As ASU members would be aware, in September 2020 cohealth introduced changes to the Needle Syringe Program at Innerspace, reducing the service provided by a third. This was especially disappointing since the ASU had been advocating all year for some members to be converted to permanent employees only for the conversion to be pushed back time and time again by management. Thankfully, days before cohealth formally introduced the changes, we placed the matter of casual conversion into formal dispute.
This enlivened the status quo provision in the Enterprise Agreement giving the ASU the ability to ensure that cohealth could not rush through the changes to the roster.
The ASU attended multiple staff and Management meetings to persuade cohealth not to make such significant cuts to the program. cohealth advised the ASU that there was a budget deficit in the program due to an overuse of casuals, however the ASU believe that the cutbacks went much further than what was required to balance the shortfall.
The ASU and members at Innerpsace spent a significant amount of time and resources to formulate multiple alternative proposals however none of these were considered. The ASU received confusing and contradictory reasons why certain proposals were not viable.
As it seemed like cohealth were being intransigent, the ASU also had multiple meetings with the Department of Health and Human Services and other external organisations (e.g. Harm Reduction Victoria, The Penington Institute and The Progressive Public Health Alliance).
As a direct result of our advocacy, cohealth agreed to a modest increase in the rostered hours. While this was a marginal increase, the ASU were also able to assist individual members with their redundancies and obtaining new permanent contracts with beneficial outcomes.
It is important to remember cohealth had been using casual staff as though they were permanent employees for years and may not have offered staff redundancies or redeployments had it not been for the ASU pursuing casual conversions. While the service has decreased, almost all InnerSpace employees have now moved from casual to permanent employment.
These outcomes could only be achieved due to the vast majority of InnerSpace staff joining the ASU despite their own roles not being at risk. This is a testament to the power of collective action and what can be achieved when members stick together. Encourage your colleagues to join the ASU as we are all stronger for it and this is unlikely to be the last unfair change on the horizon.