EXPORT meat inspection could be disrupted as soon as next week after Department of Agriculture employees, including meat inspectors and vets, voted to join workers from other Federal agencies threatening industrial action over a pay claim.
The Community and Public Sector Union said on Monday that industrial action was expected to start next week.
The CPSU obtained a Fair Work Commission authorisation to conduct a ballot of its members to conduct Protected Industrial Action as part of the EA negotiation process. That ballot was held on Friday, producing a result 95pc in favour of various work stoppages.
The ballot also included the types of stoppages that could be imposed. Only CPSU members are protected during any action taken in accordance with the ballot. The CPSU has to notify DA within the next 30 days of the types of bans that it intends to impose, and is required to give DA between five and ten days clear notice before embarking on any action.
That means actions could occur as soon as next week.
Actions could include:
- Work bans – not supervising inspection
- Data entry bans on tasks like condemnations
- Work stoppages of up to 1 hour, and work stoppages of between 1 and 24 hours.
A processing sector contact said the actions had the potential to seriously disrupt export beef production across Australia.
“It could impact both plants using Government meat inspectors, as well as those using independent third-party inspectors, because by law they can only operate under a Government-appointed veterinarian,” the contact said.
The last time such action was taken in 2011, the union notification was quite general in nature, and the DA only knew which plants were affected, and when they would be affected, when the action is commenced.
It remains unclear how many CPSU members will take part. However it is understood that almost 100pc of DA meat inspectors are CPSU members, as are 80pc of veterinarians employed by the Department.
DA can replace striking workers with non-CPSU members, but this response will be limited in its usefulness, if it is possible at all, sources suggest.
The CPSU union’s national secretary, Nadine Flood, said the industrial action could affect meat inspection as well as a host of other services including passenger movement at airports and ports, cargo inspections, international mail processing and other services manned by CPSU members.
She said the DA offer also included cuts to conditions and allowances, the removal of superannuation protections and the loss of 42 regional jobs.
Employment minister Eric Abetz, who is also Minister assisting the Prime Minister on the Public Service, yesterday said the union had not yet given notice of protected action at the Department of Agriculture.
“Thirty percent of the CPSU’s own members at the Department of Agriculture did not even vote in or for the protected action ballot,” he said.
“Indeed, 77 pc of DA employees were either not balloted because they aren’t CPSU members, or were CPSU members who did not cast a vote, or voted against protected action. Once again, the CPSU is vastly exaggerating support for its irresponsible 12.5pc wage claim. Most public servants realise this.”
In response, the CPSU’s Nadine Flood said Senator Abetz “needs to step back from the brink and sit down to work through sensible solutions to this deadlock, rather than pushing Commonwealth employees into industrial action.”