3 October 2023

Yes means yes but only sometimes, apparently

| Chris Johnson
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Melissa Donnelly campaigning for Yes

Melissa Donnelly (right) campaigning for Yes: would the union reject a 51.9 per cent vote in favour of the Voice? Photo: Instagram.

The Community and Public Sector Union has been a strong advocate for the Yes vote in the upcoming Indigenous Voice to Parliament referendum.

Its website screams ‘Unions for Yes’ the moment you click on it.

It is involved in campaigning for a positive outcome and its members have been encouraged to have their say and speak up for the Yes vote.

That’s a great thing for the union to do and it shows leadership on an important issue.

But if the referendum returns only a slim majority (let’s say 51.9 per cent), we can expect the CPSU to denounce the outcome as not a clear enough signal that Australians want First Nations people recognised in the Constitution or have a say in the policies that affect them.

If the double majority required of a referendum gets up – a majority of states and a nationwide majority – but only just scrapes in, the CPSU should issue a statement to say it is not a decisive result and so it shouldn’t count.

As ridiculous as that sounds, that is the logic the union has applied to its own membership ballot over APS wages.

A vote was held. The result came in. A majority said yes. Union bosses said no. Union bosses win.

How a minority overruling a majority can be described as anything close to a democratic process is baffling.

READ ALSO Rejecting a majority vote on wages is a matter for the union to explain, says Minister

Katy Gallagher was right to point out, when asked about it during a radio interview last week, that that is simply a matter for the CPSU to explain.

So far, the explanation hasn’t cut it.

“The CPSU has rejected this offer because we know that we can, and we should be aiming higher than 50 per cent plus one,” said the union’s national secretary, Melissa Donnelly.

Really? Governments are often decided on such slender margins. MPs get into office by the skin of their teeth at times.

What about the margins union bosses win by?

What about every vote a union conducts with its membership?

What percentage of a membership ballot is deemed clear enough when it’s a vote to take strike action? Is 50 per cent plus one acceptable then?

It seems democracy in the CPSU is only to be found at the will of the hierarchy.

There is great discontent inside the CPSU right now, but it’s coming from both angles.

Members – a majority of members – who want their wage increases and who voted to accept the government’s offer of 11.2 per cent over three years are angry that they have been ignored.

READ ALSO Services Australia CPSU members to strike for 24 hours after pay offer rejected

They’re being ignored by the union they pay dues to and which is supposed to be listening to them.

On the flip side, many inside the CPSU don’t think the union has gone hard enough in its negotiations with a friendly Labor government.

It seems that side has won out, exerting pressure for Ms Donnelly to ignore the majority say and pander to the agitating minority.

Some tough nuts inside the union have even been talking about making a split from the CPSU to go it alone, so there is a real sense of the need to put out a fire before it gets out of control.

Yes, the union does have an issue with how it deals with this Labor government, seeing that it’s part of the Australian Labor Party.

But throwing democracy out the window is not the way to handle it – not if it hopes to have any level of respect from its membership or the wider community.

The CPSU’s response to this majority vote, 51.9 per cent saying yes, has more to do with its own internal politics and individual personal ambitions than it has to do with the issue at hand – which is whether its members want the pay rise on the table.

We look forward to the union’s response to the Voice referendum outcome.

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Rob McGuigan5:27 pm 26 Oct 23

On democracy author. 50% + 1 is a majority vote. On your YES23 referendum which is a totally different scenario to a wage negotiation by the way. Your Voice failed twice, 63% NO to 37% YES is a loss, a massive democratic loss and a massive win for the democratic process. Not only that not one single Australian State voted YES, the closest was Victoria with 55% NO vote. By the by you needed a majority of States and the majority of votes, you got neither. Enough, you lost and so did your pathetic Marxist Voice. Next your Public Service pay rises. You get paid too much already, your jobs are protected forever and your pay and conditions far outstrip the private sector and I was a Public Servant for ALL my working career.

Sorry, am I reading an Australian author here because right now Chris Johnson sounds very much like a Fox News anchor. Couple of things here Chris. You should know the difference between a majority at the margins and a clear majority; if not stop reporting and start doing journalism. Second, as someone who has been there and done that at bargaining tables since 1995 I wouldn’t dare run anything under 55% as a majority on such a complex set of conditions, let alone the pay construct.
Thirdly, not sure when you were elected to run as an official at MEAA but if you knew the first thing about running a campaign you’d know we aren’t in safe territory.
And conflating the referendum with an industrial instrument? Seriously, Chris? That’s not even close to a valid question; that’s just lazy reporting. Want the real story? Talk to the members at Home Affairs who were denied pay rises for FIVE years and see what they think. Or you could talk to someone at IATSIS or Aboriginal Hostels about earning up to $30k less than someone at Finance. Perhaps talk to the punters at the bargaining tables who have to break the bad news to their members every week after the APSC tells them NO on another set of claims that are reasonable and fair.
C’mon Chris, you can do better than this trash.

After 32 years of being a CPSU member I resigned. The union leadership is only interested in self interest and their career advancement within the labor movement with the goal of being an ALP MP

Author has no idea what is going on in the union. The reason why the union went with the “minority” (integrity of the Microsoft poll is highly questionable) is because they’re scared of a rank and file ticket that has the potential to run the nat exec out of their paid positions. The leadership only learnt about this after they were telling members to more or less “seriously consider” the APS offer – in other words, accept. If they had been consistent with their messaging, I have no doubt the vote would have been a resounding no. But the leadership were too busy appeasing their ALP bosses. Now their positions are under threat, they’re playing catch up with bargaining.

Given this it’s entirely understandable the position the union is in. The idea that union democracy begins and ends with a Microsoft poll is laughable.

William Teach8:42 am 04 Oct 23

Also, all the other unions voted no, by larger margins (and at least PA polled everyone they represented, not just members). Having the union which claims to be the most left-wing union in the APS fold first would seriously undermine their credibility, especially since they claim to be trying to improve things for the whole APS and oppose specialist wage scales or skills-specific pay-parity schemes.

William Teach8:56 am 04 Oct 23

Also, the other unions all voted no by larger margins, and at least PA opened the poll to everyone they represent not just members. Having what clams to be the most left-wing union in the APS fold first is hardly going to help their credibility, especially since the CPSU represents the APS employees with the least bargaining power (having to rely on the Baumol effect against the government’s insistence that it shouldn’t be allowed to exist) but have for years been trying to poach members from the other unions on the claim that they’re improving things for the whole APS.

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