01 May 2015

Over 4000 Tax Office workers vote to strike

The ATO says plans by workers to strike ahead of the close of financial year won't affect services to the community.

Over 4000 Tax Office workers have voted to strike over pay and conditions just weeks before millions of Australians are due to start filing their annual tax returns.

A range of industrial actions is on the table, including walking off the job for up to 24 hours.

But the public servants will also be protected if they defy their bosses by offering "enhanced customer service", spending extra time dealing with inquiries, advising taxpayers on their legal rights, entitlements services they can access.

The move to take industrial action follows a pay deal that has angered many of the agency's 21,000 staff and which its main union, the Community and Public Sector Union, says will result in an extra 300 job losses, significantly reduced take-home pay and lower conditions.‚Äč

The ATO said it had been advised that CPSU members had voted in favour of taking protected industrial action, but said such action would not impact service delivery.

"The ATO has contingency plans in place that will minimise any disruption from industrial action when it comes to providing key services," the spokeswoman said.

"All ATO sites and facilities will remain open for normal operating hours and we expect there will be minimal impact for the community."

About 94 per cent of CPSU members working at the ATO voted for protected industrial action, with the results of the ballot announced on Thursday.

The news comes just two months before the end of the financial year, when millions of taxpayers begin the task of organising their annual tax returns.

The looming industrial action is another headache for the embattled Tax Office which is under political and public pressure over its approach to disputes with small taxpayers, tax avoidance by large companies, multinationals and the very rich.

ATO workplaces around the country have been heading for strike action for several months over a pay proposal that imposes longer working hours and strips conditions in return for a weekly wage rise of less than $7 for most workers.

The deal was due to go to a vote but the agency cancelled the ballot last month, eager to avoid the the crushing and politically awkward defeats that have occurred in other government departments.

In February, the ATO shut down online discussion boards and called for calm after workers used the internal communications system to vent their fury at what they had been offered.

CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood said on Thursday the results of the ballot reflected the frustration of ATO in the wake of the most drastic cuts to the organisation in decades.

"Tax workers have seen 4400 of their colleagues lose their jobs in the 18 months because of this government's cuts," Ms Flood said.

"Now they are being asked to cop a new agreement that demands they work an extra five days a year, remove critical workplace rights and conditions in return for a 0.8 per cent pay deal that would see their real wages go backwards."

The proposed deal was made by the Tax Office, but the CPSU said it had been devised under harsh terms stipulated under Employment Minister Eric Abetz.