Today (Friday) is the first day of rolling strikes by staff at Centrelink, Medicare and the Child Support Agency, as the union ramps up its fight for a new enterprise agreement for Human Services workers.
Community and Public Service Union members (CPSU) begin a new round of strike action between 1.3 0pm and 8.30pm today in protest at what the union says is the federal government’s intractable stance on pay and working conditions, a dispute that has dragged on for three years.
Asked how the strike would affect benefit claimants, a CPSU spokesperson said it was ‘difficult to predict’ what impact industrial action would have.
“Based on past strike action there may be increased wait times at customer service centres and for telephone queries,” the spokesperson said, describing the strike as ‘open-ended’.
“The intention of the action is to pressure Department of Human Services’ (DHS) management and the Turnbull Government to fairly resolve enterprise bargaining.”
He asked the public to be patient and advised them to access DHS services outside the notified strike times.
“DHS staff are taking this action because they’ve been fighting for a new agreement since 2013 and have gone well over three years without a pay rise,” he said.
Department of Human Services General Manager Hank Jongen said customer payments would not be affected by the strikes but he added that there may be ‘reduced numbers’ of staff in service centres and on the phones.
He said DHS was working hard to minimise disruption to services.
“We’re asking customers to use the self-service options available through myGov and the Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support mobile apps,” Mr Jongen said.
“We will have arrangements in place to make sure that staff will still be available to help those in financial hardship and who need immediate assistance.”
The union postponed strikes in February in order to negotiate with the Department, talks mediated by the Fair Work Commission. When the talks came to nothing, strikes were back on the table.
CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood said: “This protracted dispute had gone on for far, far too long. It’s bad for people working in Medicare, Centrelink and Child Support, it’s bad for their families and it’s bad for the essential services our members in DHS provide. That’s why our members are going back on strike.
“We agreed in February to hold off on taking fresh industrial action and instead proceed with negotiations overseen by the Fair Work Commission. The CPSU has negotiated in good faith but unfortunately DHS stands out from other Commonwealth agencies where we are making progress.”
Mr Jongen presented a starkly different picture of how negotiations between the department and the CPSU were going, saying “we are making progress”.
“In its most recent offer, the department has committed to maintaining virtually all existing staff entitlements, including all its family friendly entitlements, and giving its staff a pay rise that is both affordable and in line with community standards,” Mr Jongen said.
“The department is, however, disappointed that the CPSU has initiated further industrial action while we continue to bargain before the Fair Work Commission.”
He said the strikes would not alter the Department’s bargaining position and added that staff would have the chance to vote on a new enterprise agreement as soon as possible.
Meanwhile Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) staff are awaiting the Fair Work Commission’s decision on their enterprise bargaining agreement, after the Commission stepped in at the end of last year to arbitrate between the union and the DIBP.
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