As Mad as a March Hare has passed from Alice in Wonderland into the language, and March has certainly provoked a nervous excitability among employees. The image of striking workers in one area of the public sector has appeared to galvanise workers in another and, before you know it, the snowball effect sees employees voicing their dissent left, right and centre.
Fairfax journalists went on strike in Melbourne and Sydney earlier this month, followed by federal public servants at Medicare, Centrelink, the Tax Office, Defence, the Bureau of Meteorology, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, and the Bureau of Statistics, who all walked out.
Most media attention was devoted to operations disruptions at Australia’s major airports caused by the on-off-on-again strike by Immigration and Border Force workers alongside Agriculture and Water Resources workers. Members of both these organisations belong to the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU).
So what’s at stake? To take the most recent dispute, the CPSU members have been in a two-year, unresolved battle with the federal government over pay and work conditions. The union argues that thousands of their members face the loss of family-friendly working practices that allow them better work-life balance.
In exchange for losing these rights, Border Force staff are being asked to accept an offer of a two-year wage freeze and an annual 2 per cent rise after that. Some staff will actually face a cut in their take-home pay. It’s a situation that the CPSU argues would never be tolerated in the private sector.
All this is taking place in an atmosphere of increasing confrontation in the industrial relations arena. The recent announcement by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull that unless parliament passed legislation to restore the Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) he would call a double dissolution of parliament, heralds a more bullish approach on the part of the federal government. However, fuel was added to the fire last week when the ATO released their latest figures showing that the wealthiest in society are seeing the largest income increases.
With 2015 recording some of the lowest figures for industrial disputes for some time, 2016 suggests that trend is about to reverse.
AHRI moderates a series of nationwide networks hosted by HR professionals. Some workshops and seminars run as part of these cover employee relations and industrial relations (ER/IR). The networks provide advice and assistance regarding employment and workplace relations matters. For more information click here.