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A chat with CPSU SPSF group Senior Legal Officer Mark Perica

WE CAUGHT up with the CPSU SPSF group’s Senior Legal Officer Mark Perica, while he was visiting Tasmania to work on the Federal rules.

Mark talked to us about what his role involved, his history in the union movement and trends he was seeing across the board in public sector around Australia.

I’m employed by the state public service side of the CPSU, my work involves drafting, giving advice, appearing in Federal or State tribunals, which is what I’ve done for essentially 15 years,” Mark said. I’ve got about 90,000 clients, so it’s a fairly big job. The Federal Office is now three people, Karen Batt, who’s the Federal Secretary, my colleague Troy who’s a Senior Industrial Officer in Sydney and I’m in Melbourne, so there’s a lot to do.”

Lately Mark’s been doing less court work and more procedural work. Since the HSU scandal there’ve been concerns about how unions are run, so there’s been a lot of policy drafting on, for example, gifts and credit cards.

“Over the last six months we’ve had to draft a whole regime on how unions conduct themselves, it’s been a very, very intense year. Our Federal rules were written a long time ago, they have references to telex and telegrams, cheques … so you have to change those, so we’re compliant with the rules, which is very important in the post-HSU era.

“Under the Abbott government, they’re going to make the penalties for breaches of rules equivalent to corporate penalties, which are about a ten-fold increase for individuals and unions, so we have to be very careful about what we do. I’d be silly if it was just some redundancy in the rules that caused someone to be fined.

“Myself and my colleague have spent 18 days together amending the rules, which is what Tom (CPSU General Secretary Tom Lynch) is assisting us with now. In the process of that you’ve got to make political calls as well, such as length of terms of office.

“Unions are different from the corporate world because people who take up positions in unions aren’t doing it to make money; they’re doing it for the good of everybody. In a sense these rules are about catching up and it’s good to have these processes in place but it’s a double whammy because it’s very boring to do but also very important. As an advocate I enjoy the tribunal work but I understand the importance of these rules.

“I appear in the Federal tribunal for matters that apply to people in the Federal system that goes across all states. For example, the modern award process, which is a process whereby minimum standards are set for health workers state or admin workers in the Federal system, for example.

“Although I haven’t done it since 2012, I’m also asked by state associated bodies, like the CSA in WA, for example, to appear for a case.

Like many others in the union movement, Mark’s interest in unions stems from family history.

“My father was in the carpenters’ union in WA, so I’ve always been interested in trade unionism, politics and labour law in particular. I decided to do labour law and ended up in Melbourne. I was at the bar in the Kennett era when the Victorian branch was being crushed by legal bills. They put a job ad out for someone who was a lawyer and could do those things and that’s what I’ve been doing ever since. It’s been interesting and engaging, it’s good to help people and assist Members as much as I can in that way.”

Mark says unions members can rest assured that they’re in good hands. “The new leadership of the union are really active and very hands-on. The amount of work that the Federal Executive, which is the main executive body of the unions, does in and between meetings has quadrupled in the last year, so that shows they’re all working hard and are committed to our union.”

Working across the country, Mark’s noticed a concerning trend in governments’ approach to public sector workers during this time.

“It’s a hard time for our Members because they’re all facing redundancies and hostile government.  You need to work hard to achieve anything in this current environment. Our PSU group comrades are going to experience what we’ve been experiencing in the states, which isn’t going to be fun. They have a Commission of Audit and cuts. It’s a difficult time for public sector workers and they need good leadership to get through these things.

“It’s a bit like ground hog day because I was employed during Kennett and what he did was then rolled out in every state. Queensland is in a similar situation. There’s the spin about front line staff as well, that  you can cut the back office without impacting the frontline staff. You can have a million cops, but unless there are people processing them … All the DPPs are under pressure because there are all these people charged with things but then there’s a huge delay because the numbers they’re employing aren’t the same. That mistake is being repeated again and again because of the logic of a lean public service, which doesn’t make sense.

“There was a Senate inquiry into the state public sector in February this year. There were chapters for each state and the consistency was incredible with what was happening in each state. Some were further along the spectrum than others but there was still the same sort of rhetoric.”

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