Public servants at the giant Defence Department fear they are being softened-up for a pay offer of just 1  per cent each year.

Thousands of Defence staffers are being asked to fill out a survey asking what they want from the upcoming wage talks and some are complaining the online questionnaire is fixed to return a vote for a "one-off" 3 per cent pay rise.

The increase would have to last for the three-year life of the new workplace agreement and would have strings attached in the form of conditions to be traded away in return.

But Defence rejected its staffers’ claims, saying there was nothing wrong with the conduct of the surveys and they were a legitimate method of gauging sentiment among its 20,000 workers about their pay and conditions.

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The new concerns come on top of worries that Defence will not even be able to begin to negotiate with its workers about the new agreement for up to three months.

Several departmental staffers have complained that after completing the survey, it indicated they had expressed a preference for “one-off” 3 per cent pay rise for the life of the new deal and that other conditions would have to traded away in return for the agreement.

Public sector unions have lodged a claim for 4 per cent a year for the life of a three-year agreement.

The Coalition government’s position on public service pay, handed down to departmental bosses, is that all pay rises have to be offset by productivity gains and longer working hours are being raised by some departments as potential trade-offs.

Professionals Australia, which represents many Defence engineers and scientists, said its members were angry about the tactics used in the survey.

“Defence have told their workforce that they won't be ready to negotiate until July, yet in a staff survey they are seeking views on their "offer" and restrict staff to selecting a maximum pay increase of 3 per cent for the life of the agreement or 1 per cent per year,” Mr Smith said.

“Worse the survey is unclear that selecting 3 per cent is only on a one off basis.

“Members believe this conduct is deceptive and lacks integrity.

“If they have an offer they should be prepared to negotiate now.

“Defence will suggest this survey is not linked to bargaining.

“This is utterly disingenuous.”

A Defence spokeswoman told Fairfax the surveys were not linked to bargaining but were about honing the employment offer made to new recruits.

“The survey is designed to gain information about the elements of the Defence Employment Offer that Defence members prefer more and the ones they prefer relatively less,” the spokeswoman said.

She dismissed the worries about the survey, saying there was nothing wrong with the research tool and that employees had complete freedom to answer the questions in the way they wanted.

“There is no problem with the Your Benefits survey,” she said.

“There is a pop-up notice just before the salary question explaining that the salary question was purely theoretical and “does not represent any offer under consideration by Defence"."