A Primer in Wage Negotiations: Notes from a CPSU Member

A primer in wage negotiations.

When Thirza invited me to participate in some of the PSUWA negotiations, I thought “I have no idea how these work, but I’m always open to new experiences”, and so I happily accepted.

Oh wow!
Nothing in my previous experience had prepared me for this. Even the term ‘negotiation’ is carefully designed to make you think there’s a bit of horse trading, you know ‘give and take’. It’s actually code for ‘We’ll sit and talk about things, but don’t expect us to actually come straight out and say ‘we agree’ or anything silly like that…’

To set the scene, the Government of the day had budgeted a really low figure for wages rises as an opening move to manage expectations.

This is how the process works:
Union and employer representatives meet and go through the claim one by one. Now everybody knows what’s coming as there’s been plenty of time for everyone to get to research and find out about the claims.

As you’ll recall, most of our claims are about items of fairness or modernisation of our awards – simple things with low monetary value. You wouldn’t think there’s be a lot of argument. Well at least I didn’t!

As often as not, after maybe a little discussion the head Negotiator says, “that claim is not supported,” which is code for ‘rejected’. As we go through each claim, the Unionists ‘put flesh on the bones’ of the claim, giving examples of how workers are being impacted by the item being addressed. These make sense and seem reasonable. The Negotiator will then say something like, “We’ll take that back and talk about that,” (we’ll see if it costs anything, and if any Agency objects, but don’t hold your breath…), or ‘that’s already covered in our policy/regulations/obscure document’, which is code for “we work in DPAC and it is an employees’ paradise. It’s silly to think any manager would not follow every little guide to the letter! The ‘nasty b@stard manager’ is a fairy tale told to scare gullible workers into joining a union.

Then the Premier releases his revised wage offer, an extra 1.5% plus some ‘one-off’ gifts (we hope the gifts will make you forget you’re not really getting a decent pay rise, especially the lowest paid). ‘But this offer is only available for a short time’. (Hey, FOMO – Fear of Missing Out – works on the internet, right?)

Then after a number of these meetings we’ve got through the log of claims and we are presented with a summary which breaks the claims into three types:

  • 26%      Claim Accepted (i.e., Yes, you’ve got a point there)
  • 46%      Not Accepted (i.e., No matter how good those claims look, we can’t agree to everything. It’s not a good look)
  • 29%      We possibly agree – some we’ll these work out during negotiations, some during the life of the award. (i.e., We either need help on this, or hope you’ll forget and we won’t have to deliver)

Then when all this looks sort of settled, the heavyweight Union negotiators ask some pointed questions – like “So you’re happy some workers can’t afford to take long service leave as they don’t get the loadings they get every other week of the year?” All of a sudden, the other side start scribbling and say, we’ll look into that. And so on.

Summary, from my perspective:
Our employer is happy to agree to some conditions which a) don’t cost much, b) help bring our conditions into at least the late 90’s, and c) look good on paper. On the other hand, our employer adamantly doesn’t want to pay a CPI related wage increase, and also doesn’t want to commit to any big ticket item that will actually deliver meaningful gains.

I don’t think they really want us to go on strike, but at the same time, they’re not trying to hard to make an Agreement. It’s a bit like haggling for a used car. We’ve reached the point where we (as the buyer) need to walk away and hope they’ll drop their price. Unlike buying a car, we can’t get a wage agreement from some other government.

So it is a process. We still have some way to go, but we’re getting close to the time when we need to call their bluff.

On the other hand, I have gained first hand experience seeing our union negotiators in action. I genuinely feel privileged to see this side of their work, as members we should all feel both proud, and confident we have awesome people fighting hard for our wages and conditions. Whatever comes out of this bargaining round, we can all rest assured it will not be from lack of effort, hard work and determination from Thirza, Tom and the crew!

– A CPSU Member

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