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Bargaining push to make public servants work nine minutes longer a day

Date

Phillip Thomson

Industrial action could be sparked if thousands of public servants are asked to work nine minutes longer a day.

Asking employees to knock off at 5pm rather than 4.51pm and have other conditions reduced alongside negligible pay rise offers is expected to prompt calls for industrial action at the Australian Tax Office.

Unions have revealed the ATO and Defence Department have floated the idea of longer working hours in consultations with their staff in the lead-up to official bargaining on agreements, while Geoscience Australia had reportedly brought up the prospect during bargaining.

An extra nine minutes daily would take the average working week at the ATO from 36 hours and 45 minutes to 37.5 hours. The change would add another three hours at work each month or 39 hours a year.

The Australian Services Union, which represents Tax Office staff, said adding nine minutes a day would be like taking away a week of annual leave.

"It's like asking people to work another five and a third days a year," ASU tax branch secretary Jeff Lapidos said.

While he said a long list of working conditions would need to be considered during bargaining, he did not think there would be enough incentives in the existing tough bargaining environment to agree to longer working hours.

The ATO starts bargaining with staff on Monday and Mr Lapidos said he could foresee a tough initial offer which would not be improved without staff taking industrial action.

"We're strongly opposed to the lengthening of the working day. I'm expecting we'll take industrial action but that's my prediction, we've made no decision," Mr Lapidos said.

"Any industrial action will be designed to hurt the commissioner (Chris Jordan) and the government as much as we can."

The ATO, the agency to be hardest hit by redundancies following the federal budget, was believed to have the shortest working week in the federal public service. 

A Tax Office spokeswoman said the agency would negotiate in good faith with the ASU, Community and Public Sector Union and individual employee representatives. It is understood there would be more than 20 individual employee representatives at the bargaining. 

"We will be discussing a range of employment conditions as part of that process, but as part of our commitment to good faith bargaining we will not be publicly commenting on the negotiations prior to bargaining discussions," the ATO spokeswoman said. 

"We are keeping our staff regularly informed and will continue to update them through the bargaining process."

One of the first agencies to be bargaining over an agreement in the federal public service, Geoscience Australia, had already asked staff to agree to work an extra 9 minutes a day, the Professionals Australia union said.

Geoscience Australia could not comment except to say no formal offers had been made.

Professionals Australia executive officer Dave Smith said the Defence Department had held consultations about lengthening the working week from 37.5 hours to 38 hours.

Mr Smith said Defence had floated the idea of taking away leave over Christmas – now paid but not counted as annual leave – and there could be an attempt to force staff to work or take annual leave during this period.

He said both of these measures would result in an average daily increase of 9 to 10 minutes. 

"Most employees work additional, unpaid hours already – this will change their baseline hours and may affect their attitude to that additional effort that they provide effectively for free," Mr Smith said. 

"It does have a particular effect on part-time employees who may not be able to change their hours – effectively for those largely with family responsibilities this will be a pay cut no matter how effective they are at their job.

"This is a bundy clock mentality rather than an approach that focuses on real outputs and, dare I say it, genuine productivity."

The federal government's tough bargaining framework, which departments and agencies operate under, allows for no pay rises for 160,000 public servants in the next three years, unless their departments can prove wage increases are linked to productivity gains.

Cash-strapped agencies and departments will also have to show they can fit any pay increases into their dwindling budgets.

214 comments so far

  • 9 minutes? 10 minutes? Oh wow! And that is enough to make them go on strike? Oh purlease!!!

    Commenter
    Get real
    Location
    Canberra
    Date and time
    June 19, 2014, 12:11AM
    • they're public servants !!!

      They don't know what real work is.

      Too busy organising their holidays.

      Sack few hundred 1000 more. No one will even notice.

      Commenter
      NOT SURE
      Date and time
      June 19, 2014, 9:12AM
    • It's nonsense like this why unions are held in such low regard by the general public and taxpayers specifically.

      Commenter
      luke r
      Date and time
      June 19, 2014, 9:15AM
    • To all of you like get real who think it's just nine minutes - how would each of you react to being asked to give up one weeks pay per year for free? Or how about if the government asked you to pay an extra $1000 dollars tax per year just because? Or Coles just slugged you a ten dollar 'because' fee every time you went to the shops? Oh, well, that would be different because I'm not a public servant!

      Why is it that you can so casually give away someone elses rights? If its such a small thing, next time you have to negotiate your pay offer up a weeks pay, or move to three weeks holidays per year or agree to no sick leave and put your money where your mouth is.

      And all this because the best economy in the world doesn't have a budget crisis but the government thinks it should strip its own employees of wages and conditions. Who do you think they'll come after next?

