Talk not cheap: Cutting down chat will create big savings, say ATO public servants

Bosses at the Australian Taxation Office believe a little less conversation will save them money.

No chit-chat: Australian Taxation Office.
No chit-chat: Australian Taxation Office. Photo: Louie Douvis

In the latest batch of proposed "productivity gains" to be unveiled by the cash-strapped agency, ATO managers say they can make big savings cutting down on chit-chat between managers and their rank-and-file workers.

Up to $5.4 million could be saved by scrapping a $300 annual "health and welfare" payment, but Taxation negotiators told unions on Tuesday that the ATO could make big savings by skipping the "conversations" between public servants and their bosses that must be held before the cash is handed over each year.

Likewise, management wants changes to salary advancement arrangements at the agency, not to slow pay progression, but to reduce the number of "conversations" that each worker must have with their bosses on the subject each year from two to one.

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Unions say the ATO is now "scraping the bottom of the barrel" in its desperation to find productivity gains to offer up to public service authorities.  

Other savings proposed on Tuesday included the scrapping of half-day travel allowances, a $1.80 per hour payment to increasingly rare ATO field workers for incidentals, and a remote location allowance, a leftover from past agreements and claimed by a few dozen tax officials, mostly in Cairns.

Management has also confirmed it wants the ATO's working day increased by nine minutes from 7.21 hours to 7.30 per day.

Hopes are fading that the ATO, which is shedding 4700 jobs, will make a pay offer to its remaining employees this year as the Taxation Office battles to come up with a deal tough enough to satisfy the strict bargaining guidelines imposed by the Abbott Government.

The agency's media unit confirmed on Tuesday that it wanted to see far fewer conversations about the Health and Wellbeing Allowance and salary advancement.

"Currently, managers and employees are required to have formal conversations throughout the year about salary advancement and the health and wellbeing allowance," a spokesman said in a statement.

"The ATO is looking to introduce a common salary advancement date for APS1-EL1 employees of 1 September each year to better align with the existing performance cycle and annual appraisal conversation."

But the Australian Services Union said the ATO's approach to the bargaining process was "inviting" strike action by its work force.

 "Tax commissioner Chris Jordan intends to eliminate layers of management, increase team sizes, cut another 2000 staff from back room functions and eliminate 10,000 vacant desks by sub-letting its buildings," union official Jeff Lapidos said.

"None of this counts towards a pay rise.

"Its pay offer will be based on a longer working week, cutting allowances and eliminating performance conversations. 

"The ATO is inviting industrial action."