Deep Public Service Cuts Are Harming Australian Workers!

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Community and Public Sector Union campaign against cuts
Community and Public Sector Union campaign against cuts

OUTGOING Treasury Secretary Martin Parkinson is right to highlight the impact deep public service cuts are having on the bureaucracy’s ability to do its job, says Australia’s Community and Public Sector Union.

As the tally for federal public sector job cuts under an Abbott government passes the 5,000 mark, the CPSU said Parkinson’s warning of a ‘growing gap between what the community expects from government and what government can sustainably provide’ is timely and long overdue.

CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood said: ‘When Martin Parkinson says public service can no longer “sustainably provide” services, the community expects you have to sit up and take notice. We strongly endorse his comments.

‘Our members have been saying for years that the public service is not a magic pudding, that successive cuts are taking their toll on their ability to deliver the policy and services that this country deserves. You can’t keep cutting jobs and expect the same level of services.’

In its submission to the Senate Committee into the Abbott Government’s National Commission of Audit, the CPSU says:

• Successive cuts to the public service are taking their toll on major agencies like Human Services, Customs, Tax and Agriculture which are all working at full stretch.

• Further cuts of between 14,500 and 26,500 jobs as flagged by government would seriously impact the delivery of services.

• Cuts to the Australian Public Service will have a disproportionate impact on employment outside the ACT, particularly in rural and regional areas.

Flood said: ‘If this government is seriously considering cutting anywhere between 14,500 and 26,500 jobs then it needs to lower people’s expectations of government. The government can’t say it hasn’t been warned.’

In an address to the Institute of Public Administration of Australia last Friday night, Parkinson said job cuts could no longer be absorbed simply by people working harder, as has been the case. He told the audience: ‘Needless to say, this is not sustainable, and it also crowds out any attempts to think differently, and smarter, about prioritising our resources.’

Flood said government would do well to listen to an experienced voice in Parkinson, one of the country’s most senior public servants. She said: ‘His warning should prompt a sober and wide-ranging debate over what we as a society expect of government.

‘The community expects high-quality services and it is up to the government to ensure they are fully funded and properly resourced. Delivering tax cuts to big business as well as relying on a public sector running on empty is not the way to do it.’

Flood warned that the forthcoming Budget was likely to deliver further cuts to services and jobs, which would only worsen the situation. She added: ‘The Budget will of course be informed by the National Commission of Audit which embarked on its quest to examine the scope of government’s efficiency and productivity with one outcome in mind – to recommend deep cuts, outsourcing and privatisation.’

Meanwhile, Transport Workers’ Union (TWU) national secretary Tony Sheldon has called on the Abbott government to adopt industrial relations reform that stops the abuse of workers by companies like Qantas, who outsource to bogus labour hire firms.

Speaking in Canberra last Thursday, Sheldon accompanied a delegation of union members and officials to Federal Parliament to demand protections for aviation workers after Qantas CEO Alan Joyce’s recent announcement of 5,000 additional sackings at the national carrier.

Sheldon said: ‘Qantas is exploiting Industrial Relations loopholes to reinvent full-time Australian jobs as part-time, insecure work with bogus labour hire firms. These companies, like QGS, a wholly owned Qantas subsidiary, are set up for the sole purpose of exploiting working communities and driving down Australian working conditions.

‘It is on this government’s watch that QGS workers employ family breadwinners at $200 below the weekly minimum wage, while Qantas retains 65% of the domestic market. The Abbott government must hold Alan Joyce and the Qantas Board to account for their bad decisions that are now costing the Australian community.

‘The government and Qantas need to commit to a fair and even playing field for family incomes across the aviation industry. The workforce has made it clear it wants to discuss cost-saving measures to mitigate job cuts, but the company simply isn’t interested.

‘Taxpayers, the Prime Minister and Qantas workers have a right to insist that the airline open its books for forensic analysis and make a commitment to:

• Explain the circumstances that have led to the culling of jobs.

• Provide details of Qantas’ strategy to return to profitability.

• Discuss cost-saving to mitigate proposed job losses.

• Rethink the failed Jetstar Asia strategy, which was the cause of Qantas’ half year loss.’

Sheldon said the Qantas workforce was highly productive, and loyal to the airline where many had worked for decades.

On February 27, Qantas management reported that workforce productivity had increased by more than 22% in recent years. Despite repeated promises of a pay freeze for executives, executive pay at Qantas has risen by 82% since 2010.

A 2011 Oxford Economics study found each Qantas baggage handler, check-in staff and ramp worker generated a $205,000 return to Qantas above the cost of their employment.

• The Fair Work Commission has recognised the inequity of paying younger workers less than the full adult rate, ruling in favour of paying 20-year-old retail workers 100 per cent pay.

The case in the Commission, brought by the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) on behalf of younger workers, looked at paying 20-year-olds under the General Retail Industry Award adult rates as the first step towards paying workers 18 and over full pay.

As it currently stands, 18-year-old workers get paid 70 per cent of the full adult rate, 19-year-olds get 80 per cent and 20-year-olds get 90 per cent of the adult wage. Last Thursday, the Commission ruled 20-year-olds with more than six months’ service will be entitled to 100% pay, phased in from 1st July 2014, so they’ll receive full pay by July 2015.

SDA National Secretary Joe de Bruyn said the Commission’s ruling is a big boost for younger workers, thousands of whom have shown overwhelming support for the case through the 100% Pay at 18+ campaign.

He said: ‘The Fair Work Commission has revealed it agrees with what we’ve been saying for a long time – that paying younger workers less than the full adult rate is an outdated and discriminatory act that needs to be rectified.

‘For too long, employers have been getting away with paying workers less than what they deserve. It’s fantastic that the Fair Work Commission has recognised that. We can now look towards putting this into practice in the industry.

‘By the time a worker reaches 20, they’ve often had several years experience in the industry. If you’re giving 100 per cent at work, you deserve to be paid 100 per cent too. Our young witnesses told of their experiences in the workplace and the utter unfairness in paying younger workers less when they contribute equally and perform the same duties as their colleagues.

‘This is a real credit to our witnesses and the thousands of workers who have thrown their support behind the 100% Pay at 18+ campaign. There’s been overwhelming support from the community for fair pay for our younger workers.

‘Despite what some of the business lobby groups will no doubt say, this decision will only have beneficial outcomes for employment in Australia.’

The SDA’s case in the Fair Work Commission was supported by the Labour Government, the ACTU, and various other employee groups.

De Bruyn said the next step in the campaign will be looking at achieving fair rates of pay for 19-year-old workers.