Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Nadine Flood.

Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Nadine Flood. Photo: Supplied

Defence staff have been told bargaining for their new work agreement will not start for another three months.

The existing agreement expires on June 30 and thousands of public servants at Defence were informed by email on Wednesday afternoon that negotiations would not start until mid July.

The email would have been keenly felt by bureaucrats aware of the federal government's hardline stance against paying back pay.

The delay comes after one union threatened the federal government with legal action over its inaction.

Defence has offered staff information sessions about the government's negotiating framework.

David Smith, an official of Professionals Australia, which represents a section of the staff, said he was flooded with correspondence from public servants after they read the email.

''We find it very difficult to believe things are going to take that long - we're going to be ready to bargain in the next week,'' he said.

''People are just seeing this as a deliberate stalling tactic. How can they be serious about bargaining in good faith?''

Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Nadine Flood said her union and its members had been ready to bargain since Christmas. ''They didn't create this mess but now tens of thousands of workers on average wages could be the ones penalised,'' she said.

''Using back pay to compensate for delays in agreements is a fairly normal mechanism in enterprise bargaining. The Abbott government's hardline approach only adds to the concern of workers already worried about job security and rights at work.

''The government seems determined to make it close to impossible for agencies, employees and unions to make sensible agreements.''

Figures tabled in Parliament a week ago show there are 16,865 Defence personnel in Canberra, more than half of these civilians. The rest are army, navy and air force personnel.

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Public Service Minister Eric Abetz has accused unions of endangering thousands of jobs with a pay claim of 12 per cent over three years.

His government's policy offers no rises for departmental staffers unless their managers can prove they have extracted ''productivity gains'', and public service chiefs are being pressured to crack down on sick leave.

Ms Flood, whose union has threatened to take the government to the Fair Work Commission because it was slow in releasing its bargaining framework, said workers at various agencies were expected to experience significant bargaining delays.

''The notion that major agencies have to wait 3½ months after release of the government's bargaining policy, until they can actually start talking is patently ridiculous,'' she said. ''In the last round of bargaining, agencies could start in February and by April discussions were well advanced.''

 Public Service Reporter