Border Force To Strike Again, Putting Turnbull’s Softer Rhetoric On Unions To The Test

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There appears to have been some movement since Eric Abetz was dumped as Employment Minister, but the union representing Border Force staff says the government’s position on bargaining remains ‘ridiculous’. Thom Mitchell reports.

Border Force workers will take fresh strike action in coming weeks as the Community and Public Sector Union steps up its campaign to stop what it says is a slide in pay and conditions that has threatened CPSU members for more than a year.

Enterprise Bargaining Agreements dictating public sector workers’ conditions of employment lapsed on June 30 last year, and the government and CPSU have each accused the other of stonewalling negotiations.

Just four per cent of CPSU members have secured new EBAs, meaning the remainder of the union’s 55,000 members have effectively been dealt a pay freeze. National Secretary Nadine Flood said for the Border Force workers who will strike for 24 hours on November 9 it’s better than the alternative offer, “an unfair agreement that cut the take-home pay of many staff by $8,000 a year or more and stripped rights for all employees”.

The Federal Employment Minister, Michaelia Cash said the union “[has]not put forward any solutions that would advance agreement making” and “instead stuck to their unaffordable and unworkable claims.”

This morning Flood made similar accusations, suggesting that strike action has been forced by the government’s failure to “produce any meaningful move on cuts to these workers’ rights, conditions and take-home pay”.

“We have made the decision to restart significant industrial action, given that,” she said.

The Border Force strike will begin just after midnight Sunday 8 November, and is expected to cause delays at Australia’s eight international airports. In August, industrial action which lasted just two hours — one twelfth of the 24 hour strike 91 per cent of Border Force members have now voted to institute on November 9 — caused minor delays at airports across the country.

“We expect Border Force to continue their expensive and heavy-handed tactic of flying managers around the country to act as strike breakers, but it’s clear that many of them know that this divisive tactic is doing nothing to resolve this dispute,” Flood said.

Since the last strikes, there has been a change of Employment Minister, and a slight change in the government’s bargaining position. Eric Abetz, who was turfed when Malcolm Turnbull ascended to the Prime Ministership, had refused to meet with the union for 18 months.

The change may be a reflection of Malcolm Turnbull’s promise to take the heat out of the confrontational relationship the Abbott government had with unions, and Cash has since met with Flood in an attempt to get negotiations back on track.

But the CPSU said the deal on offer for Border Force workers remains effectively the same.

As Employment Minister, Cash is responsible for setting out a ‘bargaining policy’ which establishes the parameters for what individual agencies across the public sector are able to offer their workers.

Since taking the reigns Cash has increased the pay offer individual agencies can offer their workforce by a quarter, up to 2 per cent.

“The Community and Public Sector Union and others have run a misleading campaign against the government’s bargaining policy, but have not put forward any solutions that would advance agreement making,” Cash said.

Flood said Cash’s changes to the bargaining policy “don’t compensate for losing a raft of rights and conditions”.

“Not fixing the $8,000 pay cuts, [the]government still pushing to slash from the take-home pay of [Border Force] officers’ working to keep our borders safe just makes their offer ridiculous,” she said.

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Thom Mitchell

Thom Mitchell is New Matilda's Environment Reporter.

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