CANBERRA -- Australia is in for potentially weeks of airport strikes and an impact on services like Centrelink and Medicare over the Easter period, as a campaign to protect the entitlements and pay of public servants ramps up.
The latest step in an escalating dispute between the federal government and the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) was announced on Wednesday. Nadine Flood, CPSU National Secretary, said "significant" strike action would commence from March 21, affecting human services, Medicare, Centrelink and the weather bureau, while Immigration and Border Force staff would go on strike from Easter Thursday.
The strike action may become a "rolling strike," stretching over the entire Easter school holidays.
Flood said the CPSU has been locked in negotiations with the government since 2013, claiming that the government is looking to strip entitlements and pay from public servants.
"We are seriously considering three weeks of rolling strike over the Easter schools holidays as these workers struggle with an attack on their rights and conditions which has continued for two years now," Flood said, flanked by numerous affected public workers.
"We're calling on Prime Minister, give us someone to talk to to sort this out. You have three weeks to avert strike action at airports over the schools holidays. We have no-one to talk to and these workers have no way to stop this attack on their rights and conditions."
"It is time for government to fix this mess."
Previous CPSU strikes in September and November 2015 threw air travel into chaos, as security staff, baggage handlers and other airport workers walked off the job; however, the September strikes were only for a few hours at a time over several days and the November strike for one full day, while this new strike action is significantly longer and more disruptive.
Staff were rushed in from back office roles and from other positions around the country to cover striking workers in the earlier industrial actions, and while Flood expects similar tactics over Easter, it is unclear whether adequate fill-in staff could be sourced to cover such a long and sustained strike.
Flood said the previous action had had a small impact on negotiations, but not enough for the union's liking.
"We've seen a small shift under the new PM but most of the cuts to rights are still on the table," she said.
"We did see some shifts in government policy after airport strikes in the September school holidays, a few of the cuts have come off the table but nothing like enough."
Besides our airports, essential services like Medicare and Centrelink will also be subject to strike action.
"The Prime Minister has done nothing to resolve this dispute," Flood claimed.
"These workers want to hang onto their existing rights and conditionss and have the wage freeze lifted... it's not a pay dispute, we're not far apart on pay, its about hanging onto their existing rights"