The Guardian January 22, 2003


Centrelink workers hold out for union EBA

by Andrew Jackson

Centrelink workers have withstood a campaign of management coercion and 
intimidation to overwhelmingly vote down a second non-union wage 
agreement.

Management had tried to lock the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) 
out of Centrelink workplaces by cutting off staff access to the union and 
offering a non-union enterprise agreement (EBA).

The union accused management of bullying and intimidation, providing a long 
list of anti-union incidents in workplaces, including:

* cutting off staff e-mail and internet access to the CPSU;

* threatening CPSU delegates with disciplinary action for even discussing 
the "Vote NO" campaign;

* throwing CPSU organisers out of workplaces;

* threatening managers with the sack unless they pushed staff to vote yes;

* telling a worker who politely questioned some aspects of the agreement 
"to look for another job";

* bursting CPSU balloons with the "vote NO" message.

After the first non-union Agreement was rejected in November Centrelink 
staff engaged in a series of strikes to force management to engage with the 
union.

A second rejection on December 20  by a margin of 72 percent  has now 
forced management to the table.

CPSU Division Secretary Mark Gepp said, " An overwhelming majority of 
Centrelink's 22,000 workers have now sent a very clear message to 
management. They want a better deal and one that is negotiated with their 
union."

"These workers have not had a pay rise since July 2001 and are now running 
out of patience with management's approach to negotiations."

Centrelink executives have announced that they will tour workplaces during 
January and February to listen to staff views. However, the union remains 
suspicious of their intentions.

The CPSU bulletin points out: "Time is money, and another two months 
touring the country rather than sitting down and negotiating a decent 
Agreement to finality with your union representatives shows Centrelink is 
still failing to understand the fundamental issues".

"After all, do you accept management's claim that they have no idea why you 
have rejected their sub-standard non-union proposal?"

The union says that given the level of coercion and bullying during the NO 
vote campaign, staff will be fearful to speak their minds in the 
forthcoming management meetings.

The CPSU says it will include in any future Agreement strict rules for 
management behaviour.

"After all", says Mr Gepp, "Centrelink workers are entitled to be treated 
with respect and not to be subject to bullying or harassment, whether you 
are carrying out your normal duties or negotiating a new wage agreement. 
There aren't two sets of rules, only one."

As part of the guidelines set out for the EBA negotiations the CPSU has 
promised Centrelink there will be no further industrial action as long as 
the union believes Centrelink is acting in good faith.

Both sides have stated the objective of having a new Agreement in place by 
March 31.

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