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John Passant

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March 2010



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Canberra’s Labor Government to attack its workers

The minority Canberra Labor Government will freeze public service recruitment in response to an $85 million cut in GST revenue.

It will not tax the rich; it won’t cut grants and subsidies to business; it won’t reduce its spending on the likes of Al Grassby statues. Instead it will attack its workforce.

Left Labor Treasurer Katy Gallagher has spelt out the logic. Public service wages and add ons make up about half the costs of government. So workers are a cost and costs have to be cut, don’t they, Katy the Cutter?

The Labor Government only survives through the support of the Greens.  It is unclear what position they will take.

However their agreement with the government (which the Labor Party wants to now ‘renegotiate”) says they won’t block the Budget. 

The present manoeuvring by Gallagher is a foretaste of worse to come in that budget in May. 

The Greens should block any budget measures which attack workers and urge the workforce to strike against Labor’s attacks on them. Show some leadership, Greens.

Last year the Labor Government imposed a one percent ‘efficiency’ dividend on its workforce.  This is already eating into the delivery of services.

Now the Government is going further and not replacing departing workers. 

They gild the lily with talk of not replacing non-essential front line staff, (whatever that means), but the message is simple. Don’t replace workers who leave.

Gallagher said on ABC radio that the average turnover rate for ACT government departments was 10 per cent a year. Not replacing a tenth of your workforce will destroy services to the people of Canberra across the board.  But it will save money, won’t it, Katy the Cutter?

Those workers who remain will bear an even greater burden and be expected to do the work of those who leave.  This will only see a stampede of workers quit the poorly paid ACT government workforce.  With unemployment low, it is a skilled employees’ market.

And what has been the response of unions?  A bit of huffing from the Community and Public Sector Union, but no threats of strikes. 

ACT unions are negotiating a new enterprise agreement with the local government. Their initial claim was for 4 percent for the first year and 4.5 percent in the following years.

The Government offered 2 percent and then 2.5 percent in later years. Given that underlying inflation is 3.5 percent, the Government’s offer is a real wage cut offer of between one and one and a half percent.

So on top of forcing their workers to do the work of more than one person, the ACT Government is going to cut their wages as a reward.

The 8 unions involved have buckled. They have reduced the claim to 3 percent initially and then 3.5 percent in later years.  In other words the unions are offering a real wage cut.  That should have people flocking to join.

The union leadership is an adjunct of the Labor Government -its puppet if you like in the workforce.

The main union, the CPSU, last year affiliated to the ACT Labor Party (and other jurisdictions too) on the basis that this would give them more influence over Labor governments and see more government employee friendly policies.

Of course it was nothing of the sort and with the impending departure of the National Secretary Stephen Jones to federal parliament, it looks more like a parliamentary jobs scheme for the boys and girls of the CPSU leadership.

Around the world real unions are resisting attacks from governments on the left and right. They are striking to defend jobs, wages and conditions.

In Australia we no longer have real unions – we have Labor Party hacks acting as conduits for their party’s anti-worker policies.

I have a novel suggestion for Unions ACT. Reject the efficiency dividend. Reject the recruitment freeze.  Demand a five percent pay increase. Tell this Labor Government to tax the rich to pay for better wages and more jobs.

If the Stanhope Labor Government doesn’t agree, bring it to its knees with strikes across the public sector. Shut down the hospitals and schools, the buses, revenue collection. Show some guts and stand up for your membership.

A stop work meeting of all ACT government union members to consider the next steps in a real industrial campaign to defend jobs and wages against the attacks of this conservative Labor Government would be a good first step.



Comment from Marco
Time March 4, 2010 at 10:46 am


This means that the ACT Labor Government is applying Barnaby Joyce’s recommendations.

But let’s be careful with the idea that “With unemployment low, it is a skilled employees’ market.”

Unemployment, did, indeed fall. But this doesn’t mean the employment situation is rosy for anybody, least of all in NSW, Vic and ACT. Have a look at Underemployed Workers – Australia (ABS catalogue number 6265.0, Feb. 2010, on data from Sept, 2009. Table 1 page 10): the number of people working less hours than they would like increased 41% since 2006, to 899 thousand in 09/2009.

Further, the recovery the media and pundits are crowing about is not as clear cut as we have been told. From the Media Release (ABS, 5206.0 – Australian National Accounts: National Income, Expenditure and Product, Dec 2009):

“Growth in the expenditure measure of GDP was driven by a 3.5% increase in private investment, a 10.2% increase in public investment and a 0.7% increase in household expenditure. Offsetting these increases was a fall in net exports. The fall in net exports was due to imports (up 7.7%) growing faster than exports (up 1.7%)”.

You’ll notice, the main contributor to growth were private investment and public investment. In private investment we had investment in mining (which is largely concentrated in WA and QLD) and public investment will likely fall, now that the BCA and the Federal opposition suddenly became painfully aware that the governement is “spending like a drunken sailor”.

See also Tim Colebatch’s piece “Good news is just a bit too good to be believed”.

I don’t think Aussie capitalism understands the situation, but they might yet kill the golden eggs goose.

Comment from John
Time March 4, 2010 at 8:46 pm

Good point Marco but unemployment in the ACT is about 3.3% – below replacement rate, hence my comment. I think the bigger picture you paint is correct.

Comment from Marco
Time March 5, 2010 at 6:52 pm


Point taken!

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