National

ABS bosses blame government for public service wages stalemate

Bosses at the Australian Bureau of Statistics have pleaded with their workforce to be patient, saying inaction by the Abbott government is to blame for the wages stalemate at the bureau.

But, despite ABS management asking for more time, union members at the ABS say they have had enough of their employer's "excuses" and look set to join public servants from 12 other departments in taking strike action.

The 2800 public servants at the bureau have been waiting for a wage offer for almost 10 months but with proposals for a major overhaul of the bureau still awaiting a cabinet decision, bosses at the ABS say they are not in a position to offer their staff a new deal.

Workers were told last week that some progress had been made in bargaining talks, but Assistant Statistician Chris Libreri was unable to offer any answers on when his staff would get a pay offer.

 A decision the future of the bureau, including a proposal to axe the 2016 census, remains before cabinet with an announcement expected before the May budget.

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Mr Libreri told workers that the bureau could do nothing on wages until cabinet made a decision.

"As you are aware, there are proposals before government, which will have a significant impact on the ABS," the assistant statistician said.

"Once an announcement has been made, and we remain hopeful that this will be in the coming weeks, we will be in a position to discuss remuneration aspects.

"I would like to thank all staff for the patience they have shown to date, and ask that this continue pending a decision on the proposals."

But the Community and Public Sector Union, which is going to the Fair Work Commission on Monday for permission to strike, says its members had heard enough "excuses" from ABS management.

"Staff have been genuinely trying to reach an agreement for almost a year but have had nothing but excuses back from management about how it is unable to make a concrete offer to staff," union official Alistair Waters said.

"The reality is that the government's bargaining policy is making it almost impossible for ABS to make an acceptable offer to staff."

The Fair Work Commission heard the union's application for a protected action ballot on Monday.

If its workforce votes to strike, ABS will join Agriculture, Tax, Defence, Human Services, Veterans' Affairs, Environment, Employment, Geoscience Australia, CSIRO, the Australian Institute of Criminology and Bureau of Meteorology, where public servants are all taking or planning industrial action. 

Mr Waters said the industrial problems at ABS were playing out against a background of years of spending cuts at the bureau. 

"The community really values the vital work that the bureau does in informing policy and decision-making," he said.

"It's a pity that the government doesn't value bureau staff to the same degree and subjects them to a bargaining policy that seeks to take away more than it gives." 

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