'Unions to blame': public service wages growing fastest at higher levels

Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd has blamed unions and protracted bargaining for top-heavy pay growth in federal departments, where the highest-paid roles have seen wage rises almost double those of the rank and file since 2006.

But the main public service union has rejected the claim, saying the Coalition government's wage freeze in bargaining combined with different remuneration rules for senior executives had caused the growth gap.

Median salary for level SES 3 positions grew to $327,000 last year - up 64 per cent from $198,994 a decade earlier. The growth easily outstripped every other public service ranking, which averaged 34 per cent at the APS levels.

The SES 3 pay rises were 14 percentage points higher than SES 2 jobs over the period and 21 percentage points higher than graduate wage growth.

Analysis by The Canberra Times of Senate committee data and the public service commission's latest pay report shows the APS' graduate jobs hit a median of $62,493 in 2016, up 43 per cent since 2006, while middle band positions including APS and executive level public servants only saw increases of between 32 and 36 per cent.

Pay for SES 1 positions grew by 44 per cent in the period, from $127,945 to $184,626, while at the SES 2 grade there was a 50 per cent increase from $159,856 to $232,272.


Australian Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd laid the blame for the top-heavy growth on unions, saying hardline positions in enterprise bargaining negotiations held back wages for the rank and file.

"The wage growth amongst non-SES is subdued because the public sector unions rejected enterprise agreements and urged members to vote no. This denied wage increases to employees for two to three years," he said.

CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood said SES employees were covered by the government's executive remuneration policy, which included market factors and matching the private sector, their staff earned less and were subject to real wage cuts.

"You can't explain a gap of up to 30 per cent in wage growth between SES Band 3 and APS staff just by referencing the government's vicious approach in this round of bargaining," she said.

"There can be no excuse for giving generous pay rises to those at the top while people working on average or below average wages are left languishing."

Public servants had voted against agreements in the last three years to reject cuts to rights and conditions, Ms Flood said.

"Once again John Lloyd is trying to push the furphy that CPSU representatives have some mythical power to persuade smart public servants to vote against their own interest."

Mr Lloyd said in a statement the sluggish movement at lower rankings had not had any discernible impact on public service recruitment.

"The APS enjoys generous and flexible conditions of employment. Salaries for non-SES staff are competitive with the private sector," he said.

Salaries for SES staff did not match private sector levels, Mr Lloyd said.

Queensland One Nation senator Malcolm Roberts used estimates hearings in May to ask commission officials about average wage growth for senior public servants.

Base salary in 2016 ranged from $108,796 for EL 1 positions to $327,000 for SES 3. Over five years, SES 3 positions increased by 19.6 per cent, while SES 2 grew by 14.3 per cent.

Released last month, the annual pay report showed women in the public service were paid on average 8.6 per cent less than their male colleagues - rates the commission described as well below the 19.6 per cent private sector pay gap.