Salary discrepancies of up to $30,000 are rife within equivalent pay levels across the public service as experts call on the government to undertake a review of the "artificial" system caused by decades of bargaining.
Despite pay bands in the APS, executive and senior executive levels being given consistent grades, the chasm between central departments and smaller agencies has continued to grow further apart as the public service grapples with pay disputes.
It comes as wages face a major shakeup, announced in November last year, promising to rid of a 2 per cent yearly cap on pay rises for one tied to private sector wage growth.
But a Canberra Times analysis of the annual reports of 30 government agencies shows while the variances are glaring at lower pay bands, they compound further the higher up the ladder a public servant goes.
For an APS 3 position, the lowest minimum salary one could earn is at the Department of Social Services where someone can earn at least $50,836 and up to nearly $68,000.
A minimum of just a little more than $65,000 is on offer on the same level at the Department of Education, Skills and Employment (DESE) - a nearly $15,000 pay increase for the same pay band.
A pay band up, APS 4, will get a minimum possible salary of $63,255 at the National Capital Authority. At the Fair Work Ombudsman, a minimum salary of $72,022 is available - the highest in APS 4 of the agencies we analysed.
For those on APS 5, the minimum possible salary lands again at the National Capital Authority with $70,517 while those at the Fair Work Ombudsman also receive the highest minimum salary nudging past the $80,000 mark.
The bulk of the public sector, around 22.6 per cent, is at the APS 6 level where the lowest minimum salary is $77,032 at the Attorney-General's Department. Following shortly behind is the Climate Change Authority and the National Capital Authority both in the $77,000 range.
The highest minimum salary for an APS 6 is $88,114 again at DESE. An APS 6 could earn $81,860 at the Australian Electoral Commission but that range could shoot up to $166,666.
Executive level roles make up around 25.8 per cent, or 39,000, of public sector workers with the Department of Treasury dominating both of the top minimum salary ranges. An EL 1 in Treasury will make a minimum of $114,897 while an EL 2 will receive at least $140,342.
On the other end of the scale, an EL 1 in the Attorney-General's Department will get the lowest minimum salary of $95,267 with an EL 2 at the Climate Change Authority earning $113,950.
The figures ultimately show the adage of equal pay for equal work is amiss in the public service.
Discrepancies caused by decades of bargaining
The large differences between pay scales didn't happen overnight.
A spokesperson for the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) said these discrepancies were caused by more than two decades of agencies and departments bargaining for their own agreements.
"Enterprise bargaining has been conducted at the agency level for more than 20 years," an APSC spokesperson said.
"During this period, remuneration structures within agencies have varied through the outcomes of successive bargaining processes."
Professor Andrew Podger, an expert in public policy at the Australian National University and former senior public servant, said this process was inappropriate and needed fixing.
"It is based on each agency negotiating its own enterprise bargain based, supposedly, on the productivity arrangements within the organisation," Professor Podger said.
"That approach to setting pay would not be used in any private sector arrangement and is entirely artificial."
A long-awaited review into the public service by former Telstra chief executive David Thodey was published in December 2019.
It outlined a number of recommendations for the improvement of service and delivery and among them was a move toward common pay scales and conditions, setting out APS-wide minimum and maximum salary ranges.
"Sadly, [the Thodey review] did not say how to do that," Professor Podger said.
"More sadly again, the government rejected any change to its remuneration, claiming that the policy was working well when everything tells you it's not working well at all."
An overhaul of the pay scales is needed, Professor Podger said, tying the work to the market instead of the "artificial" approach used now.
It could also result in some jobs being recognised as being higher or lower paid than is deserved.
"What is needed is an approach to setting pay based on market conditions and those market conditions would then lead to similar jobs getting the same pay," Professor Podger said.
"The main problem is that similar jobs are being paid differently and have no bearing on what the market would suggest they ought to be.
"There is every reason to believe that some people are paid more than the market suggests they should and some people are being paid less than the market suggests they should."
With Thodey's recommendation rejected and no major push for a unified pay scale review, it will remain an issue for now.
"It's a blind spot of ideology and it makes no sense on any economic rational grounds," Professor Podger said.
And until something changes, those looking for better pay scales might just need to jump ship to greener pastures.
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