National

The fix: public servants vote for one pay rise, get another

Thousands of Commonwealth public servants have had their pay packets quietly topped-up above the levels they voted to accept last year.

Senator Michaelia Cash, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women.
Senator Michaelia Cash, Minister for Employment and Minister for Women. Photo: Graham Tidy

Six departments and agencies voted last year to accept pay offers of 1.5 per cent or less as the battle between the Coalition government and most of its 150,000 public servants raged on.

But in October, newly appointed public service minister Michaelia Cash walked away from the hardline stance of her predecessor Eric Abetz and agreed to allow departments to offer pay rises of up to 2 per cent in a bid to break the industrial stalemate Commonwealth workplaces.

Workers at Treasury, the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau and the Department of Communications faced being left with lower wages than their colleagues in other departments as a result for voting "Yes" according to their bosses' wishes.

Staff at the office of Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd, an aggressive proponent of the government's tough bargaining stance, also faced being left behind in the pay stakes.

But the minister also gave consent for departments and agencies whose public servants had already voted for the lower figures to quietly adjust their pay rates, from 1.5 per cent to 2 per cent.

In the wake of Senator Cash's announcement, Treasury, the APSC, and Social Services moved to top-up their public servants' wages.

The changes came despite some of the departments and agencies having been adamant that 1.5 per cent was all they could afford.

Thousands of Social Services workers voted for pay rises of 4.1 per cent over three years, but will instead get 5.8 per cent. 

Treasury bureaucrats received the full top-up of 2 per cent. The increases mean an executive level 1 middle manager at Treasury would have expected to be earning a base rate of $106,000 under the agreement for which they voted. But after the top-up, the same public servant will be on $107,000, rising to $110,000 by mid-2017.

The Department of Communications and the Commonwealth Superannuation Corporation did not respond to questions.

A fresh round of wage ballots underway at departments and agencies across the public service got off to a poor start for the government on Friday, with workers at the biggest department, Human Services, voting by a margin of nearly 80 per cent to reject the latest 2 per cent pay offer amid fears for their conditions and entitlements.

Attention will now turn to Senator Cash's own department, Employment, which is now voting on the same offer, of an average pay rise of 2 per cent over three years with a result due at the end of the week.

The department's public servants have twice rejected pay offers put in front of them in the long-running dispute, by a landslide in December 2014 and by a much closer margin of 55 per cent to 45 per cent a year later.

Although the department is not a large one, with fewer than 1900 public servants on its books, it has taken on a symbolic importance in the broader pay dispute with the public service ministers having twice failed to persuade her own public servants to accept a deal under the government's policy.

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly referred to Fair Work Commissioner John Lloyd.  John Lloyd is Public Service Commissioner.

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