National

ATO bosses plead for calm amid pay offer fury

Senior managers at the Australian Taxation Office have pleaded with their public servants to remain calm, as anger over the agency's below-inflation pay offer threatens to boil over.

An internal online discussion board was shut down on Friday after being inundated with tax officials venting their frustration and disappoiment over their pay offer, which will be worth less than $7 a week for most, in return for working longer hours and the stripping of conditions and entitlements.

One Assistant Commissioner pleaded with his workers to cut out the "excessive and inappropriate" language being used to talk about the offer and implored them to "look beyond the emotive issues or personalisation to individuals."

An ATO spokeswoman said on Monday that the discussion site would be replaced with other forms of communication and that it was reasonable for managers to remind staff of their obligations as public service.

But insiders say management has seriously underestimated the backlash it would face in the wake of the offer to its nearly 21,000 staffers.

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Public servants at the ATO are now set to vote on industrial action in early April with unions confident of an overwhelming yes vote, setting the scene for Tax Office bureaucrats to follow their those of Human Services and Veterans Affairs, into industrial action.

The coming months also might see unionised staff at the Defence Department take action after its offer caused outrage among employees on Thursday. 

The new agreement for 20,696 ATO employees offered a 0.8 per cent per-year pay rise.

The proposed agreement stripped conditions and rights, with ATO workers required to work an extra nine minutes a day and losing a $300 annual health and wellbeing allowance.

After the loss of allowance, a typical ATO public servant in the middle band of an APS 6 classification would get a pre-tax pay rise of about $7 a week.

Do you know more? Send confidential tips to ps@canberratimes.com.au.

Users of the Tax Office's internal "SharePoint" site were told on Friday that its interactive discussion function would be switched off.

The move came after one worker compiled a pay calculator for all staff and displayed it on a spreadsheet on the info site.

Managment told staff that other channels of communication would now be used.

"We will continue to publish regular updates in News, Resources and FAQs, making the EA SharePoint site an information hub only at this stage," users were told.

"We may re-open the discussion function in the future to facilitate discussions about particular themes that emerge as topics of particular interest."

In the wake of Friday's shutdown of the feedback site, Assistant Commissioner James O'Halloran wrote to workers in his Indirect Tax business unit telling them to watch their language and warning them not to cross the line of the Australian Public Service Code of Conduct.

"I...appreciate that everyone will have an opinion and is entitled to raise concerns," Mr O'Halloran wrote.

"However, I have seen some very limited commentary or exchanges that to me seemed to be excessive and inappropriate in the tone and language and, at least in spirit, not consistent with how we should present such matters.

"I would like to seek the support of all in Indirect Tax to be conscious that concerns are raised in a professional manner consistent with our collective code of conduct.

"I encourage you to continue to discuss these important matters among your peers and with your manager.

"I also encourage you to look beyond the emotive issues or personalisation to individuals and to examine the ATO position against the backdrop of the range of factors that have been taken into consideration during the bargaining process and developing the ATO offer."

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