The Federal Election has been called and the Public Sector has entered a caretaker period.
A number of Staff Association members have approached the union for clarification about their involvement in Federal Election campaign activities and their responsibilities as public sector workers.
Guidelines give green light to get involved
Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) Guidelines state: “APS employees may participate in political activities as part of normal community affairs. They may also join, or hold office in, political parties.”
The only exception is for staff working in the Australian Electoral Commission.
However, “If an APS employee is involved in political campaigning, they should make it clear they are not undertaking these activities as part of their official duties.”
Delegate’s right to represent members
Staff Association delegates and elected officials are protected by CSIRO Enterprise Agreement 2011-2014 (the agreement) when representing members. Specifically, Section Clause 59 (f) of the agreement states:
“The rights of union workplace delegates include but are not limited to… recognition by CSIRO that endorsed workplace delegates (can) speak on behalf of their members in the workplace.”
Stay safe and smart
In practice, this means you should not campaign during work time, use work resources for campaigning, or behave in a way that might infer that your political campaigning is a part of your official duties or that your employer supports your political views.
For example, you shouldn’t hand out election campaign material or wear clothing with political messages while at work on work time.
Your time, your rights
You are free to do any of the following in your own time:
- Community activities: attend political rallies or events, phone calls, door-knocking and other volunteer campaign work, display campaign posters on your property, handing out how-to-votes on election day
- Workplace activities: attend union meetings, discuss union issues with colleagues, receive and read union information & emails.
The APSC has guidelines the CPSU views as unreasonably restrictive. However even under these guidelines APS employees may make public comment in an unofficial capacity, so long as it is “lawful and the employee makes it clear they are expressing their own views.”
Employees should avoid posting social media comments on policies that are directly related to the agency you work in, but you can ‘like’ or ‘share’ such posts. As a general rule we advise members to remove any information about which agency they work for from their social media profiles.
The APSC also advises staff to avoid making comments that could reasonably perceived to be made on behalf of their agency or the Government, could compromise an employee’s capacity to fulfil their duties in an unbiased manner, could compromise public confidence in the agency or the APS or could be seen as gratuitous attacks on your employer, the Government, Members of Parliament etc.
For example ‘As a CSIRO scientist I think…’ ‘Border Force employees think Peter Dutton is…’
However Staff Association delegates and elected representatives – when speaking as their capacity as union officials – are protected in making authorised comment on behalf of the union and members, consistent with Clause 59 (f) of the CSIRO Enterprise Agreement 2011-2014.
For more information or clarification contact your local organiser or the Communications Officer.
Do the social media guidelines apply if I use a pseudonym?
Yes. The guidelines say that employees must still uphold the APS Values, “even when material is posted anonymously, or using an alias or pseudonym.”
So what can I do online?
You can ‘like’ and share’ more than you can comment on safely. In an unofficial capacity and in your own time, members should feel free to ‘like’ and ‘share’ posts which are not offensive (racist, violent, sexual, inflamatory and defamatory).
You should be more careful with comments, as social media conventions take comments on other people’s posts as a direct personal comment by you.
Paid campaign work
Under APS guidelines, employees wishing to take leave to work on a campaign should obtain approval from their agency head.
If you feel you are being unfairly treated at work in relation to expressing your democratic rights, or simply require clarification, please contact the Staff Association immediately by email.