Public servants at the giant Department of Human Services could be voting in a snap-poll on their wages and conditions within two weeks, the department confirmed on Thursday.
DHS’ 30,000 workers have been offered just 1.2 per cent a year in the three-year deal, which will be slashed to about a 0.75 per cent annual pay rise if they do not sign up by a September 1 deadline.
The confirmation of the early ballot, which will attempt to bypass the main DHS workplace union, the Community and Public Sector Union, came as the federal opposition weighed into the fight over wages and conditions at the Commonwealth’s biggest department, with Labor accusing the government of “aggressive” tactics.
The CPSU, which says it has recruited 460 new members at DHS in the past seven weeks, has vowed to fight against the proposal, which it has dubbed “ugly” and “nasty”.
The offer is also conditional on about $250 million of wage increases, working hours and annual leave accrual being traded away, and DHS bosses are keen to put the deal to a workforce ballot as soon as possible, bypassing trade unions.
Underlining the high stakes, DHS management emailed their 30,000 workers on Thursday, disputing aspects of The Canberra Times’ reporting of the offer.
General Manager Hank Jongen insisted in a public statement that the department had no plans to reduce or change annual leave as a condition of the pay rise and that it was keen to have a ballot within two weeks.
“Staff may even be able to vote on the proposal within the next two weeks, including an offer of a 1.5 per cent pay increase in year one, 1.5 per cent in year two, and 0.55 per cent in year three,” Mr Jongen said.
Labor shadow spokesman for human services Doug Cameron came out swinging on Thursday morning, accusing DHS of “threats” and “aggressive” industrial tactics in pursuit of the Abbott government’s cost-cutting agenda.
“The Abbott government’s aggressive tactics in negotiating an employment agreement with Department of Human Services workers is a disturbing sign of things to come for public servants across Australia,” Senator Cameron said.
The Labor frontbencher said the government’s threat to cut its pay offer if bureaucrats did not sign on within five weeks was “unacceptable for the department that delivers vital front-line services such as Centrelink, Medicare and Child Support”.
“Tony Abbott is trying to force department workers to sign immediately by threatening further cuts if they don’t,” Senator Cameron said.
“This government is focused solely on cost-cutting, which ignores key drivers of efficiency, productivity and customer service.
“Negotiations should be focusing on drivers of productivity such as workforce skills, investment in technology, improved management systems and work organisation, and a strong customer focus.
Shadow employment and workplace relations spokesman Brendan O’Connor joined his colleague’s attack, saying the Abbott government was taking a “wrecking ball” to public service jobs.
“The dirty details of this deal reveal Tony Abbott wants to do away with collective bargaining and productivity improvements and instead only look at the bottom line,” Mr O’Connor said.
“Mr Abbott is using the public service as a test bed for his extreme industrial relations agenda and that should worry all Australian workers.”
Public Service Minister Eric Abetz declined to comment, saying the negotiations were a matter for the individual department.