As she steps down as national secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union, Nadine Flood has put politicians on blast over what she says will be a "lost decade" of pay increases for public servants.
Ms Flood, who is resigning from her role for health reasons, said the Coalition's "hostile" approach to enterprise bargaining since 2013 had left her "absolutely gutted and furious". Some new public sector enterprise agreements would be locked in for a further three years from 2019, she said, meaning the government would have put forward no positive change in bargaining for a decade.
"What [union] members and delegates did means that hundreds of thousands of public servants have held onto rights and conditions that were absolutely under threat from the Abbott and Turnbull Governments' bargaining policies," Ms Flood said.
"[But] the government thinks the best approach to its workforce is to try and starve them out with a three-year pay [freeze].
"It's just wrong."
Despite Labor often being viewed as in lock-step with the union movement, Ms Flood said in the early years of her 10-year stint as national secretary, decisions by the Rudd government including use of harsh efficiency dividends changed the relationship.
Coming into the 2013 election, the union secured a commitment from the then-prime minister, Julia Gillard, to make no cuts to the public service.
After rolling Ms Gillard as prime minister, Kevin Rudd reneged on the promise during the campaign, pledging cuts, and the union withdrew from the federal election campaign in response. When Mr Rudd agreed to a revised public sector policy 10 days later, it re-entered the campaign.
The union taking a strong stance represented a "fundamental reset" in the Labor-union relationship, Ms Flood said.
"It was very difficult in that period, from my first couple of years to 2010, to get pro-public sector funding policies up in the government," she said.
"That was partly [because of] the Global Financial Crisis, but it was partly too that many Labor economic ministers had drunk the neo-liberal Kool-Aid.
"They saw the public service as a source of savings, not as a critical service delivery, regulatory and policy making engine room."
Ms Flood said that despite being involved in the process to increase wages for the lowest paid public servants, overwhelmingly who are women, in 2010, more can done to improve conditions for women in the public service.
The rapid shift to online government service delivery would see an increased reliance on labour hire, with working conditions potentially compromised as a result, she warned.
"In the public service right now, there are really exciting possibilities with technological advancement to provide better services to citizens, better engagement with the community, and high-quality service delivery to people with complex needs.
"[But] what we are seeing ... is a massive level of contracting, outsourcing and use of consultants, while service delivery jobs are being outsourced to low-wage labour hire with minimal training and no job security."
A High Court decision, which found public servants could be sacked for political comments, formed part of a pattern that threatened public servants' participation in democracy, Ms Flood said.
The union movement had been damaged by the actions of a few union officials, but "not as much as [the government] would like". Some 1.6 million Australians were union members.
"There are a few full-time paid union officials who have absolutely done the wrong thing in different unions and the government is trying to turn in that into a perception of unions as a whole," Ms Flood said.
Ms Flood's last day as national secretary would be Wednesday, with a new acting national secretary expected to be announced Thursday. After a period of sick leave, she would continue project work with the union on governance and risk until July 2020.