Striking weather workers bringing a storm

Around the country over the past three weeks, Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) workers have been taking strike action. In recent years the Abbott and Turnbull government’s have directed federal departments and agencies to take a hard line on public sector bargaining by holding back wages and stripping core conditions from enterprise agreements.

While many agencies have now softened their positions, allowing improved (though far from perfect) agreements to be voted up by workers, management at BoM has remained intransient. BoM management is pushing for a significant winding back of union delegate rights, as well as cuts to the shift loadings, travel allowance and other payments received by many BoM staff when they have to spend time away from home for their job.

Andrew Charles is the acting Secretary of the CPSU at BoM. He spoke with Red Flag’s Jerome Small about the industrial action.

How disruptive is the industrial action to management? How much industrial power do you actually have?

The action we are taking is highly disruptive. We have a good density of members in the key operational areas involved with issuing forecasts and taking real-time observations. As a union we’ve agreed to support the maintenance of a skeleton staff at all times to protect public safety – this means sometimes members who want to take strike action won’t be able to. But we require management to follow an exhaustive process to try to replace them. It’s hard to overstate the impact this extra rostering work (and overtime budget when people are replaced) is having on management.

Less than a week after the industrial action started, senior Bureau management replaced their negotiating team and announced a complete rethink of their offer. No coincidence.

I can imagine workers who are committed and passionate about their jobs being pretty reluctant to take industrial action – how has the experience been so far? What are workers saying about it?

Yes, the work ethic of some of our more committed weather enthusiasts is legendary. Still, people are fed up after such a long time with no progress. The fact that a lot of managements cut’s in the most recent offer directly targeted frontline staff working shifts or in regions has had a hardening effect on attitudes. Members had been looking to the union to take stronger action for some time.

We are taking stop-works from 30 minutes in length at various times of the day. This means minimal loss of pay for members but a large amount of disruption for rosters that need to be staffed 24/7. There are also a range of work bans on things like answering the phone, talking to the media, preparing parliamentary submissions - some of these things free our members up to focus on the more interesting work they’d rather be doing!

This has meant delegates and active members at each site have had to take a lead role in organising actions rather than waiting for instructions from the union head office. It’s been a great success with the network of active delegates growing and more energised than ever.

Why should other workers support you?

Because public sector working conditions set a standard for the rest of the economy, because in a changing climate having professionals monitoring and predicting extreme weather when it happens is even more important.