Counselling offered to public servants after pay talks

Thousands of public servants were offered psychological counselling after they learned last week of the government's plans for their pay and conditions.

The Department of Veterans' Affairs offered counselling to its 2000 mostly Canberra-based staff the day after The Canberra Times revealed the hard line the Abbott government would take to this year's pay talks for the nation's 165,000 federal public servants.

The government is expected to begin with a position of 0 per cent pay rises with any upwards movement to be traded off against entitlements and conditions, such as sick and carers' leave.

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Government staff were privately dismissive of the report but the office of Public Service Minister Eric Abetz was unprepared to publicly rule out the 0 per cent position.

The Department of Veterans' Affairs took no chances on Thursday; a senior manager sent out a bulletin advising staff who might be "feeling anxious" about the revelations of the department's employee assistance program.

In his message to workers, Veterans' Affairs human resources boss Roger Winzenberg said "local media" had "speculated" about the bargaining position. 

Mr Winzenberg urged staff to trust the public service hierarchy and take a wait-and-see approach to the pay talks.

"These reports speculate on the content of the government's Commonwealth employment bargaining framework, which has not yet been released," the human resources boss wrote.

Key elements of the government's plan for the bargaining round have been in circulation in the upper echelons of the public service for several weeks, but Mr Winzenberg said the plans were still "unknown".

"Until the framework is made public, the details remain unknown," he wrote.

"Once we have the framework and have had time to analyse the detail, we will be in a position to share information with you."

Mr Winzenberg also foreshadowed a key plank of the government's position, agency-level bargaining, where each department and agency would hold its own talks with its workforce subject to a strict set of principles dictated by the government.

"The next steps from here is that we await the release of the bargaining framework, and then the enterprise agreement team will develop our position," Mr Winzenberg wrote.

"Once we have our proposed position it will be submitted to the [Public Service Commission] and the Department of Finance for ratification before we can commence formal bargaining."

The assistant secretary assured his workers that help was at hand if they were suffering from anxiety.

"If you are feeling anxious as a result of the media reports, I encourage you to talk to your manager or utilise the services of our EAP provider, Davidson Trahaire Corpsych," he wrote.


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