Communist Party of Australia

We acknowledge the Sovereignty of the First Nations’ Peoples.

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Issue #1598      June 19, 2013

Public servant staff reductions announced in WA

In late May Western Australian Liberal Premier Colin Barnett announced to the media that he was looking for ways to reduce state expenditure and that one way of achieving this was to reduce the size of the public service.

May Day 2008, Perth. (Photo: Richard Titelius)

To implement this however, he would need to make changes to legislation which governs the employment of public servants; the Public Sector Management Act 1992 (PSMA), and specifically the sections governing the permanency of public servants.

On May 31, The West Australian obliged Premier Barnett with a lengthy editorial entitled “Jobs for life a drain on the public service”, to soften up the WA public and the vehicle with which to make the cuts, namely, “being able to sack workers whose positions are made redundant.”

The editorial was a right wing ideological tour de force of public servant bashing and demonising of the union which represents them, the Community and Public Sector Union/ Civil Service Association.

However, the CPSU/CSA led by branch secretary Toni Walkington, has not been asleep at the wheel and in anticipation of the cuts which had befallen all the other state public services around Australia, commissioned Professor Bill Mitchell, an economist at Charles Darwin University in Melbourne, to write a report on the issue of deficit versus surplus state budgets in austere times.

The report was released during the union’s 2012 annual convention when the mining boom in WA was still in full swing and the government was still reaping large dividends in mining royalties and savings in recurrent expenditure. This income was used to fund public works programs such as the Elizabeth Quay on the Perth city waterfront and a 60,000 seat capacity sporting arena at Burswood adjacent to the Crown Casino.

Now the Premier must still come up with the money to pay the private corporations to build these projects – and others, for which binding legal contracts have been signed.

While most public servants and their unions believe that an announcement of staff cuts are now inevitable, before the state budget in August 2013, they did not have to wait long as they were announced less than two weeks later on June 13, amidst a flurry of press conferences by Premier Barnett and his treasurer Troy Buswell.

This was followed by more ideological spin from the corporate lapdog media including a radio interview of Premier Barnett on Paul Murray’s Radio 6PR morning show where he spoke of forced redundancies for government workers who “don’t have a productive role anymore, or don’t have the skills that are needed today or maybe they don’t fit into the organisation.”

The West Australian chimed in with another editorial on June 14, “State moves to a sustainable wages policy”, cheering Barnett on with a wages policy that caps wages at the CPI – currently 2.75% (when most rent and utility increases are far beyond the CPI) and there can no longer be tradeoffs for productivity.

Premier Barnett and Treasurer Buswell are targeting 1,200 redundancies from the 110,000 strong public sector. This includes teachers, police and nurses. The reality according to Toni Walkington is that “Clearly the Premier has not been taking heed of messages that many in our community are sending to him about the fact that there are huge waiting times in a whole range of services.”

The only way that departmental heads can meet the Premier’s targets is by abolishing sections, functions and possibly whole agencies.

While corporate spokespeople welcomed the cuts, some commentators believe these changes to the PSMA, are not only about flexibility of employment, but also about having some parts of the public service hived off through privatisation, contracting out and public/private partnerships.

The public service needs to be staffed by qualified, committed and dedicated public servants who have been permanently appointed so that at all levels they can carry out their tasks without fear or favour.

Most Western Australians do not buy the ideological argument for the cuts, and a number of surveys have repeatedly shown that public is preferred over privately run services.

It is now up to the public sector unions to engage delegates and the wider membership to defend the jobs and conditions of public servants and state services which employ them and are valued by the majority of the people. All public sector unions have an ongoing joint campaign to “Save Our Services” and now is the time to seriously activate this struggle to save state services and public service jobs.   

Next article – Sinister assault on democracy

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