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Tasmanian Government Launches Massive Attack on Bargaining

Your wages now and in the future are at stake.

Premier Hodgman, Treasurer Gutwein and their cabinet colleagues have chosen a shameful abuse of legislative powers to override your State Service Agreements and Awards.

Your CPSU hasn’t been briefed in any meaningful way by Government, but we understand the following:

  • Cabinet will reduce all headline salary increases to 0% for a period of 12 months from the enactment of legislation. These increases were to be 2% for most employees or $1000 for those on the lowest classifications.
  • Cabinet has further determined it will freeze any incremental progression and performance-based increments.
  • The government will stop workers from meaningfully bargaining for wages after the one year pay and increment freeze. This appears to apply in perpetuity.
  • The government will introduce two separate Bills to achieve its objectives. One creates a new statute to over-ride the current negotiated and agreed salary increases and increments and the other will amend the Industrial Relations Act 1984 to render bargaining on wages meaningless.
  • The government aims to have the Bills through both houses of parliament by October.

We understand a cynical “Message from the Treasurer on Public Sector Wages” was published on departmental intranets this morning, but workers first heard of this decision about their future from the media yesterday. Communications from government again seem focused on media spin rather than on respectfully informing its employees. And again your CPSU discovered cabinet’s decision via a call from the media. When a government representative finally contacted your union, details in writing were refused.

The ACTU National Executive last night passed the following resolution condemning Tasmania’s Liberal Government for attacking workers and their right to bargain:

The ACTU National Executive condemns the Tasmanian Liberal Government for its decision today to freeze the wages of Tasmanian public sector workers. The proposed wage freeze amounts to a real wage cut for over 26,000 workers. This unilateral move undermines the legitimate industrial relations system which is in place, and is an abuse of the power and responsibility of the government. The ACTU will work with affiliates to defend the bargaining rights of Tasmanian workers from this ideological and misguided attack.

We thank CPSU Joint Federal Secretary Karen Batt and ACTU President Ged Kearney for their immediate and unqualified support within hours of cabinet’s announcement to the media. 

The wage freeze and halts on incremental progressions will hit lower income earners hardest. It’s fine for Mr Hodgman, Mr Gutwein and their colleagues to crow about freezing their own wages but freezing a six-figure salary doesn’t sting the way cutting real wages of workers on low and average incomes does, and Ministerial Heads of Office advising on decisions and their bosses won’t be too worried about paying their mortgage, school fees or utilities bills.

Genuine restraint from Liberal Government members might be to reduce their wages to the average state service salary rate rather than attacking ordinary working Tasmanians.

This is an unprecedented attack on the rights of working people to have a say on their wages and enter into binding agreements with their employer. The legacy of this ill-conceived, ideological attack on workers will be the removal of the ability to bargain for wages increases, leaving government policy alone to dictate increases, and the fettering of the industrial umpire. The Tasmanian Industrial Commission will be limited to only making wage decisions that agree with government policy. This is a subversion of well established industrial and legal norms and an abuse of power. What happened to democracy? 

There is no guarantee or commitment from government that these vicious measures will save even one job. Despite his rhetoric, the Treasurer has refused to commit the government to the number of jobs that will be saved. A government that changes the law to breach contracts can’t be trusted. What’s clear is the measures announced will make savings independent of the job losses the government has already flagged. They will do both – attack your agreed wages and conditions and further compromise already stretched services to the community by targeting 1500FTE positions.

Tasmania’s business community should also be very concerned by the Liberal government’s decision.  Consumer confidence within Tasmania’s single biggest workforce will plummet as a result of the wage freeze and job losses. As we’ve seen in recent years, when the jobs and wages of working Tasmanians are under threat they reduce discretionary spending. This has a serious effect on our fragile economy and will hamper, not encourage, any recovery. Tasmania’s business community must be considering its position on sovereign risk when we have a government that uses legislative powers to change the rules to suit its own agenda after entering into legally binding agreements and contracts.

