Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd faces growing resistance to the wage offer made to his staff with the CPSU insisting he's trying to sneak through deep cuts to conditions and entitlements.
With the offer going to a high-stakes vote next Thursday, the Community and Public Sector Union says drastic cuts to workplace rights and entitlements are concealed in the fine print of the deal.
The Department of Communications, the Attorney-General's Department and the Treasury are all heading towards votes on offers of 1.5 per cent, and the result of next Thursday's ballot at the APSC, which is the Commonwealth's workplace authority, could be influential far beyond its small workforce.
The commission has never voted against a wage deal and union membership there is low but the CPSU is pinning its hopes on APSC staffers, many of whom are industrial-relations specialists, baulking at some of the details of Mr Lloyd's proposal.
The commissioner in turn says the offer does not seek to reduce any "substantive entitlements."
The vote in the key agency will be watched intently by the 160,000-strong public service, most of which is locked in increasingly bitter bargaining stalemate with rolling stoppages beginning to bite.
Both sides at the APSC have begun their pitches to the commission's 250 public servants with the commissioner telling his workers their entitlements are safe.
When the Mr Lloyd unveiled his wage proposal of 1.5 per cent, with no new "productivity offsets" but with the removal of some "restrictive work practices, it was the best offer seen so far under the Abbott government's tough bargaining policy.
But a briefing distributed by the CPSU to its members at the commission, and seen by The Canberra Times, says the devil is in the detail.
"There are a number of significant cuts and changes in the proposed enterprise agreement," union official Alistair Waters wrote to commission staffers.
"It appears that the APSC has a very narrow interpretation of entitlements and a very broad interpretation of "restrictive work practices'."
A central goal of the offer is the removal of much of the text from the enterprise agreement and moving the clauses into non-legally enforceable policy.
Mr Waters wrote public servants at the Commission will face a much tougher workplace if they accept a stripped back enterprise agreement.
He says that carers' leave entitlements, performance management procedures, pay advancement, consultation and union representation will all be left at the mercy of the commission's management if they are stripped out of the agreement.
"Clauses on recognition of family responsibilities, workplace diversity, harassment-free workplaces and many more are cut," Mr Waters wrote.
"Some of the removed material may be dealt with in policy but the employer can change it at any time and the Fair Work Commission cannot enforce policy.
"APSC staff have not been provided with any drafts of what will be in policy."
But Mr Lloyd, in an all-staff message sent on Wednesday, said the proposals were not about stripping entitlements but about having only the clause in workplace agreements that needed to be there.
"I reassure you that the commission's intent in making these changes is not to reduce any substantive entitlements," he wrote.
"Rather, in accordance with the government's policy, we seek to ensure that the enterprise agreement is restored to its proper status as a legal document.
"I confirm my commitment to build on our culture of an inclusive and diverse workplace.
"To me, this means a workplace where the ideas of all employees are welcomed, and the contribution of all employees is valued."