Government plays it cool on plans for public service pay freeze

The federal government is keeping its intentions for the pay and conditions of its 165,000 public servants close to its chest, refusing to be drawn on reports that it is planning to trade pay rises in the bureaucracy against conditions and entitlements.

Public Service Minister Eric Abetz said on Wednesday that he had not yet finalised the position he will take to the bargaining table when the talks finally begin this year.

The Canberra Times reported on Tuesday that the government was planning an aggressive line, offering no pay rises for the next three years unless they were traded away against condition and entitlements such as sick leave and carers' leave.

Other key targets of the government's push would be ''agency specific allowances'' redundancy provisions and the role of unions in the workplace.

Government figures were privately dismissive of the report on Tuesday but would only say publicly that the bargaining guidelines had not yet been finalised.

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''The bargaining guidelines have not been released, therefore it is not appropriate to comment at this stage,'' a spokesman for Senator Abetz said.

But the main public sector union, the Community and Public Sector Union, which lodged a wage claim of 4 per cent per year over the three-year life of the new agreement, insisted on Wednesday that it would be facing a government position that had 0 per cent pay increases at its starting point.

''What we're being told is the federal government's policy is proposing wage rises of zero to 2.5 per cent, but the only way to get a pay rise is to have your rights and entitlements cut,'' CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood told ABC radio.

''So despite savings measures and job losses in the public sector that mean people are working harder than ever, you've got to get a cut as well on your conditions to get a pay rise,'' Ms Flood said.

Enterprise agreements in 117 departments and agencies employing about 165,000 workers are due to expire in June, but the two sides have not even agreed on terms for talks on the new deals.

Agreement has yet to be reached on whether the talks will be held on an agency-by-agency basis or if the new deal will be centrally agreed to and tailored by individual departments.

The government is thought to favour agency-level bargaining, with departmental bosses having little room to manoeuvre.

Meantime, the ACT, along with Tasmania, has recorded the smallest quarterly rise of just 0.3 per cent in public sector wages, well below the national trend, according to new Wage Price Index data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Across the nation, private sector wages grew by just 0.6 per cent and public sector pay by 0.7 per cent.


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