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What is the Community and Public Sector Union?

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  • Written By: Dale Marshall
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 06 December 2016
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The Community and Public Sector Union is an Australian labor union, the majority of whose members are employed by the federal government, one of the state or territorial governments, or one of their subsidiary organizations. The Community and Public Sector Union has grown through organizing campaigns, expansion of its jurisdiction, and amalgamation, or merger, with other unions. Membership in the union is restricted to those employed by an organization with which the union has a collective bargaining agreement, and then only if the job they hold is covered by the agreement. One of Australia’s largest unions, it has claimed about 160,000 members in more than 600 occupations nationwide.

The process of amalgamation that’s resulted in the present-day Community and Public Sector Union began in 1989, with the joining of three unions in the government and broadcasting fields to form the Australian Public Sector and Broadcasting Union, Australian Government Employment. This initial amalgamation was followed by a series of similar mergers over the next five years, culminating in 1994 with the joining of the Public Sector, Professional, Scientific Research, Technical, Communications, Aviation and Broadcasting Union with the State Public Services Federation to form CPSU, the Community and Public Sector Union. This process of amalgamation and consolidation joined virtually all the public-sector unions in Australia, reflecting a long history of labor representation. Some of the constituent organizations composed of statewide bodies trace their histories to the late 19th century.

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Membership in the Community and Public Sector Union provides a wide range of benefits beyond the traditional host of services and resources included in the collective bargaining arena. For example, travel and shopping discounts are included in membership, as are a host of insurance programs. Members may also access discounted financial and legal services. These discounts are usually funded by the service providers in return for the Union’s referral of members, and not subsidized by members’ dues. The existence of these programs is a relatively recent phenomenon in collective bargaining organizations, and reflects a need to retain members with inducements beyond the traditional benefits of collective bargaining, which are seen by many as taken for granted.

Members' dues are based on their annual wages, but must be paid directly; i.e., automatic deduction of dues from members’ wages is not permitted. While members may pay dues on a month-to-month basis, discounts of up to 10% are available for those who pay quarterly, semi-annually or annually.

The inclusion of bargaining units composed of some private-sector employees in a nationwide union comprised largely of public-sector employees is an interesting anomaly in organized labor. In some cases, such irregularities are the result of logistical oddities in years past, where some private-sector employees desired to form a union, but the only union in the area was the public sector union. These arrangements sometimes date back decades. In other cases, a small private-sector union may be experiencing financial difficulties and need to merge for survival, and the public sector union agrees to provide safe financial harbor.

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