The Treasurer has made a number of statements in the media that are deliberately misleading or simply untrue. The following are direct quotes from Mr Gutwein coupled with an explanation of the facts.

Regarding the wage freeze Mr Gutwein said “This is a common measure employed across the private sector, in small business and some of the state’s largest ­employers, ­including Bell Bay Aluminium and Norske Skog”. This is deliberately misleading and misses the point. Wage restraint is common across all industries when prevailing conditions make it a sensible approach but this is achieved through the normal bargaining and agreement-making processes not through over-riding laws and existing contracts. The private sector can’t enter into an agreement with their workers and then legislate to break it. Small business can’t either. The examples the Treasurer cites were actually wage restraint by agreement between workers, their unions and the employer in the normal course of bargaining. In both agreements there were concessions granted to employees in entitlements and non-wage areas to facilitate agreement. Mr Gutwein is trying to convince us that what they are doing is “common” or normal when that is plainly untrue. The majority of Tasmania’s state service workers has already agreed to 6 years of wage restraint of 2% or less and has seen a reduction in the workforce amounting to thousands of workers while demand for services grows constantly.

In his message posted on intranets the Treasurer says “Given the choice of either implementing a one year pay pause or losing 500 jobs, the Liberal Government has chosen to save these jobs”.  This is misleading. In direct response to a question from CPSU Acting Secretary Mat Johnston, the Treasurer categorically refused to guarantee that any jobs will be saved. Mr Gutwein is indulging in spin and he’s playing wedge politics with workers and their unions. This is made very clear when he says “The very clear choice for unions is whether or not they want to work with us to save 500 of their members’ jobs”.  If the government wanted to enact a wage freeze to save jobs it could’ve negotiated that outcome and sought to have agreements and awards varied with the consent of workers and unions. It didn’t pursue that path, it chose to undermine the entire legal structure underpinning Tasmania’s employment system and kill off the ability of workers to have a say on their wages.

When he says “It is important to note, no public sector employee will have their pay cut”, Mr Gutwein is deliberately forgetting that a dollar today is worth less than a dollar tomorrow. There is no mistaking this is a further cut in real wages for Tasmanian workers, even after those agreed to in the last two rounds of normal bargaining, and it’s deceptive for a Treasurer to make statements like this.

We are holding a rally on Budget Day, 28 August.  It’s critical we protect our bargaining system and we all need to make it very clear that Mr Hodgman’s government has gone way too far in pursuing an ideological agenda that disempowers workers and demonises their unions. You can download a flyer below to distribute and share with your friends and family. 

Bust the Budget rally flyer August 28

rally

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Your CPSU will be convening sessions in workplaces to keep Members informed on the issues and to encourage attendance at the rally. We’ll also welcome your feedback and you can either talk to your organiser or email us at cpsu@tas.cpsu.com.au.

We’re exploring all legal options to challenge the legislation and we’ll lobby the Legislative Council very hard on the Bills government intends to introduce and will facilitate direct representations from Members who would like to express their opinion.

Your CPSU will lobby the Legislative Council, represent Members in the media, debunk misleading information and expose the truth.

We’ll rally at 12.15 on Parliament Lawns on Budget Day, Thursday August 28, and your CPSU has arranged for CPSU Joint Federal Secretary Karen Batt and ACTU President Ged Kearney to be there too – so please join us!  

Stay informed, get involved and talk to your colleagues who haven’t yet joined the CPSU today about membership.

Social media

It’s reasonable for you to be able to comment on social media about issues like this but you should:

• Not use information that’s not on the public record and you only know from your work/employment
• Not identify your department or workplaces specifically (while you could, it’s probably better that you don’t)
• Not use inappropriate language
• Deal with the issues more than the personalities
• Check your department’s social media policy to inform yourself but essentially you do have a right to express your opinion.

 

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