Australian public service allowances attacked: Institute of Public Affairs report
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Australian public service allowances attacked: Institute of Public Affairs report

The free market Institute of Public Affairs think-tank has attacked the Australian public service's generous allowances and benefits.

IPA released the report as tens of thousands of public servants prepared to start another year with nominally expired enterprise agreements.

The report may provide some insight into the thinking of Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd, whose IPA membership prompted the union movement to label him a right-wing ideologue when he became commissioner.

The report by IPA deputy executive director James Paterson and lawyer Aaron Lane said federal public service wages on average outstripped private sector incomes.

A different conclusion was drawn four years ago by Mercer which found those employed at APS level 3 and higher tended to be underpaid compared to private sector workers with similar qualifications and experience.

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The IPA report quoted the Community and Public Sector Union's previous pay rise claim of 12.5 per cent compounded over three years and called it an "ambit claim".

But it did not take into account the CPSU's softened stance on pay in recent months in which it has asked for 2.5 per cent to 3 per cent annually, or between 7.5 to 9 per cent over three years.

"All APS agreements contain generous allowances, which have the effect of increasing salary by potentially up to tens of thousands of dollars per year," the report said.

"These allowances are paid to employees with first aid qualifications, to those working in regional and remote locations, for professional development costs, gym memberships, for financial advice, child care, and home office costs – amongst many others."

The IPA argued against the amount of extra paid leave for bureaucrats and listed leave to donate blood at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and up to 10 days ceremonial leave at the Defence Department for Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander staff as examples.

"Most private sector employees would be expected to utilise personal leave credits to attend the doctors to receive vaccinations – or attend family court hearings," the report said.

"Likewise, 'Defence Day' and paid leave for moving house [at the Agriculture Department and some other agencies] are not commonly found in private sector agreements and effectively increase an APS employee's annual leave entitlement."

The report said all APS agreements had a flex-time scheme, in which employees accrued leave by working more than their normal hours of work, with some departments allowing to staff to cash out of flex time.

"In the private sector, it is standard for full-time employees to work a reasonable amount of overtime as part of their salary package," the report said.

CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood said half of public service workers supported families on average or below-average weekly earnings and were"doing it much tougher than the IPA would have you believe".

"The IPA may be cheering at the government's attempts to remove rights such as work and family protections but private sector employers are actually doing the opposite," she said.

"Expecting working mums in Human Services to have their days or place of work changed in a four week roster to anywhere across Sydney is the sort of IPA-style extremism that led to an 83 per cent 'no' vote by staff to the proposed agreement."

Phillip Thomson is a Public Service Reporter at The Canberra Times.