The Australian Tax Commissioner was warned a decision to award senior public servants a pay rise while rank-and-file members continued to negotiate a new deal would be a public relations minefield.
Documents released under freedom of information laws reveal commissioner Chris Jordan was briefed on how to sell the pay rise to staff, including the perception senior staff were being prioritised.
The commissioner was told to sell the deal as a reward for efficiencies and productivity improvements by senior management.
The pay rise was announced just hours after a revised wage deal was rejected by thousands of public servants in a staff ballot with a margin of 85 to 15 per cent.
SES ranks at the ATO do not have voting rights and their terms and conditions, including pay, are set at the discretion of the commissioner.
"If you do decide to pass on the pay offer to SES, we can expect to receive some adverse reactions from unions and the media, with the potential perception that our top earners are getting pay rises without any impact to their employment conditions," deputy commissioner Jacqui Curtis said.
"We would propose explaining that SES are getting the pay offer passed on now because that is the best offer that can be on the table to any ATO employee and that their conditions would change at the time that non-SES terms and conditions change to ensure they are aligned."
Ms Curtis also told the commissioner to mention the streamlining of SES-specific administration processes and the redistribution of duties after major reductions to the SES workforce.
The documents reveal Mr Jordan told SES employees their pay increase was aligned to the offer rejected by general staff that month.
"Despite the majority 'no' vote for the enterprise agreement, I am satisfied that the ATO has made sufficient productivity gains to offset this pay increase for SES and that it is affordable within our current budget constraints," he said.
An ATO spokeswoman said bargaining on a new enterprise agreement would continue on Wednesday, Thursday and into next week.
"We are still going through the required approval processes for the pay proposal but have told staff that our intention is to provide 6 per cent over three years," she said.
"We are still aiming to proceed to a vote as soon as practicable."