The Department of Human Services (DHS) claims industrial action being taken today by Centrelink staff could affect pensioners in the lead up to Easter. The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) is planning a full day work stoppage today, with staff employed by the Department of Human Services, Australian Tax Office, Defence Department, the Bureau of Meteorology, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Australian Bureau of Statistics involved.
The union has called the strikes in response to the refusal of the Government to meet its demands, which include protection for staff over casualisation of the workforce, the splitting of shifts, last-minutes changes to rosters and the right to swap jobs during the redundancy process. A pay offer of a two per cent increase per year for three years was rejected by 80 per cent of union members, who want an increase of 2.5 to three per cent.
DHS spokesman Hank Jongen says customers should expect delays, "The lead up to Easter is always an extra busy time because our staff are already working hard in a short week to ensure people are paid before the public holidays."
"This action further stretches our resources and punishes people who need government support. We are concerned the union is encouraging its members to take counterproductive industrial action, which will inconvenience people across Australia, including some of the most vulnerable people in our community.
"We are confident customers' payments will occur as usual and we will do our best to minimise disruptions to services. However, we may have reduced numbers of staff in service centres and on the phone and increased wait times on Monday."
CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood said it was hypocritical of the DHS to blame striking staff for delays that would affect families as many of the staff affected are fighting for family-friendly working conditions.
"We have working women in Centrelink and Medicare telling us they'd have to give up their jobs at DHS if this agreement went through, with proposals like workers being forced to work anywhere in a major city, different hours and days of work or even split shifts," she said.
"The reality is that these workers have been fighting for two years to get a fair deal where they can keep those important rights and that's why they're striking.
Strikes by CPSU staff could also affect Easter travel plans for those planning on jetting off from, or into, Australia’s airports. A 24-hour strike across the Department of Immigration and Border Protection is planned for Thursday 24 March, with further rolling strikes planned over the Easter school holidays and beyond.
Read more at The Age
While the right to protest against unfair work practices or poor pay needs to be upheld, hurting people who are only trying to go about their daily business is not the way to do it.
Strikes, work-to-rules, go-slows – all the processes used by union members to get their points across during industrial disputes can often be endured by those who rely on such people to provide services. But when there is an essential Government agency such as Centrelink that this week will already be struggling to cope with the additional demand for services from the least fortunate of people, little can be gained from making things more difficult.
Not only will Centrelink offices be closed for two days over the weekend but those who need to report their income will also have to do so early, from today in fact. Imagine the stress of not being able to report your income to ensure a pension payment is made?
Anyone who has ever visited a Centrelink office or tried to call the DHS will be fully aware that Centrelink services are already stretched, so taking industrial action at any time causes chaos. But to compound such chaos in the short week before Easter is simply uncalled for.
And it’s not just Centrelink customers who will be affected. Yet again families trying to get away for a much-needed break and business travellers trying to get home to their families for Easter will be affected by industrial action at airports across Australia.
Withdrawing labour at times that cause the maximum disruption may seem like a smart and calculated move but it won’t win any support from the public at large who are ultimately the ones who pay the price, in every sense of the word.
Do you think you will be affected by Centrelink staff strike action? Do you agree with the right to strike? Will the proposed disruption at airports make you rethink your travel plans?
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