Gertrude vs. The Public Service: Part 1

Gertrude's Diary

“Ow! Ouch! Ow! I give up, I give up!” Yes, gentle reader, that is the sound of me leaving the Public Service after 2.5 years in the Department of Evil and Worker Repression. I share my experience with you as a cautionary tale for anyone else who might be contemplating employment with the APS.

In April 2004 I left an interesting, regular, but casual position for the glittering prospects of permanent part-time employment in a deathly-dull research backwater. My job was to read and record information from collective agreements certified at the Australian Industrial Relations Commission. For 15 hours every week I immersed myself in the nitty-gritty of Australian working life. No one can talk conditions of employment better than me, I can tell you.

Reading thousands of legal documents is no mean feat, especially if they concern things like hours of work, shift loadings, break times, leave entitlements, provisions for wage increases and other minutiae that could not possibly interest anyone other than the workers to whom it applies. Thankfully, as a child I was bludgeoned with the philosophies of Mary Poppins, so I quickly learned to brighten the day with speed-reading exercises, OH&S bingo (believe me, it”s so boring you don”t want to know) and other games of my own devising.

Most of my colleagues were uni students, semi-retirees or mothers of young children, and generally there was a light-hearted spirit of camaraderie in the air which made a refreshing change to the rather bleak ambition evident elsewhere. How we tittered over the provisions for a Nauseous Linen Allowance.

The floor that I worked on was made up of discrete sections separated mostly by 5 foot high carpeted partitions. Other teams of people who took themselves and their work seriously were constantly troubling us with complaints about our laughter, and we would be forced to tone it down, until we found an agreement for something like the Dismal Swamp Fun Park and the hilarity began again.

Then, in November 2005, we were called to a team meeting that changed everything. We all knew it was coming, but still I hoped that we could prolong our happiness just a little longer. I speak of Whatchoices. When my supervisor first mentioned it in that meeting I tried putting my hands over my ears and loudly saying “la la la la la la”, but it kept the evil knowledge out for but a short while.

Soon our happy team was daily watching the erosion of conditions of employment for workers in many areas. Regular readers of this diary will have some idea of my politics (which border on sentimental when it comes to the union movement in Australia) and indeed, industries such as mining and construction with strong union participation continue to enjoy conditions which reward the sacrifices and effort required for shift-work and overtime, rewards that many other workers are losing.

Increasingly demoralised, things were only going to get worse. I was invited to take over supervisory responsibilities, and then the misery really started.

To be continued”

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