Bargaining battle to protect working conditions

It’s been nearly three months since the start of talks for a new enterprise agreement at CSIRO. Staff Association representatives have spent many hours negotiating with the management team. While the discussions have been professional and constructive, real progress is painstakingly slow.

What has become increasingly clear – to all parties at the bargaining table – is that the biggest obstacle to reaching agreement is the Government’s inflexible bargaining framework. This situation is not unique to CSIRO however; it’s a pattern being replicated right across the federal public sector.

CPSU campaign set to escalate 

Bargaining campaigns across a range of public sector agencies are stalling and falling into stalemate. Despite months of negotiations across over seventy agencies, CSPU cannot report one acceptable offer. So what can union members do to overcome the impasse?

Recently, the CPSU Governing Council – including representatives of the CSIRO Section – voted unanimously to escalate the campaign against the Government’s bargaining position to include strategic protected industrial action. While the taking of industrial action remains a course of last resort, preparations must be made in advance. The move also sends a message to the Government – and Employment Minister Eric Abetz – that public sector workers will fight to protect their jobs, pay, rights and working conditions.

In practical terms, CPSU may now undertake Protected Action Ballots in particular agencies enabling members to vote on the sorts of action that could be taken, including workplace activities, stoppages, work bans and more.

Government restrictions

The Government’s framework is rigid and calls for many rights and conditions to be removed from agreements and relocated into policy where they can be changed at any time without consent. This process – referred to as ‘streamlining’ – is causing many negotiations to flounder and stall; public sector staff reasonably expect their workplace rights to be secured by a legally enforceable enterprise agreement.

In addition to weakening existing protections, the Government framework is also designed to cut back conditions, entitlements and pay. The policy encourages very low pay increases but only as a result of trading off conditions such as paid leave or by increasing working hours.

Finally, the Government is opposed to back pay for agreements that are negotiated after the nominal expiry date of the previous deal. Despite unions and staff being well prepared to negotiate – in the case of the Staff Association some nine months in advance – the bargaining process has been delayed and combined with the ban on back pay, is leading to workers being denied an on-time pay rise, resulting in financial disadvantage.

The situation at CSIRO

The most important priority for members is the retention of existing working conditions under the legal protection of an Enterprise Agreement. There is little enthusiasm for streamlining, trade offs or a small increase in pay.

CSIRO management continues to follow the Government’s bargaining agenda, seeking to strip over half of the current agreement into policy, including detailed proposals to streamline redundancy rights and working conditions and protections for term and post-doc staff.

In effect management oppose 18 of the 28 claims endorsed by Staff Association members. Only one of the claims has been agreed in principle by management at this stage (paid parental leave for adoption). The only progress that is being made in negotiations relates to fine detail within clauses agreed to in principle by the Staff Association, but not on the complete clauses or Agreement content.

While CSIRO is not expected be the subject of a Protected Action Ballot in the near future; the Staff Association will step up campaign activities to protect working conditions and job security, while continuing to lobby politicians including Industry Minister Ian Macfarlane.

It’s time to join

The Staff Association membership continues to grow. Every new member who joins makes our collective bargaining position stronger. Every new member who joins sends a message to the Government that CSIRO staff will stand together to protect jobs, research and working conditions.

There’s never been a more important time to become a member. Join today by emailing csstaff@cpsu.org.au or call (03) 8620 6348 for more information.

2 thoughts on “Bargaining battle to protect working conditions

  1. If the bargaining process is being conducted in such a professional atmosphere, why then is it taking so long, if it was ‘professional’ it would be dealt with, lets not give anyone too much credit.

  2. If I am reading this correctly, it is in the governments best interest to stall this process as long as possible as there will be no back pay for the period between agreements.

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