DHS staff escalate pay fight with two weeks' strike action

Department of Human Services staff will begin two weeks of strikes on Thursday.  Photo: Marina Neil
Department of Human Services staff will begin two weeks of strikes on Thursday. Photo: Marina Neil

Public servants at Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support will up the stakes in their long-running fight with the Department of Human Services over pay and conditions, starting two weeks of rolling strikes on Thursday. 

The agency's staff could strike from 30 minutes to a day each time in the fresh wave of industrial action, which the Community and Public Sector Union has blamed on the DHS' unwillingness to compromise in negotiations. 

But the department says the move will not change its offer in talks for a new enterprise agreement.

CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood said it expected the industrial action, involving longer strike periods and held at a time of high demand for the department's services, would cause significant disruption. 

"Our team has worked tirelessly trying to negotiate through this mess with DHS management," she said. 

"Those talks are ongoing and are currently being overseen by the Fair Work Commission, but there's been no movement from DHS' bosses or in fact any sign whatsoever that they actually want to resolve this.

"DHS stands out as we make slow but steady progress at other Commonwealth agencies." 

Department spokesman Hank Jongen denied the accusation, saying it was disappointed the strike action was starting as it negotiated in good faith. 

"The department and the CPSU are currently making progress in bargaining before the Fair Work Commission," he said.

"In our most recent offer we committed to maintaining virtually all existing staff entitlements, including all our family friendly entitlements.

"We are also offering staff a pay rise that is both affordable and in line with community standards."

Mr Jongen said while the industrial action was designed to disrupt face-to-face and telephone services, it would have "minimal impact" and not disrupt existing recipient payments.

Services through myGov and the Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support mobile apps would also be unaffected by stoppages, he said.

The strike action escalates a bitter dispute between the DHS and its 34,000 staff over pay and conditions that has raged since 2014 as workers resist a push to impose a hardline Abbott-government industrial relations policy.

It follows rolling strikes in March intended to force a breakthrough.

Ms Flood said a full fortnight of strikes showed how frustrated workers were.

"We're talking about thousands of people with bills to pay, many of them part-time working mums on around $40,000 a year," she said.

"All they want to do is hold on to rights and conditions that have been in place for many years and allow them to balance their working and family lives."

Workers will strike between 7am and 8.30pm each business day until April 26, except April 13, when strikes begin at 12.30pm.