The union representing parliamentary staff taking on Ted Baillieu over a low-ball pay offer has referred Liberal Legislative Council president Bruce Atkinson to Fair Work Australia and accused him of bullying activists.
In extraordinary scenes before the start of question time yesterday, Atkinson, citing a standing order prohibiting visual political slogans in the chamber, made it clear to members that they were to remove badges worn in support of the attendants’ industrial action, who have been offered a paltry 2.5% raise.
Labor MPs reluctantly complied and the attendants — also wearing the badges — then removed themselves from the chamber.
Under the Fair Work Act, employees have the right to take protected industrial action — anyone who interferes with this right, after the tactics have been approved by FWA, has effectively broken the law. Late yesterday, the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) lodged an application with the workplace regulator to ensure the action — which includes removing ties and failing to open doors for MPs — remains protected. It looms as an interesting test case given Parliament’s “exclusive cognisance” to deal with its own affairs under privilege — not only do Westminster parliaments assert the right to make their own rules, but each House in a bicameral parliament can also operate independently.
The CPSU issued a statement last night condemning Atkinson and co-Parliament CEO, Legislative Assembly Speaker Ken Smith, for the “cajoling, intimidation and personal attacks” of management and “urgently requested that Parliament respect employees’ legal right to take or not take protected industrial action”.
“CPSU members have been asked not to take industrial action, have had their normal patterns of work altered to their detriment, and in some cases refused entry to or kicked out of the chambers,” the union said.
Crikey understands that parliamentary staff are divided over the dispute, with more senior officers and time servers clinging cravenly to their political masters and acting bitchily towards their would-be brothers-in-arms.
Greens Upper House MP Colleen Hartland, who was present in the chamber during Atkinson’s intervention, told Crikey that she had “no idea why the government is doing this to these people”.
“Bruce spoke directly to them,” Hartland said. “He directed members of the ALP to remove the badges … the attendants then left the chamber — in effect they were removing themselves. I think it’s more than just the buttons … it’s the fact the government doesn’t negotiate with these people. The attendants work incredibly hard and there’s an enormous lack of respect that for people that work in the chamber day in day out.”
MPs inside the Legislative Assembly did not report any similar action when contacted by Crikey — it is believed the more aggressive tactics were limited to Atkinson’s upper house fiefdom. Following the ringing of the lower house bells this morning, Smith announced that he would not be banning lower house MPs’ or attendants’ badges, which was greeted with calls of “thanks comrade” from Labor frontbenchers.
Yesterday, Crikey reported the looming action against the government, noting that the long hours and low pay had been weighing on the minds of the attendants and other harried support staff for years. The government is awaiting a broader dispute with the Victorian Public Service — that does not include parliamentary staffers — to be arbitrated by FWA before deciding which tack to take in the negotiations.
Atkinson declined to comment when contacted by Crikey. A message left with Ken Smith’s office was not returned.The full CPSU statement …
CPSU regards the cajoling, intimidation and personal attacks today by Parliamentary management abhorrent and urgently requests that Parliament respect Employees’ legal right to take or not take Protected Industrial Action.
CPSU Members have been asked not to take Industrial Action, have had their normal patterns of work altered to their detriment, and in some cases refused entry to or kicked out of the Chambers.
I call on the Presiding Officers and the Premier to condemn these activities and ensure that Fair Work law is upheld.
CPSU has been in discussions with our lawyers and has now lodged an application to deal with a general protections dispute with Fair Work Australia because of this behaviour.
I believe this is the only way to ensure that Parliament management respect our members’ legal rights.
I congratulate our members for their discipline and for continuing to wear their campaign badges.
The behaviour is even more repugnant coming from senior officers who work for an Institution that convenes our elected representatives and formulates laws.
The last negotiation meeting between CPSU reps and Parliament was cancelled by management.
CPSU is seeking another meeting to progress our claims.
CPSU members are taking Protected Industrial Action to resolve an impasse in negotiating our new Enterprise Agreement.
The presiding officers advised Members last week of our protected action and the alternative arrangements and the over reaction today is a win for our campaign for a just outcome.