Defence Department enterprise agreement nears vote for 20,000 public servants

Unions have slammed the enterprise agreement offer Defence Department staff will vote on in the coming weeks.

Department secretary Dennis Richardson.
Department secretary Dennis Richardson. Photo: Jim Rice

Negotiations ended on Wednesday and a ballot was expected by late February or early March. 

Unions have targeted the offer's lack of backpay saying the pay rise - of 6 per cent over three years - will effectively be spread across five years.

CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood has described the delays as unfortunate, but necessary.
CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood has described the delays as unfortunate, but necessary.  Photo: Jeffrey Chan

The existing agreement nominally expired more than 18 months ago and the new one was unlikely to take affect until mid-2016.

Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Nadine Flood said the offer on the table would hurt Defence's 20,000 civilian staff.


"The hard working civilians working in Defence face losing significant rights and conditions while still leaving them well behind the ADF in terms of wages, given the ongoing department pay freeze," Ms Flood said. 

"Defence has tinkered round the edges of the last draft but the real problem is it's still negotiating on the basis of a fundamentally unfair government bargaining policy that requires agencies to summarily strip rights and conditions."

Professionals Australia ACT director David Smith said Defence's attempt to trim down of enterprise agreement to move what he called critical parts of the agreement into policy was still a sticking point. 

"Some of this goes to matters of principle with the removal of the requirement of parties to behave honestly and to provisions around procedural fairness but goes significantly further by removing specified broad-bands, severing the link between the agreement and work level standards and stripping performance processes," he said.   

Mr Smith said cutting the link between work level standards and the agreement would allow Defence to change the definitions underpinning every APS job in the organisation without the workforce's consent.

He said Defence's offer also provided greater scope for "quasi Australian workplace agreements" - labelled by the union movement as the Howard government's maligned attempt to erode collective bargaining - because it increased access to individual flexibility arrangements.

A year ago Defence Department secretary Dennis Richardson had "regrets" over his enterprise agreement offer to 20,000 staff which included a pay increase averaging 1.05 per cent a year.

"I regret that the pay offer is significantly below the outcome for [Australian Defence Force] personnel which, as you know, is 4.5 per cent over three years, and with zero productivity offsets," he wrote at the time

Not long after he wrote this, the ADF pay increase was lifted to 2 per cent a year, further increasing the looming disparity that was going to be created between uniformed and civilian Defence personnel 

In December, Mr Richardson announced to staff the department could raise its offer to 6 per cent over the three years with much of the pay increase front-loaded early in the life of the agreement. 

Defence is one of the biggest organisations, according budget and staff numbers, to be at the negotiating table during talks across the bureaucracy affecting the pay and conditions of 150,000 public servants.

The Australian Taxation Office, which had its recent offer crushed by an 85 per cent no vote in December, and the Department of Human Services, which has high union penetration and starts its ballot of employees on Friday, were also battling to secure workforce consent to agreements.

The Defence Department, ATO and DHS employed a total of about 75,000 staff. 

1 comment