CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood. Photo: Mark Graham
Public service bosses want a single deal to dictate the pay, hours and conditions of Australia’s 168,000 federal bureaucrats.
The Public Service Commission wants a “central agreement” to govern “core conditions” in the service, believed to cover wages, working hours, redundancy and redeployment provisions, with each agency then free to negotiate with its own workforce on non-core issues.
The surprise position was revealed at a meeting in Canberra on Thursday between trade unions and the commission’s workplace relations boss, Helen Bull, the first step in renegotiating the service’s enterprise bargaining agreements that expire on June 30 next year.
The move is likely to be greeted with dismay in the better paid departments and agencies but will be seen as a victory in public service workplaces with poorer wages and conditions, including the mammoth Department of Human Services.
A commitment to “central bargaining” represents an about-turn after the last round of public service enterprise bargaining talks in 2010 and 2011 were conducted agency by agency.
The Canberra Times revealed on Wednesday that the pay gap between typical Canberra public servants - executive level 1 officers - who work in different agencies can be up to $47,000 a year.
The union delegates were told on Thursday that the commission was considering taking the central bargaining proposal to government and recommending that it be adopted as official policy in the coming talks.
The commission believes that changes to the Public Service Act and the regulations give it the legal power to treat the entire service, with more than 100 different entities, as a single workplace.
The commission is understood to have told the delegates on Thursday that a “central negotiating table”, with 10 senior bureaucrats facing trade unions and employee representatives, was preferable to holding more than 100 sets of negotiations.
The main public service union, the CPSU, has been lobbying for the changes for several years, but smaller unions, which often represent better paid groups of workers, are likely to fight the proposal.
Jeff Lapidos, secretary of the ASU’s tax officers’ branch, said a central bargaining regime was bad news for the nation’s 24,000 Tax Office workers who enjoyed higher wages and shorter working hours than many of their counterparts.
“This will lead to lower pay rises and longer working hours, and why should we agree to lower pay rises and longer working hours?” he said.
“The people who are paid the best and who have the best conditions should be the ones who deliver the best productivity, especially if pay increases are funded from agency budgets.”
CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood said she would not comment on what was a ‘‘confidential meeting’’ but that her union would welcome a return to central negotiations. ‘‘The CPSU’s position hasn’t changed,’’ she said.
‘‘We want central bargaining with government on a service-wide agenda and bargaining with agencies on the issues agencies are allowed by government to determine.’’
The commission is preparing advice for the government, in consultation with the Department of Workplace relations, before adopting a final position before the bargaining process.
The union delegates were also told on Thursday that with an election looming, the final position adopted in the talks would be the one favoured by the government of the day.
The Public Service Commission did not responded to a request for interview on Thursday.