Department of Human Services staff strike

Hundreds of the region’s Medicare, Centrelink and Child Support staff walked off the job for one hour on Monday to protest at a federal government attack on their rights and conditions.

The Department of Human Services staff held a stop-work meeting at Wollongong Town Hall from 11.30am as part of a week of rolling industrial action being taken by public service staff across the country.

Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) national secretary Nadine Flood said the protected industrial action highlighted staff’s growing anger over cuts to their ‘‘rights, conditions and real wages’’.

‘‘Workers in human services are already struggling after the federal government cut over 17,000 jobs in the last 18 months,’’ she said.

‘‘In the Illawarra, and around the country, customers at Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support are seeing longer queues and waiting times with workers under increasing pressure.

‘‘So for the government to take a position more draconian than any major private employer in Australia is just going one bridge too far.

‘‘It is seeking to cut workers’ rights and conditions for low annual pay offers of less than 1 per cent.’’

The rolling stoppages started last Tuesday, when Tax Office workers took action for an hour as the federal budget was handed down, and thousands more public sector workers will hold similar stoppages this week.

The enterprise agreements that govern the workers lapsed on June 30 last year and Ms Flood said since then negotiations between the government and union had broken down.

The union wants a 4 per cent pay rise each year over three years; the government is offering 1.5 per cent plus productivity over that period.

Throsby MP Stephen Jones, assistant opposition health spokesman, said the federal government cuts showed little respect for the work undertaken by public sector workers.

‘‘Agencies like Medicare, Centrelink and Child Support are the human face of what the government does,’’ he said.

‘‘They catch people when they’re at a very low point in their lives … when they’ve been kicked out of home, when they need a pension, when they’re relationship has broken up, when they’ve lost their job.

‘‘…I fear these cuts represent the dim view that the federal government has of the work public servants do.’’

South Coast Labour Council secretary Arthur Rorris said workers from across the region facing similar cuts needed to unite.

‘‘From a regional standpoint what we need now is more support in community and human services, not less,’’ he said.

‘‘We need more help for the unemployed and more help for families. There’s a need for more jobs in the region – we can’t afford any more cuts.’’

Meantime, a spokesman for Federal Employment Minister Eric Abetz said the union’s claims were ‘‘unrealistic’’.

‘‘The single biggest impediment to reaching new agreements is the CPSU’s claim for a 12 per cent pay rise with no productivity offsets,’’ he said.

‘‘This claim is utterly unrealistic and would cost the jobs of 10,000 public servants.

‘‘We are in a very low inflationary environment and the CPSU’s intransigent stance will only have the effect of costing its members jobs and further delaying a sustainable pay rise.’’ 

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