Top bureaucrats at the giant Department of Human Services have gone missing from its negotiating team as the 35,000 public servants who work there prepare for another vote on a wage proposal.
Union delegates have been left scratching their heads at the bewildering turnover in the senior management executives who have come and gone from the department's bargaining team during the course of the lengthy wage dispute.
A ballot will start on Friday with the department's public servants to have their say on a new wage offer after the last "better than nothing" proposal was crushed in a landslide 83 per cent "no" vote in October.
Senior DHS executives Jo Talbot, Steve Ramsay and Michael Nelson have all come and gone from the bargaining team's line-up during the protracted negotiations but their colleague Hank Jongen insists that top bureaucrats are not being rotated in and out of the team, rather they are leaving to take up jobs with other departments.
But CPSU deputy national president Lisa Newman said the ever-changing line-up on the department's side of the table was making talks more difficult.
"The government's bargaining policy is diabolical for working mums and dads in DHS, who work in highly scheduled environments in call centres and customer service and would lose any control over where and when they work," Ms Newman said
"Having a constantly changing rota of management representatives doesn't help sort out this mess.
"It's normal to have some turnover in departmental bargaining teams, but this level of disruption is highly unusual – particularly in a large, complex agency like DHS – and is a reflection of the painfully protracted negotiations.
"Wholesale changes on the department's side of the bargaining table is inefficient and the lack of continuity is adding to what's already been a very difficult process."
Bur Mr Jongen insisted the changes to the bargaining team were quite normal.
"Executives have not been rotated in and out of the bargaining team, rather individual personnel have left the department to take up opportunities with other government agencies.
"These moves were unrelated to the bargaining process."
Mr Jongen said that many of the conditions in the current agreement, including annual leave, carers' leave and super contributions, would continue in the proposed new deal.
"Since the last offer, the pay offer has increased to 6 per cent over the life of the proposed agreement," he said.
"The rate of salary advancement for eligible staff will also be maintained at up to 2.75 per cent per year for eligible staff.
"We have also increased the rate for additional responsibility allowances by 2 per cent per year."