Union members in the Department of Human Services (DHS) have overwhelmingly voted in favour of taking protected industrial action.

This means Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support employees, members of the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), will begin action within the next month in a campaign to win decent pay and hold on to hard-won conditions.

The Abbott government has promised only further cuts and pay rises of less than 1 per cent, way below inflation.

Almost 80 per cent of union members participated in a ballot in which 95 per cent voted for industrial action.

Support for the union is growing, with 5500 new members signed up since the federal budget in May.

Veterans Affairs staff have also begun balloting for industrial action.

A day of action in November saw symbolic actions, “wearing red”, in offices across the country while 2000 rallied in Canberra.

At this stage the union is planning to apply bans and limitations on work, in DHS, such as on responding to voicemail messages and replying to internal emails.

Union members will be talking to potentially millions of Australians dealing with departments and agencies about the “attack” on wages and conditions during phone calls, emails and face-to-face.

Tony Abbott made his intentions clear when he said that the 1.5 per cent annual pay increase for the military would be the highest for anyone in the public service.

Jobs are also under threat from outsourcing and Budget cuts. A further 16,500 positions are targeted for retrenchment.

“This is a wake-up call for Mr Abbott and Senator Eric Abetz—you can’t treat your staff like this and get away with it,” CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood said.

“Like the ADF, working mums at Centrelink and Medicare are being asked to cop cuts to leave and other rights as well as a low-ball pay offer. Unlike the military, though, they can and are doing something about it—by sending a clear message to government that they are prepared to take it to the next level.”

One DHS Section Councillor told Solidarity:

“Members have shown that by committing to action, we can win our fight against attacks like job cuts, funding cuts, outsourcing and attacks on pay and conditions. DHS dropped putting their shocking agreement offer to a vote after CPSU members showed our intention to fight.”

We need joint action across Australian Public Service (APS) agencies to strengthen our fight for a decent wage rise and continue the long-standing campaign for a unified APS Agreement.

Union action has been hampered since bargaining has been divided agency by agency.

Steps have been taken to reunite the APS, and most of the 100 agencies’ agreements expired on 30 June 2013. Now we have an opportunity for some agencies to act together, once each agency has conducted a separate ballots to authorise industrial action. One-by-one, agencies are likely to apply over the coming months.

This would be a challenge that could wipe the smirk off Abbott’s face and put Abetz in his place. Of 165,000 APS staff, 55,000 are members of the union—potentially, that’s some power.

By a CPSU delegate, Melbourne

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