Thousands of public sector staff are set to strike for 24 hours next month in a move expected to disrupt major welfare services across the country.
Workers from Services Australia will walk off their jobs on October 9, in protest of the government’s “lukewarm” 11.2 per cent wage offer which unions argue does little to relieve biting cost-of-living pressure.
“There is strong support for the conditions package that has been negotiated, including the industry-leading working from home rights, increases to paid parental leave, the reintroduction of job security provisions and increased casual loading rates,” Community and Public Sector Union secretary Melissa Donnell said.
“But in an environment where every APS worker is feeling the extreme cost of living pressures, the current pay offer just doesn’t cut it.”
“The government can and should do better – and that means making an offer that has clear support from employees.
Strike action follows weeks of work bans and one-hour stoppages held by Services Australia workers. The strike in October will mark the first wave of industrial action to impact customers.
A union poll of 15,000 members held this week showed a small majority of staff backed the government’s current pay offer, which it sold as the “largest pay increase APS employees will have received in over a decade.”
Ms Donnelly said that the union had tossed the offer because “we can, and we should be aiming higher than 50 per cent, plus one” and warned that other applications to initiate strike votes would be lodged in other APS workplaces.
Centrelink wait times ballooned by nearly 50 per cent in March, with callers reporting waiting on average up to 20 minutes to receive assistance. Wait times for some other Services Australia programs like Medicare and Child Support have also increased, according to government figures.
Services Australia general manager Hank Jongen said the agency was taking preparations to “minimise” impact of industrial action on people seeking assistance.
The strike also follows recent budget figures which showed that average staffing levels at the agency fell from 28,560 to 26,692 in July this year.
A spokesman for government services minister Bill Shorten said this showed a “returning to more regular levels” post Covid-19, with opposition minister Paul Fletcher instead calling for an “urgent review” into the viability of the public workforce.
Union members from Services Australia are expected to continue negotiations during a meeting with officials on Friday.