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Govt scrambles to avert "perfect storm" of industrial action


South Australia’s public servants have agreed to work bans across government departments, joining doctors and hospital staff in a “perfect storm” of industrial action – unless the State Government accepts their claims.

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The Public Service Association yesterday agreed to a series of stop-work meetings and work bans to pressure Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis to back down on his 1.5 per cent pay-rise cap for public servants.

But PSA general secretary Nev Kitchin told InDaily the union – which has 37,000 members across South Australia – will hold fire for a fortnight while the Government scrambles to assess its enterprise bargaining offer.

It’s the latest move in an escalating enterprise bargaining battle between unions and the State Government.

Hundreds of doctors walked off the job yesterday in protest against the pay-rise cap, announced in Koutsantonis’s 2016 state budget, with the South Australian Salaried Medical Officers’ Association demanding a 2.5 per cent pay rise for its members.

Hospital workers at the Repatriation General Hospital – including disability and aged-care workers – reportedly held the first in a series of stop-work meetings last week.

“We’re on the verge of a perfect storm of industrial activity of many unions against the government,” Kitchin told InDaily.

He said Koutsantonis had met with PSA officials on Wednesday and offered an apology to the union.

“(Koutsantonis) stated that he wanted to apologise to the PSA on the basis that the department didn’t take our claim seriously … [and that he] wasn’t personally aware of the depth of our claim,” Kitchin said.

“He stated that he would immediately have a specialised team in Treasury and Finance examine our claim and get back to us.

“He’s had additional resources into that area to analyse those claims … taking into account the efficiency dividends that we’ve put forward.”

Koutsantonis did not respond when asked whether he had, in fact, made the apology – but told InDaily this morning: “The State Government is committed to working with the PSA towards a resolution for the public sector – a highly effective and professional cohort that South Australians can be proud of.”

The current enterprise bargain expired in December last year, but its provisions remain in place.

Kitchin warned that industrial action by his members had the potential to cause an economic impact in South Australia – and inconvenience to the public – and urged the Government to come back with a “reasonable” offer.

He said the PSA was “quite hopeful of a resolution with Government in the next two weeks”, but was “gearing up on the basis that the Government will not come to the party”.

He said the industrial action would include “random stop-work meetings … [that] will cover the whole spectrum of government departments”.

Among the specific threats are that public servants may refuse to fill out log books for the use of government cars, speed camera operators may not facilitate revenue collection, and corrections officers may decline to intervene in dangerous circumstances involving prisoners.

Kitchin said increased inflation meant that a 1.5 per cent cap on public-sector pay rises was effectively a pay cut, and that it was unfair that other public servants –including nurses, teachers and police officers – had been granted exemptions to the cap.

“We believe there’s relative sympathy from the public in terms of inequality,” he said.

He added that the PSA’s enterprise bargaining offer included 23 “efficiency dividends” that justified a greater pay increase.

In August, Kitchin told InDaily the PSA was “gearing up for industrial war” over the 1.5 per cent pay cap

Industrial action by the public sector severely damaged Labor’s stocks back in 2011, arguably hastening the political demise of Mike Rann and Kevin Foley after the Government sought significant budget savings.

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