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Government Intent on Demolishing Tas IR Laws – No Entitlements Safe
At a glance we know that:
1. The government intends to legislate to freeze headline (annual) wage increases for all state sector workers
2. It intends to freeze all incremental progression and wage increases of any type
3. It could also attack other entitlements with cost implications like penalty rates and allowances
4. Any Bill to introduce changes must pass both houses of parliament
5.The government won’t make formal commitments around a wage freeze lessening the number of jobs that need to be cut, and it feels ready to make a decision at cabinet next week without further discussion.
What was supposed to be the continuation of a dialogue on budget pressures between the Treasurer and public sector unions served only to show the government intends to break its agreements with workers.
“While the Treasurer was at pains to point out that a wage freeze was being actively considered, it became apparent in answers to CPSU questions that the government isn’t exploring other meaningful options to make large savings”, CPSU Acting General Secretary Mat Johnston said after Tuesday’s meeting with the Treasurer and senior officials from DPAC and Treasury. “Legislation to amend the Industrial Relations Act to allow it to walk away from agreements and awards seems like a foregone conclusion in the government’s mind.”
Unions left the door open for ongoing discussions around guarantees fewer jobs would be lost should a freeze occur.
In today’s media the Treasurer claims wages freezes have been successfully used in the private sector, but these were done through agreement with unions representing Members, rather than changing legislation to undermine the entire bargaining process.
“The government has publicly said a wage freeze is about diminishing job losses, but it refused to make commitments about how many jobs and where they would and wouldn’t be protected,” Mr Johnston said. “It was clear the government won’t give any guarantees outside of glib press statements that a wage freeze would save jobs.
“This is wedge politics 101 with the government trying to set it up so we either have wage increases honored and then be blamed for any Members’ jobs that are lost, or quietly accept the demise of bargaining in Tasmania with no assurance any jobs would be saved”, Mr Johnston said. “I think the government seriously under-estimates the ability of Tasmanian workers and families to see through this dirty strategy.”
The government also continues to refuse to define what ‘front line jobs’, ‘front line services’ and ‘essential services’ are, despite these being critical elements of their budget and employment policy.
If it introduces legislation to parliament to avoid honoring agreements negotiated and agreed in good faith it sounds the death knell for bargaining for wages and conditions in the Tasmanian state service.
“The implications of any attack on bargaining for agreements are huge”, Mr Johnston said. “The government has effectively signaled a willingness to walk away from any workers’ entitlement it happens to dislike or doesn’t feel like paying for. I’m really concerned that penalty rates, shift loadings, allowances, casual loadings, hours of work provisions and every other condition brought to life by our agreement system may now be taken away.
“Bargaining for wages and conditions has worked for employers and employees for decades, and it allows negotiations with give and take on all sides,” Mr Johnston said. “The state government is the only employer in Tasmania with the power to walk away from legally binding industrial arrangements by passing legislation. With that power comes a great responsibility and what’s being proposed is a clear abuse of that power and the responsibility to govern sensibly. Imagine the government’s indignation if the CPSU simply decided not to uphold its end of an agreement – the blow up would be visible from space.”
Public sector unions will be working collectively to develop and deploy a comprehensive response to this unprecedented attack on Tasmanian workers.
“I briefed a CPSU Member this afternoon and she pointed out that this legislation was more blunt than Work Choices as at least you could still bargain and there were good faith requirements in that terrible piece of work”, Mr Johnston said. “She’s right, this is a blundering attack on the fundamental rights of workers to negotiate collectively and to make binding agreements with their employer. How can you shake hands on a deal and then renege? It’s not how decent employers conduct themselves.”
Click on the links below to see media coverage.