Tasmania’s public sector industrial dispute is becoming increasingly bitter, with unions vowing to ramp up industrial action until the State Government scraps its 2 per cent wage cap.
The State Government and unions representing the state’s 29,000 public sector workers have been at loggerheads over a new wage and conditions deal for about five months.
Neither side is willing to budge, and this week tensions have reached boiling point with the Government accusing the unions of being “drunk on conflict” and “threatening the safety of all Tasmanians”.
Treasurer Peter Gutwein has described a decision not to calibrate police breathalysers as reprehensible.
“That they would now interfere with motorists’ safety by calling on their members to stop doing breathalysers … that’s just putting other motorists at risk,” he said.
Treasurer Peter Gutwein says not calibrating breathalysers will make the roads unsafe. (ABC News: Jack Evans)
“This is a full frontal attack by a hard core of unionists on the Tasmanian public and it simply has to stop.”
But is it really that dramatic, and how will the industrial action affect Tasmanians?
Police are not taking part in industrial action, because their agreement is not up for negotiation.
Members of Forensic Science Services Tasmania though will withhold the calibration of 10 per cent of police breathalysers, and withhold the release of routine reports on test results for minor crimes.
Police Minister Michael Ferguson said it would mean fewer tools to detect drink and drug drivers.
CPSU State Secretary Tom Lynch said that is overcooking it, because police will have access to 90 per cent of calibrated breathalysers at all times.
“It is only the Minister who is beating this up as a public safety issues,” Mr Lynch said.
What about hospitals?
People calling pathology will have their calls diverted to the Health Minister’s office for two hours a day, Medicare claim forms are not being processed, and there is no routine cleaning or updating of bed status.
There are also bans on ordering pharmacy or ward stock and elective surgery will be banned at the Mersey hospital on November 9 and December 14.
Nurses at the North-West Regional Hospital in Burnie will reduce operating theatre lists if it will lead to overtime, and nurses at the Royal Hobart Hospital will hold weekly vigils outside the emergency department.
Health and Community Service Union members will not restock staff rooms, deliver pathology specimens, or collect waste.
Ambulance Tasmania members say bans on overtime may lead to less urgent cases waiting longer.
What about teachers?
There is a ban on working overtime, and teachers will not write comments in school reports or respond to emails outside of work hours.
School support staff have stopped recording absences and TAFE teachers will not carry work-issued mobile phones, or not work above the mandated weekly teaching load.
Action involving other public servants involves library staff not charging the public for photocopying or printing, Worksafe Tasmania staff will no longer issue infringement and improvement notices, and DPIPWE staff will not answer the phone between midday and 2pm.
There is a total ban on responding to requests from ministers’ officers, and child safety officers will claim missed meal breaks and send vacant out-of-home care requests to the Human Services Minister.
Firefighters are banning meetings with their senior hierarchy and will ban certain reports.
Union warns of strikes
Tom Lynch said the industrial action would escalate until the Government dropped its 2 per cent wage cap.
“We can’t bargain until the cap is removed, because the cap stops us from being able to negotiate an outcome,” he said.
Mr Lynch said none of the actions would endanger Tasmanians.
“Our members work for the Tasmanian community every day, they are very careful about what they do, the care and protection of the community is this number one thing,” he said.
“Yes they are destined to be disruptive, they are designed to upset ministers and clearly they are having that impact.”
Mr Lynch said the next step would be rolling strike action.
“If we don’t see a response form the Government then I guess we will have to continue to escalate until they take public sector workers seriously,” he said.
Premier Will Hodgman said the Government would not budge on the wage cap, which means the unions would have to accept better conditions instead, or there’ll be strike action.
He blamed “union leaders” for “encouraging” public servants into strike action.
“Tasmanians will wonder why with those things why the unions are encouraging behaviour that could be risky or counter-productive for Tasmanians,” he said.
Opposition spokeswoman Sarah Lovell said public servants were not endangering Tasmanians and they had “every right to stand up for their workplace conditions”.
With neither the unions nor the State Government prepared to budge, there is no end in sight for what is turning out to be a bitter dispute.