3 November 2023

CPSU leadership in fight for APS wages and its own survival

| Chris Johnson
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woman sitting on a bench in Garema Place

Jordana Colvin is campaigning for the CPSU’s national assistant secretary job and a better pay deal for public servants. Photo: Region.

The Community and Public Sector Union is using this week’s election opening for its own national executive to highlight its industrial action against the Federal Government over APS wages.

But a grassroots splinter group is busy campaigning against the union’s current leadership, saying only a sweep of positions will ensure a better pay deal for public servants.

The government and the union are in a deadlock over workplace bargaining, with the sticking point being the wage offer.

The government has an 11.2 per cent increase over three years on the table, having revised an earlier offer of 10.5 per cent.

The CPSU has rejected the offer even though its membership narrowly voted to accept it.

The threat from a group called Members United has spooked CPSU leadership and caused the national executive to act tougher against the government.

Members United (composed of CPSU members) say their union is too closely affiliated with the Australian Labor Party to really go hard against a Labor government.

Members United is now contesting all six positions on the CPSU’s national executive.

One of those candidates is Jordana Colvin, who has thrown her hat into the ring for the position of CPSU national assistant secretary.

READ ALSO We’ll take the wages offer direct to staff for a vote if we have to, says Minister

She told Region that the reaction from the union’s public servant membership to the Members United campaign has so far been positive.

“So many of them share our values and have begun to feel isolated because the union no longer seems to be representing their interest,” Ms Colvin said.

“People are desperate to connect and it’s been quite heartening to see how so many have been reaching out to us.

“The current leadership has taken its membership base for granted for too many years, and the public servants talking about this to us cross ages, genders and political leanings – just like our Members United candidates.

“The current CPSU leadership is pretending we don’t exist, which is lovely because we very much do exist and we are deadset keen to secure Australian Public Service employees a pay deal from this government that is above inflation.”

Will Mudford is Members United’s candidate for the CPSU’s national secretary position currently held by Melissa Donnelly. Ms Donnelly also sits on the ALP’s national executive.

He said the union needs a “real plan” to win a better deal for public servants.

“Service-wide bargaining has been the long-run strategy of our union, and it is currently failing with below-inflation pay offers. If there has ever been a time for new leadership, it is now,” he said.

“The current CPSU leadership, none of them have worked in the public service in the last decade, if at all. They’re all ALP members and career union officials, and that makes them remote from the actual membership.

“Our union is crying out for change. The faction behind the current executive have been the incumbents for about 30 years.

“It’s time for some fresh ideas and some fresh faces. Our team brings on-the-ground experience from across the public service, and we’re ready for the fight.”

Meanwhile, Ms Donnelly is publicly ignoring the Members United threat while increasingly asserting the union’s muscle against the government with further strike action.

READ ALSO Public Service Minister giving APS Commissioner greater powers to investigate breaches

Meat inspectors and on-plant veterinarians in the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry will take industrial action next week, following similar action at a string of other government agencies.

The latest strike will bring the total industrial actions taken by the CPSU this year to seven.

“Union members want to see the Albanese Labor Government come back to the bargaining table with a revised pay offer so that we can continue to move forward in the bargaining process,” Ms Donnelly said.

“Our members have been clear from the beginning – they want to see this round of bargaining deliver a decent pay rise without any delays.

“Right now, there aren’t risks to delays, but if the government doesn’t come back to the bargaining table with a revised pay offer soon, timelines could begin to blow out.

“Service-wide bargaining has delivered a raft of significant improvements to workers’ conditions, which will see employees and the APS benefit.

“But the Albanese Labor Government must do better on pay.

“It’s time to get on with the job of giving APS workers the long overdue decent pay rise they need and deserve.”

Public Service Minister Katy Gallagher would not be drawn on whether she thought the CPSU’s hardened response to the government’s wages deal on offer had anything to do with the threat to the union’s own leadership.

The CPSU ballot opened on Wednesday (1 November) and closes at 10 am (AEDT) on Wednesday, 6 December.

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