It has been a long drought for the workers at the Belmont engineering services office of the Australian Bureau of Meteorology in Western Australia.
The storm clouds have been gathering over the horizon, but they have not broken yet. The BoM workers have not seen a pay rise in nearly five years and the big dry looks set to continue if things don’t change.
“In July it will be five years since we’ve had a pay rise,” said Colin Jenkinson, a Technical Officer at the BoM.
“We have some very angry people here. Morale has been severely affected by the way we’ve treated by management.”
With Turnbull Government policy limiting pay increases for public sector workers, the protracted bargaining means the BoM engineers have missed out on a roughly 9.5% increase to their wages.
It’s a clear example of why Australia’s unions are pushing to Change the Rules. These workers, who are following the law in industrial negotiations, have found themselves in war of attrition against bosses with too much power.
“We’ve all taken industrial action,” Colin said, with travel to maintain weather stations and equipment across vast sections of Western Australia drastically reduced.
“Radars are breaking down and not getting seen to for up to two weeks.”
The Carnarvon radar station remained offline after going down on April 20 while the Kalgoorlie radar was still offline at the time of writing in late April. Its estimated restoration of service was stated as March 16.
But the amount of time those radar stations have been out of action is nothing compared to how long the BoM workers have been in negotiation – long enough for the Jenkinson family to welcome three children into the world.
“It’s quite stressful,” Colin said about raising a family without meaningful wage increases.
One thing they are fighting for is better allowances for when they are “going out a week at a time” away from families to service remote weather stations.
“We don’t really get much of an allowance for being away from home and family,” Colin said.
Despite the cost of living increasing while their wages aren’t, there is no penalty for BoM management who continue to offer the miserly 2% increase over three years.
Colin and his fellow workers have been fighting in a rigged game. They have followed the rules but the Liberals have rigged the game. They play on, though.
Brenden Reeve, an organiser with the ETU WA branch, commended his fellow members for holding their ground through a long and “frustrating” battle with the government bosses.
“The good work of Colin Jenkinson should be singled out,” Reeve said.
“And all the members that have been very patient in what’s been a frustrating process.
“They should be commended for holding faith in the union and holding together in what’s been a very tough time.”
The Turnbull Government’s public sector bargaining policy has limited wage increases to that amount unless individuals want to move to “individual flexibility agreements”, which have an eerie resemblance to the outlawed Australian Workplace Agreements.
Colin said many of his colleagues “feel it’s not even a true bargaining because the [Australian Public Services Commission] has had their hands tied behind their back” by the government restrictions.
As well as the roughly 1500 BoM employees at loggerheads with the Turnbull Government’s measly increase, there are between 12,000 and 13,000 Department of Home Affairs employees and about 15,000 Federal Court employees negotiating for a fairer deal.
A direct appeal to the relevant ministers would could get them their rightful wage increases, but Colin said, “there’s not a single federal government agency that’s been successful in that”.
A spokesman for the Community and Public Sector Union said the government’s paltry offerings are a “deliberate tactic”.
“They thought they would have been able to starve people out a lot people a lot quicker,” the spokesperson said.
Electrical Trades Union Assistant Secretary David Mier said there was plenty of reasons for these workers to stand proud after fighting the good fight for so long and so hard.
“These blokes are doing themselves proud,” Mier said, “holding work bans under extreme pressure and setting the example for other BoM workers.”
And they are setting an example for workers every in Australia for why we need to get out and fight to Change the Rules.