NSW State Government's New "Amendment" to Undermine Public Service Redundancies
Since the NSW Liberal government came to power, the public service has been under attack. Many public industries have been privatised and cuts to government jobs have been ceaseless. Now, Premier Baird's privatisation scheme is set to continue with a new 'amendment' to undermine the redundancy payments to government workers.
In late June 2016, the NSW Liberal government put forward an amendment to the Government Sector Employment Regulation 2014 that denies redundancy payments to government workers offered employment in the private sector. The amendment has been labelled a cheap attempt to further privatise NSW's public services.
If passed, the new amendment will strip public workers of any bargaining power that they currently hold. Without a redundancy package upon refusing private employment, government workers cannot insist that their jobs remain government-owned as this stance would lead to severe financial repercussions.
The proposed amendment Government Sector Employment Amendment (Transfers to Non-Government Sector) Regulation 2016 [NSW] states that it will not pay redundancy to workers offered "comparable employment by the non-government sector body that is comparable with the person’s employment as a government sector employee." This will limit the ability of workers to remain employed by public works, and will undermine the value of government bodies.
The terminology of Baird's new measure could also spark increases in industrial conflict because the word "comparable" is highly subjective. The Fair Work Commission already grapples over similarly vague terms. The Oxford dictionary defines the word "comparable" as being "similar, close, near, approximate, akin, equivalent." Such a term is problematic because it fails to specify what makes one job "comparable" to another.
Most private sector jobs are not "comparable" to those seen in the public sector; even if some offer "comparable" pay packages. For example, scientists and cultural workers employed by government agencies usually perform work that is missing from the private sector because the purpose of both sectors is different. The private sector ultimately aims to make a profit, whilst public sector positions often serve a social, cultural or environmental role. If these government positions became 'redundant', it would be impossible for such workers to find employment that was similar -- or "comparable" -- to the roles they previously performed.
Response from Unions
The Union community have been united in their outrage over the new amendment. Unions NSW states that the Government Sector Employment Regulation amendment stands in conflict with the NSW Government's "Managing Excess Employees Policy." Many industry-based Unions have expressed similar concerns over the 'amendment.' Anne Gardiner, the General Secretary of the Public Service Association (PSA), says the regulation was being "put through so the government can privatise public services and do it cheaply."
Other Unions such as the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) and the Construction, Forestry, Mining, Energy Union (CMFEU) represent workers that will be impacted. The CMFEU represents 115 public works employees; some of which have been employed in public works for 30 years. These workers are now threatened with the privatisation of their jobs. Rita Mallia, the NSW President of the CFMEU says they are effectively "being told their jobs are gone and they have to apply for whatever jobs are available in the private sector. But there is no redundancy payment available to them if they choose not to do that" (see: SMH). In many ways, the Baird 'amendment' is a form of blackmail that forces workers to comply with the outsourcing of public industries or face a future without redundancy payments.
Unions NSW is adamant that the new amendment can be stopped. For this to happen, The Upper House of NSW Parliament must pass a 'disallowance motion.' This involves lobbying political parties to block Baird's amendment. The Labor Party, as well as the Shooters and Fishers Party have come forward to offer their support for a motion of disallowance. However, the Union Movement still requires more political parties to stop the measure.
Hunter Workers commends the work of Unions NSW in standing against the new amendment. In solidarity, all of those in The Labour Movement can fight this attack on public workers and their industries.
Premier of NSW, Mike Baird