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Public servants face pay freeze under government's hard-line plan

Federal Employment Minister Eric Abetz.

Federal Employment Minister Eric Abetz. Photo: Peter Mathew

Australia's 165,000 federal bureaucrats will face a choice of zero pay rises for three years or deep cuts to their entitlements under the Abbott government's aggressive new approach to its employees.

The hard line on one of the nation's biggest pay deals is an escalation of the government's policy of confronting what it sees as overgenerous wage deals for workers, and it has unions warning that public service workplaces will become battlegrounds.

Employment Minister Eric Abetz, who has publicly railed against ''weak-kneed'' bosses giving in to union demands, has sought the backing of his cabinet colleagues to take the government's industrial relations hard line to the enterprise bargaining talks due later this year.

The government's employment and workplace relations policy, to be unveiled as early as Friday, caps wage increases for federal bureaucrats at 2.5 per cent a year, well short of the 4 per cent pay claim lodged by the main public sector union, the Community and Public Sector Union, last month.

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But the public servants could get as little as 1.5 per cent a year - or even nothing - unless they agree to surrender some of their 18 days combined carers' and sick leave and accept an annual cap of 15 days instead.

They would also have to agree to more work performed by fewer employees as the government pushes for ''productivity improvements''.

The tough bargaining stance sets the Coalition up for a new round of industrial battles after it blamed unions, wages and conditions for the departure from Australia of car makers Toyota and Holden, and the near closure of SPC Ardmona.

The policy also commits the government to separate bargaining processes for more than 100 departments and agencies, but with the talks conducted on behalf of the government by the Public Service Commission and closely watched by Senator Abetz's office.

Departmental bosses will be given little room to manoeuvre on the basic conditions laid out in the policy, which also calls for some rights and conditions to be stripped from legally protected enterprise agreements and redefined as ''policies'', which can then be changed by the employer.

Agency bargaining is also expected to undermine the ability of unions to play a central role in the process.

Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Nadine Flood said the government was on a collision course with public servants.

''Public sector workers are facing a double whammy: thousands of jobs are being cut and the remaining staff will get flogged harder to get the work done,'' Ms Flood said.

''Secondly, nobody is going to get a pay rise that keeps up with inflation unless they agree to have their rights and conditions cut.

''That is a bridge too far, in our view. That sort of agenda from government will simply lead to conflict in the workplace.''

Ms Flood said Mr Abetz's ''tough agenda'' would strike at ordinary workers in the public service, ''the majority of whom are on, or below, average weekly earnings''.

She accused the government of bad faith in its recent public commentary on the bargaining process.

''The Abbott government has told us they are not ready to talk about pay and conditions, yet it appears they have all but signed the fine print on this highly aggressive policy,'' she said.

167 comments

  • Guess what, Abetz? Fewer public servants have been doing more work. Craziest part is that spending on items continues on, unabated.

    Commenter
    Guide dog
    Location
    Obvious
    Date and time
    February 19, 2014, 12:38AM
    • If federal politicians had a freeze on their wages - or, better still, a reduction - that could be seen as a template; an example perhaps.
      Would this idea extend to judges and magistrates, and the like?
      If there is to be pain, it should be shared around - with the better off shouldering a greater part of the burden.

      Commenter
      Howe Synnott
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      February 19, 2014, 7:15AM
    • How true! Some public servants are also paid a pittance yet do vital work looking after our country's history. I am talking about those working in some levels in archives and museums. If their pay us frozen it simply will not keep up with the cost of living. It barely does now. They in no way fulfill the stereotyped image many people have of public servants.

      Commenter
      sister of a
      Location
      public servant
      Date and time
      February 19, 2014, 8:30AM
    • Now where to begin...

      The current APS diversity in wages was put in place under Howard in order to boost productivity through greater competition between Departments. Advice at the time was that it might work for one or two cycles but by the fifth or sixth go there would be massive salary inconsistencies. [Strangely enough this was ignored]

      Under Labor we had wage freezes and how we cheered when some money came through every couple of years.

      Now there will be unintended consequences that will impact on Federal Government's abilities to operate. But nothing will happen until election time causes a review.

      Commenter
      Worker Bee
      Location
      Sector 7G
      Date and time
      February 19, 2014, 9:17AM
    • Look its so obvious.They learned from Indias wealthy,The pathway to paradise for the super wealthy is low wages,high prices , and over supply of labour ,consumers.That all, its that simple.And then strong Police powers to keep the people undercontrol, lots of sport and entertainment and then promiscuity and family as pacifiers alongside drugs and alcohol.Okay , its no mystery or rocket science, its common sense.They work for the rijh media owners and corporations who elect them.

      Commenter
      XXX
      Date and time
      February 19, 2014, 9:44AM
    • Small govt is good govt.

      Re-skill, re-learn, get a new, better career that actually helps Australia and is not dependent on the taxpayer teat. Contribute, rather than take.

      History proves that excessive govt size and interference leads to Communism and Fascism.

      Let's try to keep Australia free from the problems that face the rest of the world.

      Commenter
      marky
      Location
      beach
      Date and time
      February 19, 2014, 11:36AM
    • Marky, I hate to disillusion you but the rise of Hitler in Germany was not due to the 'size' of the Weimar government, nor did the Bolshevik revolution against the Tsar occur for a similar reason, nor Mao's nor Pol Pot's...

      Commenter
      bratman
      Date and time
      February 19, 2014, 12:45PM
    • Marky,

      There is not one shred of evidence to back your claims that "History proves that excessive govt size and interference leads to Communism and Fascism.It can just as easily produce Social Democracy and a very stable and affluent society. Try to produce something that has just a grain of truth to it!!!!

      Commenter
      Lesm
      Location
      Balmain
      Date and time
      February 19, 2014, 12:59PM
    • Marky,
      Consider most public servants are university educated, with now years of experiance working for governments.
      Most public servants aren't from Canberra so when they stop working for the public service they return to their home state and city. They then look for jobs working for companies in the industry of their department.
      Companies like this because they then have someone who has the contacts in government and knows the little idiosyncrancies of the government department.
      Basically they go home and take the professional jobs in their industry. And for most sectors a low private sector wage is actually a pay rise...

      Commenter
      Jess
      Location
      here
      Date and time
      February 19, 2014, 1:25PM
    • I support the Abbott cuts. I have never been a member of any political party.

      A big govt leads to excess govt power, control and interference, Communism and Fascism are examples of too much govt interference and control. That is why Hitler and Stalin and Pol Pot are essentially the same - and the significance of 'social' in Socialist- they wanted and exercised total govt control of society and social function. Not good. ie: Bad.

      Bratman lesm - I didn't think anyone still defended/apologised for the practice of excessive govt interference.

      Jess - Thank you for your reasoned response - But IMHO, 'Uni educated' public service is the problem. Unis are a notorious hotbed of Socialist 'big govt' indoctrination. If they get a pay rise by relocating, great!

      Commenter
      marky
      Location
      beach
      Date and time
      February 19, 2014, 2:26PM

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