A STRIKE wave is sweeping Australia as Liberal PM Malcolm Turnbull declares war on the unions and threatens to dissolve both houses of parliament and call early elections if the Senate fails to pass two anti-union bills.
Turnbull is demanding the passing of the bills attacking the construction unions, claiming they are critical for the economy. The bills have hit deadlock in the opposition-controlled Senate, which has rejected them several times and Turnbull has now asked for parliament to be recalled from recess on 19 April and warned that if they still do not pass he will initiate a rare ‘double dissolution’, with an election slated for 2nd July.
He is also bringing the government’s budget 3rd May. ‘The time has come for the Senate to recognise its responsibilities and help advance our economic plans, rather than standing in the way,’ Turnbull said, adding: ‘This was the fifth review the bills have undergone, the time for playing games is over.’
Opposition Labour leader Bill Shorten said Turnbull is in ‘full panic mode’, adding: ‘Mr Turnbull is just simply anti-union, and… we will not allow this legislation to be a camouflage from the real issues.’ The ABCC bill seeks to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission, a ‘watchdog’ monitoring the actions of unions, which was axed by Kevin Rudd’s Labour government in 2007.
Australian Congress of Trade Unions (ACTU) Secretary Dave Oliver said Turbull is engaged in a politically motivated attack on unions and workers’ rights. ‘This smacks of arrogance,’ he said in a statement. ‘Instead of laying out a good plan for health and education for the parliament to consider, Mr Turnbull is holding a gun to the head of parliamentarians, demanding support for bad legislation.’
Public sector workers at Federal Government departments across the country began a series of strikes on Monday. The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) warned of disruptions at Government departments including at international airports, as members across the Commonwealth public sector launched a round of strikes on Monday against the Federal Government’s attacks on existing rights.
Prime Minister Turnbull ignored the CPSU’s requests for urgent talks to fix his Government’s bargaining mess, leaving the union with no choice but to proceed with the strikes. The action began on Monday, March 21 with an all-day strike by staff in key Commonwealth agencies including Medicare, Centrelink, the Tax Office, Defence, the Bureau of Meteorology, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Bureau of Statistics.
That is being followed by weeks of rolling strikes at international airports over the Easter school holidays and beyond, including a 24-hour strike across the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) and the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources. DIBP was formally notified of rolling strike action by Border Force officers at international airports and elsewhere, starting on March 22.
CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood said ahead of the action: ‘These large-scale strikes reflect the incredible frustration being felt by people working in the public sector. Striking workers are targeting the politicians and bosses who continue to treat them with contempt, but these rolling strikes may have some impact on the public, particularly at international airports.
‘As with previous action at airports, we would advise passengers to contact their airline for information on whether they will be affected, and allow extra time when departing and arriving on international flights. These workers have suffered through two years of unreasonable attacks on their rights, yet the Government’s harsh bargaining policy is still forcing managers to cut essential rights and conditions, or move them out of agreements into policy so they can be unilaterally scrapped down the track.
‘Among the most disturbing cuts that the Government refuses to take off the table are the removal of essential family-friendly conditions in many agencies that allow people to juggle their work with their parenting and other responsibilities. This retrograde attitude even extends to refusing to add domestic violence leave to agreements in dozens of agencies, showing the Government is trying to push its workers in the opposite direction to the private sector.
‘The Government’s unfair attack is even worse for some, with some of the Border Force officers who’ll be striking at airports and elsewhere still facing actual cuts to their take-home pay. Workers are being asked to cop losing a raft of rights in return for a two-year wage freeze and then a low-ball offer of 2% a year after that.
‘The extent of this mess is underlined by the fact that after two years more than eight out of 10 people working in the public sector still don’t have a new agreement. Major agencies have categorically rejected the Government’s agenda, many multiple times, with recent rejections including 85% No at the Tax Office, 81% No in Immigration and Border Force and nearly 80% No in the Department of Human Services.
‘Repeated strike action is tough on families, particularly after a two year wage freeze, which is why we established our Campaign Fund to crowdfund financial support, particularly for those Border Force officers who’ve bravely remained on the front line in this dispute.
‘There’s not a single major private sector employer in the country who seriously expects workers to accept losing a raft of rights including family friendly conditions, let alone doing that after 18,000 job losses and in return for a two year wage freeze then 2% a year.
‘There’s certainly not one who has a two year dispute with more strikes looming and won”t even talk about a resolution. Our message to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Minister Michaelia Cash is simple: you are out of step and it’s time to fix this mess of your own making, by sitting down to discuss a more sensible bargaining policy that treats public sector workers with respect.’
More strike action started on Tuesday at the nation”s international airports. Union members at the Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources begin their own 24-hour strike on Thursday.
‘Of course Border Force workers would rather be at work, but they face a big battle with this government,’ Nadine Flood said. The CPSU said the DIBP had been told to prepare for rolling strike action, which was likely to run through the school holidays.
‘These large-scale strikes reflect the incredible frustration being felt by people working in the public sector,’ Flood added.
‘Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has ignored our offer of talks to fix the Government’s public sector bargaining mess, so serious industrial action will begin on Monday and continue in airports for a number of weeks.’