Government optimistic of workplace deal as staff numbers grow
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Government optimistic of workplace deal as staff numbers grow

The ACT government says it will reach new workplace deals with staff this month as it plans further expansion to its workforce of public servants.

It predicts its staff will agree to its pay offer by the end of June despite threats of industrial action, union criticism, and a prolonged round of bargaining.

An expansion of the ACT’s health, justice and education directorates will swell the government’s workforce as it pours money into increased staffing at the agencies.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr announced the ACT budget on Tuesday.

Chief Minister Andrew Barr announced the ACT budget on Tuesday.

Photo: Karleen Minney

The bulk of the growth will happen in the Health Directorate’s ranks, rising by 163 staff or 2 per cent, while the Justice and Community Safety Directorate will grow by 110 people or 7 per cent, and the Education Directorate will increase 2 per cent, or 102 public servants.

A pending deal with staff was among predictions in the ACT budget, which said new enterprise agreements would cover a workforce expected to grow by 300 to 20,900 in 2018-19, following expected growth of 600 jobs this year.

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Rising frustration has marred negotiations for new workplace deals as unions and ACT directorates struggled to reach enterprise agreements after previous ones expired in June last year.

The Health Services Union applied to begin industrial action last month, while several other unions threatened to join in if the government refused to move on demands for better pay and conditions.

The ACT government has kept its pay offer unchanged since April despite the threats, and expects an end to the impasse before June 30.

Its estimates for ACT Public Service staff pay are based on an “in-principle agreement” to the government’s offer, which includes a pay increase of 2.25 per cent from October 2017, 0.5 per cent from June 2018 and 1.35 per cent every six months from December 2018 to June 2021.

The government expects a new deal about a month after unions blasted its pay offer, saying it would give workers wage rises only slightly above 2 per cent annually, below projected increases in living expenses.

The territory government will introduce legislation next year setting up an ACT Integrity Commission, aiming to strengthen public confidence in government administration, and expected to cost about $2.5 million a year in the three years after an initial $1 million outlay next year.

It is also promising more funding for ACT Auditor-General audits of government agencies, which are expected to increase by two a year from 2020-21.

Agencies will also ready their public servants to move into new “activity-based” workplaces when the ACT government’s new offices in Dickson and Civic are ready in 2020.

The government will spend on creating digital records across agencies in a move preparing for an eventual transfer of staff into the new office buildings.

About 800 ACT government staff, including those working in the Chief Minister’s directorate, now work in the new office layout as the government tests the plans, which include quiet areas and small meeting rooms.