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Public service pay gap to hit $47,000 a year

Date

Markus Mannheim, Noel Towell

Australian Public Service Commissioner Stephen Sedgwick.

Australian Public Service Commissioner Stephen Sedgwick.

Some public servants earn tens of thousands of dollars less than colleagues in other agencies even though they are employed at the same level.

The pay gap that a typical Canberra bureaucrat faces could stretch to more than $47,000 a year by mid-2014.

An analysis of 103 government wage deals suggests salary differences across the Australian Public Service are rendering its job classification system redundant.

The wage data shows that many workers who accepted a promotion to another agency would end up copping a pay cut rather than a raise.

For executive level 1 jobs, which are the most common in Canberra, entry-level pay ranges from $89,796 (the Australian National Maritime Museum) to $115,751 (the Australian Office of Financial Management) – a difference of $25,955.

The gap between maximum salaries is wider still, with EL1 officers earning up to $47,658 a year more or less than other staff at the same level.

However, even at junior levels, such as APS1, base pay can differ by as much as $12,648 a year – about a third of these officers' entire salary.

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Among larger workplaces, the Treasury and the Education Department are generally high-paying employers, while the Resources Department and the Bureau of Statistics pay comparatively little.

Public service wages were decentralised in 1997, allowing agencies to negotiate their own pay deals.

However, the Ahead of the Game report warned in 2010 that salary gaps between workplaces were discouraging public servants from changing jobs and gaining broader experience.

Public Service Commissioner Stephen Sedgwick told Fairfax Media it was important to give agency heads some flexibility to negotiate their own productivity and pay agreements with staff.

"None of us want to go back to a world that is so rigid that an agency can't pursue the agenda that it needs to pursue in order to achieve its objectives," Mr Sedgwick said.

"The government, in the last bargaining round, informed partly by the [Ahead of the Game] blueprint, had formed the view that we'd gone too far, that the pay disparities ostensibly for the same kind of work were too large."

The government used the last round of pay negotiations to ensure that most agencies' agreements ended on the same date – June 30, 2014 – and to prevent wage inequality from worsening.

Mr Sedgwick said the government "appears to have some appetite to continue that" but it was up to whoever was in office after the election.

"I think having a framework that encourages mobility within the service is a good thing. These things are always a question of degree."

The Minister for the Public Service, Mark Dreyfus, said he would not comment on matters before cabinet.

But he noted the government had begun to address pay disparity, and he would "like to build on this success in the next round of bargaining".

The Community and Public Sector Union says centralising pay negotiations would help prevent wage disparities.

However, its national secretary, Nadine Flood, said its first priority was preventing job losses.

"Reducing pay gaps is an important issue but the issues that are keeping public servants awake at night are job security and . . . conditions if there is a change of government."

She said centralised negotiations would help resolve common problems across the bureaucracy.

"Our policy position is not to have a single agreement, it hasn't been for years. Our policy position is that we want central negotiations with government on service-wide issues and their service-wide position and then you resolve the rest with each individual agency."

48 comments

  • I thought your opening sentence could have said "Some public servants earn tens of thousands more than colleagues that actually work."

    Commenter
    eeeeeedeeeeegeeeeedeeeeee
    Date and time
    July 31, 2013, 12:16PM
    • This is news? that is exactly how it is in the private sector. Some companies pay more. So, if you want more, move to a department that pays more. Simple.

      Commenter
      John121
      Date and time
      July 31, 2013, 12:20PM
      • Except the private sector generally doesn't arbitrarily move staff between lower (or higher) paying companies just because the Chairman of the Board changes.

        It's not just about differences between agencies either. Machinery of Government changes ignore the disparity between wages and mean that staff in the same agency, doing the same jobs, can be paid wildly different rates for years.

        Commenter
        Godot
        Location
        Canberra
        Date and time
        July 31, 2013, 12:49PM
      • Rubbish. I have seen many examples of executive and managers being moved between related corporate entities and taking pay cuts (or getting pay rises) as a result of those movements. Those movements often occured for no other reason than the CEO and/or Chairman of the Board changed.

        Commenter
        John121
        Date and time
        July 31, 2013, 3:56PM
      • News because for some it's outrageous that salary isn't just tenure or level, but somehow might involve value...

        What a lovely and inadvertent report on a wonderful attitude of entitlement that pervades. The attitude of "I ought to earn '$X' because of the LEVEL I'm on" is very different from "I'm worth '$Y' because of the VALUE I add."

        I'll employ someone with the value attitude. They tend to be worth it.

        Commenter
        Big Phil
        Date and time
        August 01, 2013, 9:07AM
    • History books will show that we once all earned the same and every so often the Govt would increase salary levels. Then Work Place Agreements came in and workers traded away entitlements for money. Now they have nothing more to give and still expect an annual raise of 3% each year.

      Commenter
      Outraged of Palmerston
      Date and time
      July 31, 2013, 12:31PM
      • 'Outraged' the AWA was the best thing that happened to me in 2007. I finally negotiated a better wage, entrenched my current conditions and picked up on others. I used my 20 years of experience and self funded qualifications to ask for a better deal. Then along came Krudd who said in May 2007 that no person currently on an AWA would be worse off under a Labor Goverment. Yeah right. As soon as Labor got in out went AWA's - no choice at all. For three years my pay stagnated, I lost conditions and I saw a 1% wage increase in three years. If you lost out on an AWA then I can only imagine you had nothing to offer above the herd. By law you could not lose out under an AWA. I've since renegotiated a individual flexible agreement. If you've got something extra to offer then go for it.

        Commenter
        Give me back my AWA
        Location
        Canberra
        Date and time
        July 31, 2013, 1:34PM
      • @Outraged of Palmerston

        So workers SHOULDN'T expect pay rises to eep pace with inflation, and should instead sit back and watch their wages in real terms erroded against the cost of living? I'm sure you happily handed back any wage increase you were offered. No.... I thought not.

        Commenter
        Johnno
        Date and time
        July 31, 2013, 2:33PM
      • AWA guy,
        So you negotiated an individual contract and yet you're still complaining?
        AWA's may have been great in the boom times but I'd love to see how most people would go negotiating in the current economic climate.

        Commenter
        Freddie Frog
        Date and time
        July 31, 2013, 4:27PM
      • Hey Johnno - suggest you familiarise yourself with the Borken Window Fallacy before starting to throw stones.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Parable_of_the_broken_window

        Commenter
        Outraged of Palmerston
        Date and time
        July 31, 2013, 4:55PM

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