Prime Minister's department moves to avoid industrial action

Prime Minister Tony Abbott's public service department might compromise with its restive workforce in a bid to avoid an embarrassing industrial brawl.

Concessions on some aspects of an unpopular pay offer might be considered, as the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet tries to placate hundreds of its indigenous affairs officials who are furious their conditions and entitlements are under threat.

The main workplace union, the CPSU, has told its members that PM&C bosses are anxious to avoid a repeat of the politically embarrassing scenes at Employment Minister Eric Abetz's department when its 1800 public servants voted in a landslide to reject the deal they had been offered.

A PM&C spokeswoman confirmed on Thursday that its wage offer to its workforce, of a .7 per cent pay rise in return for the loss of conditions and more work each week, might be tweaked after "consultation" with the workforce.

It is understood the department's hierarchy is reluctant to put the proposal in its present form after a poll of hundreds of union members voted 99-1 that they would reject the deal if a formal ballot was held.


Conditions and entitlements for more than 300 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander bureaucrats in the department have emerged as a flash point with remote locality allowances, cultural leave and annual leave at half pay in the sights of management.

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Resentment has been simmering since the indigenous affairs workers were drafted into the Prime Minister's department, mostly from the now defunct FaHCSIA department, on salaries of up to $19,000 less than their new PM&C colleagues at the same classification.

The bad blood was compounded when indigenous affairs bosses based themselves at PM&C's Barton HQ in Canberra's leafy inner-south, while most of their subordinates continued to work 9.5 kilometres away in Woden.

A CPSU bulletin sent to members at the workplace this week said the department was anxious to avoid another setback like the one suffered by the Employment Department.

"PM&C is keen to avoid a NO vote and is now reconsidering its position in a range of areas," the bulletin said.

"We doubt the department will be able to make a reasonable offer given the restrictions of the government's bargaining rules.

"Our members had major concerns about nearly every aspect of the proposed EA and that it was not even remotely in the vicinity of being an acceptable proposal.

The departmental spokeswoman confirmed that some changes might be made to the offer but they would have to be within the constraints of the government's tough bargaining framework.

"As a result of ... consultation, which included suggestions from staff for further savings, the Department is taking active steps to improve the offer where possible under the government's bargaining policy," the spokeswoman said.