Access case begins, as CPSU pushes for end to Howard-era IR in APS
4 June 2008, 2:30pm
A battle between the CPSU and the Australian Bureau of Statistics over access to public sector workers is about to intensify, with the union's Federal Court freedom of association case beginning tomorrow over the employer's ban on distribution of union bulletins to employees.
The union is using the case to spearhead its campaign to convince management and employees of APS agencies that as a result of the Rudd Government's new bargaining framework, a union role in the workplace is recognised and facilitated and that unions and their delegates have a right to distribute information to employees in the workplace.
The case, which will be before Justice Elizabeth Branson in Sydney tomorrow morning for first directions, alleges that the ABS breached s792(1) by threatening to injure in their employment three workplace delegates for the prohibited reason under s793(1)(a) that they are CPSU delegates. One of the delegates, Paul Tulett, is also the secretary of the union's statistics section.
The union alleges that the ABS warned delegates, workplace representatives and workplace contacts in March to stop distributing CPSU bulletins. They had used their own time to leave the bulletins on employees' desks.
ABS workplace relations director Sue Phillips emailed workplace representative Guy de Cure last August claiming that distributing a CPSU bulletin to employees whether or not they were union members breached the Workplace Relations Act's FOA provisions.
The issue came to a head when the CPSU circulated a bulletin to alert members that the ABS was paying super contributions of 15.4% to employees who were members of the default scheme, but only 9% to workers who chose their own fund. It called on the ABS to end the "inequity".
Australian Statistician Brian Pink sent a letter to CPSU deputy secretary, Nadine Flood on April 10, warning that if the conduct recurred, "I will consider taking formal action under the APS guidelines for managing breaches of the APS Code of Conduct".
ABS assistant statistician, HR branch, Shirley Harrison, sent a more detailed letter on the same date, saying that while the employer respected employee rights to receive information from their representatives, "we also respect the right of employees not to receive union material if they do not wish it". She added that the union's mode of distributing bulletins was "not consistent with normal communication with the ABS", which is electronic. She proposed alternative electronic alerting measures, and leaving hard copies near lifts in the Canberra central office.
The CPSU's deputy secretary, Nadine Flood, told Workplace Express that the union launched the case because it regarded threats against delegates "very seriously" and had to protect them.
Flood told Workplace Express that while the case focuses on breaches of the Workplace Relations Act, the union maintains that the ABS has also failed to comply with its obligations under the new bargaining framework applying to APS agencies (see the framework's supporting guidance).
"We're saying to agencies that there is a new government with a new policy framework that recognises rights for employees that were not recognised under the Howard Government and that we expect a significant shift in agencies' practices", she told Workplace Express.
In recent correspondence with the ABS, Flood has highlighted the Government's expectation that agencies and unions "will work together collaboratively and professionally" (see section 1.8 of the guidance).
Flood says some other agencies are also failing to respect the role of workplace delegates and that the union would be highlighting the ABS example to those agencies.
On the other hand, in some agencies the new ministers had visited workplaces and asked to meet the union delegates, which sent a clear message to management about the Rudd Government's attitudes to engaging with unions in the APS.
(1) CPSU v Commonwealth NSD656/200
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