Concerns have been raised about the future of automatic salary progressions in public service pay bands after one government corporation raised scrapping them.
Public servants at Canberra-based Airservices Australia say they were sideswiped by a review they thought would improve conditions.
At least one union says it is worried the pay freeze could set a trend across the federal bureaucracy as agreements for 160,000 Commonwealth workers are negotiated.
Staff are signing a petition against the agency's proposal to save $2 million a year by removing salary upgrades within classifications.
It would force employees to make a business case for each incremental increase they wanted.
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To smooth the way, the Professionals Australia union says Airservices Australia is offering to introduce small bonuses as lump-sum payments, although 75 per cent of staff would miss out on these financial carrots.
Staff are angry because the change was not proposed during negotiations for their latest agreement, which was finalised last year.
An Airservices spokeswoman said the assertion that pay progressions would be scrapped was not correct.
"Airservices is currently undertaking a review of its work performance framework for some employees and consultation with staff is ongoing," she said.
However, a petition sent around to employees maintains the proposal was inconsistent with the principals of the review.
"The review was meant to be about improving processes and recognising the value of the work of members who are at the top of their classifications and are strong performers, not about ripping away any incremental pay progression," Professionals Australia spokesman David Smith said.
Staff also saw the review as an opportunity to improve the limited salary progression for certain classifications, such as TP2-4, TO6-7 and ASA7-9s, to make them consistent with other employees in the organisation.
Staff watching the proposal closely include administration officers, technical officers, tradesmen and engineers employed at the organisation, which manages more than 4thmillion flights a year.
The introduction to the petition said the attempt to use the review to cut significant conditions of employment lacked integrity and breached good faith between employees and management.
"We call on Airservices’ leadership to reject the proposed changes and to work with our representatives to deliver a fair and balanced performance system that provides reasonable pay progression and recognises the contribution of all Airservices employees," the petition said.
"We the undersigned employees of Airservices work hard to deliver a safe and effective aviation environment for all Australians. We do this with integrity and commitment.
"We are committed to genuine improvements in productivity that do not compromise air safety or undermine fair and reasonable employment conditions.
"It was in this spirit that we supported a review of the Airservices work performance system underpinned by principles that are set out in our enterprise agreement.
"We could see the value for Airservices and employees alike in improving the work performance processes."
Airservices Australia's annual report last year said there was increasing pressure for greater efficiency as the workload became greater.
International aviation activity in Australia increased in 2012-13, with aircraft movements up 2.95 per cent compared with 2011-12.
China and India have become the world’s fastest-growing aviation markets, driving traffic growth across the Asia‑Pacific to levels that are expected to average almost 7 per cent a year through to 2030.