The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science is set to be negotiating a new pay agreement when the next federal election campaign hits, and staff could even find themselves negotiating the deal with a new government.
Staff at the department were given the opportunity to vote for the secretary to make a determination about their wages, effectively rolling over the conditions on their current agreement, with a 2 per cent annual pay rise for three years, instead of negotiating a new agreement when it expires in April next year.
The department didn't explain why it wanted to use the clause in the Public Service Act that allows secretaries to make a determination on employees' pay and conditions as long as it doesn't reduce the benefits to the employees.
While a vote on using a determination wasn't required, the department wanted a response rate of more than 65 per cent and for more than 50 per cent of employees to be in favour of the plan. Instead, 78.68 per cent of staff voted, with 51.08 per cent of those who voted opting for bargaining between the department and the union, instead of the determination.
"The department is very pleased with the high level of engagement and looks forward to continued open dialogue with staff as we negotiate our new agreement," a spokesman for the department said.
Staff had expressed confusion about what the vote was for and why it was needed.
The Community and Public Sector Union had encouraged staff to vote against the determination and in favour of bargaining, and is pleased with the result.
The current agreement covering staff at the department expires in April 2019, with the next federal election expected to be in May.
In previous rounds of public service bargaining, a resolution on a new agreement has been struck long after previous deals have expired, meaning this negotiation could be finalised under a new government.
The current workplace bargaining policy from the Australian Public Service Commission allows only for payrises of 2 per cent per year.