Eric Abetz slams Prime Minister and Cabinet over union access policy

Eric Abetz slams Prime Minister and Cabinet over union access policy

Senator Eric Abetz responds after Defence Minister Senator David Johnston delivers a statement on ASC and shipbuilding, in the Senate at Parliament House in Canberra on Wednesday 26 November 2014. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen Dr David Gruen Deputy Secretary, Economic and G20 Sherpa in Canberra on Friday 2 December 2016 Photo: Andrew Meares for AFR
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Good Weekend portrait of Senator Eric Abetz in his office at Parliament House in Canberra on Thursday 25 February 2016. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen ### Photo for Good Weekend ### GW – march 26

Hardline former minister Eric Abetz has used Senate estimates hearings to extensively question public servants over a new union access policy, claiming employees could have information “foisted upon them whether they want it or not”.

Senator Abetz said the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet should dump a policy to give trade union representatives time to provide advice and information to public servants during business hours, suggesting it could contradict the federal government’s workplace bargaining policy.

The access policy was part of a suite of information agreed to by department employees during enterprise bargaining negotiations, but Senator Abetz said it should have been provided to the n Public Service Commission, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Public Service Minister Michaelia Cash.

He objected to staff receiving emails from the Community and Public Sector Union, new employees receiving written material when they join the department and union officials attending orientation sessions.

Appointed to oversee the public service in the Abbott government, Senator Abetz used Monday night’s hearing to ask how an opt-out email system worked, how long it would take for employees to stop receiving union information and how much time delegates could spend assisting colleagues during work hours.

Senator Abetz questioned why taxpayer-funded telephone, printing and email facilities could be used by the union, as well as meeting rooms, lunch areas and video conferencing.

“Please don’t try to brush me off,” he said to Deputy Secretary David Gruen during the questioning, before later suggesting “someone had tried to pull a swifty” with the agreement.

The department’s chief people officer Emma Greenwood said emails from the union would be facilitated using a centralised system and the union would not be provided with a department-wide email list.

“We would expect those emails to be sent out through a central email address that we would have,” she said.

“We would actually send that information on behalf [of the union] and we would only send it on an opt-out basis, so staff would obviously be able to opt-out and to choose not to receive any information.”

First Assistant Secretary Yael Cass said no exchange of letters of agreement had taken place between the union and the department, and the policy was not yet in place.

Senator Abetz accused the department of having a “secret side-deal”.

On Tuesday he said the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources was implementing similar access rules.

“This secretive new policy should be dumped as a matter of urgency because it flies in the face of not only the Workplace Bargaining Policy but also the spirit of freedom of association,” he said in a statement.

“As confirmed by the officials, this policy has not yet been implemented and on that basis I am hopeful that it will be dropped as a matter of urgency.”

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