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Departments hampered in finalising staff pay offers


Noel Towell

Enterprise bargaining talks across the 160,000-strong Australian Public Service are stalled as departmental plans for wages and conditions fail to pass the Abbott government’s toughness tests.  

More than half the federal government’s agencies and departments have failed to put enterprise bargaining offers on the table and the hard line on wages and conditions mandated by the Coalition is emerging as the key reason for the delay.

Departmental bosses must secure the sign-off of the Australian Public Service Commission and at least two cabinet ministers before offers can be put to workforces.

But refusals of proposals for “productivity gains” are emerging as a key cause for the delay in getting the bargaining process started. There are 117 agreements covering 160,000 public servants up for renewal.

Both the commission and the government are refusing to talk publicly about their dealings with agencies.

It is understood several large agencies are embroiled in protracted negotiations with the commission, the authority enforcing the government’s edict that any wage increase offered must be offset by cuts to conditions.

In some instances, the commission is demanding departments hand over years of detailed wage data to allow the numbers to be crunched as proposed pay offers to ensure they meet “productivity tests” and are “cost assured”.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is the latest outfit to admit to its public servants that it was having trouble selling productivity proposals to the APSC and Public Service Minister Eric Abetz.

Senior DFAT executive Luke Williams told the department’s 4000 workers last week that Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop and other “agency ministers” had signed off on a package that will include a pay rise.

But Mr Williams conceded that “initiatives and offsets” – productivity trade-offs that would allow the offer to proceed - had yet to be approved by the commission.

The senior public servant admitted that putting the numbers together had been a “challenge”.

 “It will be up to the Public Service Commissioner … to consider the validity and dollar value of the initiatives and offsets, and what they could deliver in terms of a proposed remuneration increase,” Mr Williams wrote.

“Finalising the costings that underpin those initiatives and offsets is the challenge for us.”

Mr Williams said DFAT’s problems were being experienced across the Australian Public Service.

“Other agencies are just as focused on the costings issue, which explains why few agencies have thus far submitted a pay offer to their employees,” the DFAT executive wrote.

The Defence Department, which is still conducting an internal hunt for whoever leaked its bargaining position to the media before staff were consulted, told its workers it was worried about the below-inflation offer being knocked back.

“Feedback received is that packages that do not meet the productivity tests and are not cost assured will simply be rejected and more work required, further delaying the process,” deputy secretary Rebecca Skinner told her staff last week.   

The Department of Human Services is the only public service agency to put a complete package to workers, a deal worth .8 per cent a year which is meeting fierce opposition among its 30,000 staff.

The Taxation Office, which is also understood to be battling to sell its productivity plans to the commission, declined to talk publicly about its problems.

“As part of our commitment to good faith bargaining we will not be publicly commenting on the negotiations during bargaining discussions,” a spokeswoman said.

The Public Service Commission said “it will not be releasing details concerning agency costing proposals”.

Senator Abetz’s office did not respond to inquiries before deadline on Monday.


  • Perhaps the department heads would be more convincing if they told Senator Abetz about some studies that were done back in the 1950s.

    Date and time
    August 12, 2014, 8:10AM
    • Defence could inform him of the productivity gains to be made by phasing out cavalry and the purchasing of jet aircraft....

      Mr Burns
      Date and time
      August 12, 2014, 8:49AM
    • We could go back to the fifties and reintroduce National Service and the pay rates. That'll fix them dole bludgers for a start.

      Him again
      Date and time
      August 13, 2014, 10:25PM
  • I suspect staff at most agencies will reject any agreements that provide less than 1% pa while taking away increments & reducing the security of emploer super contributions.

    Been there
    Date and time
    August 12, 2014, 9:01AM
    • Nothing that doesn't cut real pay and conditions will be acceptable to these right wing zealots. If they get it through the public service god help those working for private enterprise. Double dissolution please.

      Date and time
      August 12, 2014, 9:07AM
      • So we get a govt that puts us in this prediciment in the first place. Ok will pay all this on the never never. But watch the pay of MP it is due to come out soon.

        Date and time
        August 12, 2014, 9:47AM
      • Hardarse, we were not in a predicament until this bunch of incompetents gut their snouts in the trough and their hands on the country's purse strings.

        Date and time
        August 12, 2014, 10:44AM
    • Of course the activities of Kevin and Julia ("left wing zealots"?) in cutting "real pay and conditions" and utilisation of the John Howard "no back-pay" provisions are conveniently forgotten (and even Julia's redirection of APS salary budget to bailing out Labor Queensland for being financially unprepared for the recent floods). Also, can someone tell me how this government is supposed to know what money it has available for pay and staffing when the other parties block the budget with things like Labor's determination to hang on to unsustainable practices or the independents silly personal agenda?

      Date and time
      August 12, 2014, 9:25AM
      • There is no budget emergency, never was - any competent economist can show you the numbers. If we have an revenue problem, why decimate the department that collects revenue?

        Date and time
        August 12, 2014, 10:42AM
    • Maybe people will stop pointing the finger at their department as the main staller and point it at the real villians...nah that isnt going to happen, you dept is always to blame for everything *sigh*

      Date and time
      August 12, 2014, 9:53AM

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