This article was first published by Fairfax Media Network in The Age on Friday, April 24, 2015. Author: Noel Towell.
Public servants at the Bureau of Meteorology are planning to bring MPs and Senators down to earth by denying weather forecasts to Canberra Airport at times when the politicians are descending on the national capital.
The weather men and women will vote on the move, aimed at bringing their pay dispute to the corridors of power, in the coming weeks.
Union members at the Bureau are also planning to use their unique position to take their grievances to the nation’s airwaves, reading out messages before they broadcast weather forecasts on local, regional and metropolitan radio stations.
The BoM technicians believe they can withhold the weather information from airlines and air traffic control without putting safety or commerce at risk but say they cannot rule out inconvenience for the parliamentarians.
The Bureau’s 1700-strong workforce’s enterprise agreement expired nine months ago, and they have had no pay rise since June 2013 and there is no sign of a fresh offer.
MPs, staffers, lobbyists and other political operators surge through Canberra Airport on the Tuesday morning of each Parliamentary sitting week as they arrive from around the nation and again on Thursday as they hurry out of town.
The Fair Work Commission gave consent on Wednesday for a ballot of the BoM workforce on various forms of industrial action including targeting the capital’s airport on sitting weeks and to read out their messages on radio.
Other actions on the table include work bans of up to 24 hours, a refusal to post on the bureau’s Twitter feed and a ban on answering all non-essential media inquiries.
The technical union Professionals Australia says meteorological information would still be provided for the purposes of emergency services but not for commercial services.
Union official Dave Smith says that seven days’ notice would be provided to allow the Bureau to get organised and if there were valid “safety or economic concerns” then the meteorologists would reconsider their plans.
Bureau of Meteorology management did not oppose the application to Fair Work after the union agreed to some concession on its stance.
“It’s most likely that such bans would be for limited, specified periods of time – the hours around the beginning and ends of sitting weeks,” Mr Smith said.
“We are not surprised the Bureau didn’t oppose the application.
“They know, as well as we do, that the Government is responsible for this unfair approach to pay and conditions and for running down technical expertise across Government.
“It’s a message they are probably happy we’re sending.”
Three other unions – The Community and Public Sector Union, Electrical Trades Union and Australian Manufacturing Workers Union – are also looking at taking their members at BoM off the job.
One BoM union delegate, who asked not to be identified, said the planned actions against air travel to Canberra were carefully calculated to impact on political decision makers.
“We may take action on the Canberra airport weather data because we see the delays in our EA negotiations as being partly due to the government’s unfair policies on enterprise bargaining,” the public servant said.
“We want to minimise inconvenience to the public and to industries that rely on our services, while sending a message to politicians who regularly travel to and from Canberra.”