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Public service superannuation guarantee a matter of trust: experts

The federal government and the main public service union are both exaggerating in their bitter row over public servants' 15.4 per cent superannuation guarantee, according to two experts.

Public Service Minister Eric Abetz says the guarantee remains safe if he gets his wish to strip it from enterprise bargaining deals, while the CPSU says the move would leave the government free to reduce super contributions to 9.5 per cent at the stroke of a minister's pen.

But two academics, experts in workplace law from the University of Canberra and the Australian National University, have examined the claims and counterclaims and advised that the public servants should approach both with caution.

Professor Phil Lewis from UC and ANU College of Law senior lecturer Cameron Roles say that under the proposed changes, the guarantee would neither be as safe as Mr Abetz claims, nor in as much peril as the union would have public servants believe.

Both agree that the guarantee would not then be left entirely at the mercy of the Finance Minister, as the CPSU claims, with the government needing parliamentary approval if it wanted to reduce the amount of super paid to the nation's 160,000 federal bureaucrats.

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Professor Lewis said the choice for public servants of who to believe came down to who they trusted with their super.

"In the case of the Commonwealth Public Service, workers' entitlements are established in the PSSap Trust Deed," Professor Lewis said.

"Among other conditions established in this is the entitlement to 15.4 per cent employer superannuation contribution.

"While this may seem a pretty concrete guarantee it can, nevertheless, be changed, though not below 9.5 per cent, by Parliament."

The CPSU position is that it wants the 15.4 per cent to be included in the enterprise agreement, implying, perhaps, a lack of trust in the government not to amend the Trust Deed.

"The government maintains that there is no need to include the superannuation provisions in enterprise agreements since they are duplicating minimum conditions already existing.

"The extent that who is right is essentially a matter of who you trust," Professor Lewis said.

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Mr Roles, writing in Friday's Canberra Times, says the issue is more complex, with different implications for members of the various public service superannuation funds.

"Neither the claims made by Ms Flood nor the minister are entirely correct," the workplace law expert wrote.

"Enterprise agreement clauses dealing with superannuation contributions do more than duplicate rights contained in superannuation legislation.

"But the impact of the clauses is different for members of the PSSap, as compared to APS employees who have chosen to join another superannuation accumulation fund."

Mr Roles says enterprise agreement clauses are the source of a legal entitlement to top up the employer superannuation contribution rate from 9.5 per cent to 15.4 per cent, but only for the tens of thousands of bureaucrats who have chosen to join a super accumulation fund outside the PSSap,.

"If the superannuation clauses were removed as part of any new agreement, the government could legally reduce superannuation contributions for these employees to 9.5 per cent," he wrote.

"Claims made to The Canberra Times by Minister Abetz that 'the government's contribution rate is set by the [PSSap] trust deed – a legislative instrument subject to scrutiny by the Parliament' – whilst correct in relation to PSSap members, are incorrect to the extent that they were meant to apply to this group of employees."

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