The Guardian • Issue #2090

WA: Public sector unions plan action for pay and conditions

February 2024, the CPSU/CSU held its annual union delegates convention (DELCON).

Over 22 and 23 February 2024, the CPSU/CSU held its first in-person annual union delegates convention (DELCON) since pre-COVID 2019. Attended by over 110 delegates and full-time officials, it was timed to coincide with the commencement of the campaign for their next Your Union Agreement (YUA) between the union and the government of WA Premier Roger Cook.

In December 2023, Cook announced that he had abandoned the government wages policy of of announcing the wages percentage of two years for the entire State Public Sector, and that it was up to the Public Sector Alliance, lead by Unions WA to convince him otherwise. This meant genuine bargaining could now be entered into with the individual unions that make up the Public Sector Alliance.

Delegates heard from vanguard union delegates about how they dealt with issues by being persistent, accountable, brave, and consistent. The conference workshopped recruiting strategies based on three types of workplaces from the “flies” or big central offices with diverse occupations, “puppy dogs” or those agencies with a caring or community focus to “bears”, mainly workplaces which have a single occupation, strong delegate leaders and are willing to take resolute industrial action in the achievement of their aims. In any workplace it’s important to listen and understand the membership and have them engaged and involved.

On the second day Branch Secretary, Rikki Hendon provided details about the history and development of the current claim that delegates would vote upon to refer to the union Branch Council for ratification. The claim was made up of 26 points, the most important of which was salary: a 12 per cent increase made up of 7 per cent in the first year and 5 per cent in the second year. This is noticeable increase on the previous offer from McGowan of 6 per cent over two years. McGowan did not engage in meaningful bargaining with public sector unions to seek an enhancement of that offer.

The present claim, initially presented by Unions WA last year aims to make up lost ground from seven years of being shafted by austerity pay deals, and to stop the sector from haemorrhaging staff, as many highly skilled and knowledgeable workers had moved to the private sector for better pay and conditions and less stressful workloads.

Other parts of the claim included restoring relativities between salary increases, expanding access to location allowances and increasing travel allowances for regional workers, increasing access to parental leave to 18 weeks in line with the Federal Public service, and establishing a pay equity review team to ensure that changes in work value are recognised and rewarded.

There was a significant response from members to a survey by the union with over 4000 responses being received. Most members were interested in improvements in pay though equity. Cost pressures in regional areas were also high on list of members priorities. There was also significant interest from delegates at the conference in superannuation. Delegates also discussed provisions relating to working with the consequences of climate change – especially in northern WA where it may become so hot during the day it will become difficult to work outside during daylight hours.

For the closing session delegates were addressed by the State Premier and Minister in charge of the Public Service, Roger Cook. Cook had previously addressed member unions of the Public Sector Alliance at a Perth Town Hall meeting in December 2023. The Premier repeated much of his speech from the Town Hall meeting as well as quoting Treasurer Rita Saffioti from her speech to the Public Sector Alliance on ‘sustainable budget management.’ Premier Cook also took questions from delegates from the floor.

Matt, a youth worker employed at the Byford Secondary College, also spoke about the pressures which the rising cost of living contributes to: domestic violence, sexual assaults, and insecurity. This feeling of being overwhelmed and insecure contributes to on average six suicide risk assessments a day.

Kassey Drysdalem a delegate with Premier and Cabinet asked a question about what the government is doing to reduce the WA’s  dependence on coal and gas to mitigate the consequences of climate change which is contributing to rising temperatures in Western Australia and globally.

The Premier responded by saying that at present there were 30 renewable energy projects in WA, projected to be 200 gigawatts of renewable energy out of 4000-gigawatt total state energy use, and that the state would turn off coal by 2030.

The Communist Party of Australia supports the CPSU/CSA’s claim for improved wages and conditions and the campaign by delegates and members which will be needed to secure them. Cook has agreed to bargain genuinely, but it will only be through the unity and solidarity of members and delegates that results will be won. On 26 February 2024 came the announcement that the Commissioner of Police and the Commissioner of Emergency Services had been awarded salary increases of 8.5 per cent by the Salaries and Allowances Tribunal leading to condemnation by the leaders of the Police Union and United Firefighters Union who had to put up with increases of 3 per cent per annum in their most recent agreements. The scene is set for resolute struggle by WA public sector workers.

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