A 3.16 per cent pay rise offer for the next three years to Australia's 20,000-strong Defence Department staff has left even secretary Dennis Richardson with regrets.
The below-inflation offer comes with a long list of working conditions removed and the lowering of starting salaries for most pay classifications.
The offer averages out at 1.05 per cent annually over three years. But the increase to wages would be paid in in the first two years – 1.98 per cent followed by 1.18 per cent and no rise in year three.
The offer is one third worse in pay offer terms than the controversial increase given to their uniformed colleagues in the Australian Defence Force in November. When cuts to conditions are included the civilians are much worse off and the overall offer could lead to more industrial action across the public service.
The offer to the department's staff, if accepted, would destroy much of the work to ensure the base salaries of civilian and uniformed employees were similar. It means people on the same classification working side by side at Defence headquarters in Canberra will be paid differently.
Defence Department secretary Dennis Richardson emailed his massive workforce at 1pm on Thursday to outline the offer.
"I regret that the pay offer is significantly below the outcome for ADF personnel which, as you know, is 4.5 per cent over three years, and with zero productivity offsets," Mr Richardson said.
"The proposed pay rise for Defence APS is underpinned by a range of productivity offsets."
These offsets included increasing the working day by six minutes to 7 hours and 36 minutes which would be brought in during year two of the agreement, removal of the specified leave day that is part of the Christmas stand-down and taking away one day of "unspecified leave".
Other cuts to conditions included slowing the rate of progression through the pay scale for almost a third of the workforce.
Staff will progress through pay increments half as quickly as they did previously when performance progression increases are cut from 4.2 per cent to 2 per cent.
A 1 per cent performance bonus has been removed for people at the top of their pay range and there is an adjustment to the bottom of each salary range to create a $500 gap between each classification.
For most classifications, this would mean a lower starting salary for new or promoted employees, but for APS 2 and APS 5 there would would be a slight increase.
"Conditions of service change and are the subject of bargaining over time, but increases to base pay have a lasting impact and are the foundation on which future wage increases and superannuation benefits are built," Mr Richardson said.
"Having said that, I do appreciate that this offer could be seen as being to the disadvantage of some people.
"Defence will continue to engage with bargaining representatives to negotiate the detail of this offer in an effort to achieve a mutually agreeable outcome."
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Community and Public Sector Union secretary Nadine Flood said the deal was so bad "that even the departmental secretary is apologising to staff".
"We will be talking to our members about where we go next but initial feedback is strong and negative," Ms Flood said.
"Defence members will be joining their colleagues across the APS in sending a clear message that deals such as these are unacceptable."
Professionals Australia ACT director David Smith said his email inbox was "exploding" with a wave of correspondence from angry Defence staff by 3pm Thursday.
"Defence is an agency with lots of employees with strong maths skills – they know this offer doesn't add up, it's less than zero," Mr Smith said.
"[Defence management and the federal government] have ignored the opportunity to support skills development and recognition of expertise in critical areas and they are skinning the conditions and pay of hard working Defence employees.
"This approach will have an impact on Defence capability for years to come. Penny wise, pound stupid.
"The pay position forced upon the ADF was a national disgrace. This goes substantially further and devalues the work of Defence employees across the country."