Public service bosses are bypassing new workplace negotiations with staff, offering a round of fresh pay rises that don't require them to navigate the Coalition government's strict bargaining rules.
Bureaucrats are accepting the offers, voting up 25 proposals in 18 months to lift their salaries without negotiating to replace their expiring workplace deals.
The moves could lower the risk of revived industrial strife in the Australian Public Service by avoiding new talks over workplace conditions, which contributed to the prolonged conflict that marred the last round of bargaining.
Unions say the offers are a symptom of the government's restrictive workplace bargaining rules, blamed for complicating previous negotiations between public servants and bosses.
The federal agency enforcing the Coalition's bargaining policy denies the rules are proving unworkable and forcing agencies to avoid negotiations.
Public servants in 2018 backed 15 offers to lift their pay, and keep conditions in their expired industrial deals. They voted in favour of another 10 similar offers by July 2019.
The amount rivals the number of enterprise agreements reached in that time, when public servants agreed to 26 new deals setting out pay hikes and conditions for the next three years.
The Infrastructure Department, the Australian Maritime Safety Authority, the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, the Royal Australian Mint and Sport Australia are among agencies with staff choosing a round of pay rises without a new enterprise agreement.
Public servants typically agreed to 2 per cent annual pay rises over three years, keeping to the Coalition's cap on wage hikes among the bureaucracy's rank and file.
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In agencies, the 'yes' vote has been as high as 95 per cent.
Another agency, the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, is putting a similar offer to its public servants before their workplace agreement expires in November.
The public service commission approved no such offers in the two years before 2018, when thousands of bureaucrats went without new workplace deals as negotiations with managers reached an impasse.
The union representing Commonwealth scientists and engineers said the option was gaining favour with public service bosses.
Professionals Australia's ACT director Dale Beasley said the trend undermined Coalition claims of industrial harmony in the public service.
"We're seeing departments and agencies using workplace determinations to sidestep enterprise negotiations because of how unworkable the government has made the process," he said.
Mr Beasley said public servants were given a choice between an easy pay rise through a workplace determination, or enterprise bargaining with uncertain outcomes and timeframes.
"It's discussed in a way that our members feel encourages support for the former," he said.
The public service commission said the government's bargaining policy was working, giving agencies flexibility to adopt arrangements suiting them and their staff.
"Before deciding to use a determination, agencies have consulted widely with their staff," a spokeswoman said.
"The adoption of workplace determinations demonstrates that employees are comfortable with the terms and conditions of their current enterprise agreement."
Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Nadine Flood urged a return to public service-wide bargaining, to provide comparable pay and conditions in all agencies.
"By doing this we ensure skills and capabilities are transferable, provide equity across different agencies and give workers a genuine say," she said.
"Bargaining under a restrictive framework with artificial constraints on what agency heads can offer stifles their ability to get their work done, as they aren't able to genuinely work out with staff what suits them."
Under rules for bureaucrats bargaining with their employers, agencies must fund pay rises with savings from working more efficiently rather than inflating fees for customers or using funding allocated to other projects.
They can claim savings by cutting conditions from workplace deals that the public service commission believes makes agencies less efficient.