The Guardian 11 May, 2005

Dysfunctional FACS

The federal agency staging National Families Week is trying to rip family-friendly conditions away from thousands of its own employees. Management at the Family and Community Services Department (FACS) want staff to cop cuts in personal, bereavement, carers and paternity leave while they push the official line about "recognising the importance of families and their valuable contribution to society".

FACS unveiled its new agenda, which also involves increasing working hours and cutting time-in-lieu arrangements, during negotiations for a certified agreement with the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU).

The CPSU's Lisa Newman said the irony would be "hilarious if it wasn't so serious".

FACS secretary, Dr Jeff Harmer, describes the department's major role as assisting "families and children in having choices and opportunities".

Dr Harmer has urged employees to take a lead in National Families Week by "writing a story, drawing or painting a picture, taking a photo or making something creative that demonstrates what family is all about".

Judging by the initial response from CPSU members to his bargaining stance, he might receive some very graphic illustrations of what they think Harmer's ideal family might get up to.

One employee suggested good conditions at FACS had become an embarrassment to a government urging private employers to claw back wages and conditions.

"Staff were told by the management negotiating team that our Minister was embarrassed in front of her colleagues by FACS being seen to have such good working conditions. Interesting to see that good working conditions for staff are now considered an embarrassment", she wrote.

Other immediate responses published on the CPSU website included:

"I think given the management agenda that they should change the name of the Department to perhaps 'The Dysfunctional Family'"; and

"It is hard enough to work full time without FACS attempting to cut our entitlements. As a single mother, if any of my leave/carers leave was cut then I would be forced to quit my job and be on the pension at taxpayers' expense. Is this how they see family growth?"

National Families Week will run from May 15 to May 21.

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