Executive claims strikes ‘could cost lives’

by Chloe Taylor09 Jul 2015
A senior executive in the Australian Public Service (APS) has said that planned strike action in Canberra could cost lives, according to The Canberra Times.

Jo Schumann – executive director of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority’s corporate division – claimed the strikes would be detrimental to the authority’s ability to respond to emergencies.

Schumann’s comments came after the authority acted upon a suggestion from the Fair Work Commission (FWC), which said that the authority should take appropriate action if it believed that “dire consequences” would arise from the stop work actions.

In a commission hearing last month, Schumann expressed concern about the plans of Technical Union Professionals Australia members to walk out of work over a pay dispute.

“I know the purpose of action is to inconvenience us maximally, I would point out though that some of these bans will have a detrimental effect on the economy and could cost ... lives in the circumstance where we are faced with an emergency in relation to River Murray operations,” she told Fair Work Commissioner Leigh Johns.

The workers in question had applied to the FWC for permission to hold a protected action ballot following delays in receiving a new pay offer.

Johns did not share Schumann’s concern, and suggested that there were legal options open to her and other authority managers if they believed that lives were being risked.

“If it's the case that when this industrial action is engaged in, the dire circumstances that you've just described occur, then the Murray-Darling Basin Authority would have a different remedy under a different section of the [Fair Work] Act, and I would invite you to look at section 424 of the Fair Work Act,” he said.
“That might be your remedy if this industrial action is engaged in and if it has the dire consequences that you refer to.”

Under the section referred to by Johns, industrial action must be suspended or terminated by the FWC if it is satisfied that the action “endangers the life, the personal safety or health, or the welfare, of the population or of part of it”, or “causes significant damage to the Australian economy or an important part of it”.

According to The Times, Schumann claimed that the authority would be “utilising” the clause, but a challenge is yet to be made – and the action is reportedly still scheduled to go ahead this week.

A spokeswoman for the authority said that strike action could “affect things like water deliveries and river condition updates”.

“The MDBA will carefully and effectively manage any action to ensure public safety and avoid disruptions to business,” she said.

Since the commission hearing, the authority has made an enterprise agreement offer containing pay rises of 4.2% over three years. The offer is likely to go to an all-staff vote this month, The Times reported.

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