      Oh and if Jeff Lapidos with 70 members represents ATO workers then call me Mary.

      Commenter
      SBH
      Date and time
      June 19, 2014, 9:21AM
    • So why is their employer asking for it if it so trivial?

      Commenter
      jofek
      Date and time
      June 19, 2014, 10:05AM
    • 9 minutes a day is nothing since for the last 10 years I have been working at least 45 hours a week.. (that is approx. 40 mins unpaid work a day .. no thank you or no flex).. So in reality my working day will not change with this .. maybe I should move to Sweden…

      Commenter
      Andy
      Location
      Canberra
      Date and time
      June 19, 2014, 10:12AM
    • 1. The Australian Public Service has had the 36.75 hour week since Federation. During that time, the rest of the workforce has been reducing its hours - first to 48, then 44, then 40 and finally to 38. Given the immense increase in productivity in the whole workforce in the 26 years since 1988, the 36 hour week should now be standard. This would solve the problem of the discrepancy

      2. An increase in the working day is not a productivity initiative. The productivity of labour is measured in terms of output per hour of labour, so increasing the number of hours worked has no effect on productivity at all.

      3. The Government is saying that it wants demonstrated productivity improvements in agency agreements. It is complete nonsense to take that position, since the Government and agency managements can and do take productivity initiatives unilaterally. Re-organisation, rationalisation and new technology are continually introduced without agreement with employees. This is precisely the intention of the "Fair" Work Act. To demand productivity initiatives in agency agreements is to ask for the impossible.

      4. People who say that public servants don't know what real work is don't know what they're talking about. Decades of "efficiency dividends" have stripped away the fat that existed in the 1970s and agencies now run on the smell of an oily rag (unless you're in the Senior Executive Service, that is - but then senior executives in the private sector have an even more lucrative gravy train). Your average public servant works just as hard as your average private sector employee.

      Commenter
      Greg Platt
      Location
      Brunswick
      Date and time
      June 19, 2014, 10:31AM
    • Since according to Get Real, Public Servants seem to be less than human, I ask him / her to re-think what a lot of Public Servants provide him / her next time he or she uses a hospital, a car, a plane, sends a letter, uses the local council services for his elderly family, seeks the protection of the law through a courtroom or small claims tribunal, leaves or re-enters the country via an airport or on a boat, or goes for a wonder around the local park. Lots of Public Servants work hard and long hours (including overtime which in some cases is not paid). A lot of these people work in the public service because they want to work for their community and their country and because for some of them it is rewarding to provide a service to Australians (Including the ungrateful ones like Get Real). These Public Servants have families and mortgages and are just like you.

      Nine minutes increased productivity to get a pay increase of 2% is another fallacy provided to the country courtesy of The Abbott Government. Nine minutes a day represent 2% of the working time of these public servants. Which means that there is no incentive for the workers to accept the "deal".
      If what the government is trying to achieve is the introduction to a Banana Republic's corrupt public service, where the only way to get anything done by the government is bribe your public servants (think Greece, Indonesia, Brazil, Mexico) then by all means support the beginning of the end and lower the working conditions in the public service.

      Commenter
      A Citizen
      Location
      WA
      Date and time
      June 19, 2014, 10:36AM
    • Ridiculous.... I work on average 1hr overtime a day (10 ordinary hours) and average 70hrs a week for the Public Health Sector. These public servants have no idea what real work is and somehow I'm paying for their "work" through tax money. Time to have a performance-tested pay system for these bludgers. Maybe some work will be done then.

      Commenter
      Ricko
      Date and time
      June 19, 2014, 10:40AM
    • As an ex PS employee, I can attest that many, many unpaid hours are already put in by overworked and under-resourced staff in the PS in Canberra. Add in the so-called "efficiency dividend" of the last few years (the "death of a thousand cuts", thanks for nothing, Labor) and you can see it is a zero-sum game, where the point of diminishing returns has been and gone, yet this stupidity continues.
      Who here is willing, as an employee, to bargain away part of your life for no return, or a reduction in conditions? To forgo family time for absolutely nothing, so the boss can make their books look better?
      Remember, it is the basis of employing someone that the time and skills they give are remunerated in return, not donated for nothing. There has been too much "free" work given away in the PS for years now, and yet we still get whiners on here complaining about public servants and their work ethic. maybe these moaners should actually try working for the PS sometime, it might enlighten a few of them. In my experience, private enterprise gets better conditions, better pay, and better hours too.

      Commenter
      Truthy
      Date and time
      June 19, 2014, 10:58AM

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