Public servants at the giant Department of Human Services haven't had a pay rise since 2013, but their bosses just scored rises of up to $6000 a year.
The pay rises for the 168 members of its senior executive service come against a background of three years of industrial strife at the department, which runs Centrelink, Medicare and the Child Support Agency.
The main workplace union is angry about what it calls "no-strings-attached" pay gains for the DHS elite, but the department says everyone who works there can have a 2 per cent pay rise simply by voting yes in a forthcoming enterprise agreement ballot.
The department's annual report shows the top pay band of a band-3 senior executive moved from $339,500 to $345,000 in 2015-16.
Band 2s went from $248 000 to $252,000 while band 1 executives' top pay went from $196,000 to $199,000.
The base salaries don't include the public servants' taxpayer-supplied car, superannuation contributions of up to 15.4 per cent, fringe benefits or other allowances, and departmental secretary Kathryn Campbell can approve wage deals outside of the official band at her discretion.
Ms Campbell's own annual salary has increased by nearly $50,000 since 2013 and she now earns a $731,000 a year, a sum that includes super and other benefits.
The vast majority of the department's 36,000 workers, in contrast, have been on the same pay scales since 2013 after twice rejecting workplace deals developed under the Coalition's controversial public sector bargaining framework.
Human Services has been a key battleground in the wider public sector industrial battles with negotiations growing so heated at DHS at one point that a senior human resources executive claimed he was threatened with a knife through the heart by an angry employee.
But the department has repeatedly said that everyone who works there can have a pay rise simply by voting yes in the third ballot, starting on Monday.
A departmental spokeswoman did not answer questions about the executive pay rises but said staff were getting the opportunity next week to vote on their own pay.
"The department attempted to provide staff with a 2 per cent pay rise as part of the February 2016 proposed agreement vote," she said.
"Next week ... staff will vote on a proposed agreement that includes a pay rise of 3 per cent on commencement, followed by a 1.5 per cent increase on both the first and second anniversaries of the agreement."
Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Nadine Flood came swinging on Tuesday against the executives' deals.
"Is this a sick joke?" Ms Flood said.
"Senior management in the department have given themselves a no-strings-attached pay rise while continuing to push a staggeringly unfair enterprise agreement on rank-and-file DHS staff.
"Staff morale was already rock bottom and this is hardly going to help."
Ms Flood said the new pay bands simply reinforced the massive gulf between DHS senior managers and the department's ordinary workers.
"This is a pain-free pay rise for a few hundred senior executives who were already on base salaries of $153,000 to $345,000 a year," the union leader said.
"In contrast, a working mum on under $60,000 a year like the majority of DHS staff faces her third Christmas without a pay rise because she can't afford to give up the workplace rights and conditions that allow her to juggle work and picking up the kids."
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the top pay band of a band 3 senior executive moved from $249,000 to $345,000 in 2015-16. The correct figures are $339,500 to $345,000.