone and are taking a collaborative, problem-solving approach to the matters raised through bargaining … Services Australia is regularly engaging with the APSC as bargaining progresses,” Mr Jongen said.