A Senate inquiry has urged Public Service Minister Michaelia Cash to intervene in the federal public sector bargaining dispute and soften the “intransigent” Coalition’s “brutally hard-line” bargaining policy by relaxing the 2% wages cap and removing the prohibition on backpay. Professionals Australia made a submission to the inquiry on behalf of members in Australian Government employment.
Siege of attrition: the Government’s APS Bargaining Policy says the Coalition’s “brutally hard-line” and “combative approach” to the APS bargaining policy, implemented in 2014 under the Abbott Government and continued by the Turnbull Government, is “cruel” and “heartless” in its treatment of public servants and has failed to facilitate genuine negotiations.
“The fact that the Government has not successfully concluded enterprise agreements for the majority of its workforce after three years of protracted and painful negotiations is unprecedented in over 30 years of public sector bargaining,” the report says.
The committee’s Labor-Greens majority says it is in the interests of the APS and the broader community to resolve the dispute as a “matter of urgency”.
The inquiry recommends that the Government amend the APS bargaining policy to allow for a “fair, reasonable and speedy resolution” to the current stalemate, which has left more than 100,000 federal public sector employees without a new agreement.
The committee says the Government should adjust the annual wage cap in the 2015 bargaining policy to a more realistic level that is consistent with enterprise bargaining results.
It says the savings the Government has accrued through the delays in settling agreements should be used to finance higher wage offers that “should not come at the expense of cuts to pre-existing rights and conditions”.
“To this end, it is critical that the government allows agencies to genuinely negotiate and agree various matters with employee representatives. . . [T]he government should ensure that the APS Commissioner is required to adopt a collaborative approach with employee bargaining representatives,” the report says.
“The Government should respect the recommendations of the Senate Committee majority and work with the parties to get to a fair and timely end to this agreement round. This process across Government than have been saved through this artificial pay freeze” said Professionals Australia Chief Executive Chris Walton.
“The committee received a raft of evidence that the interminable delays and failure of agency heads to come to an agreement with their employees was a deliberate strategy because any delay in coming to an agreement saved the agency money because staff miss out on a pay rise.
“The view was also put to the committee on several occasions that the intransigent approach adopted by the government and the APS Commissioner in the bargaining policy amounted to deliberate industrial blackmail that was being used to force public servants into submission”, the inquiry says.
The inquiry says that to overcome the impasse, the Government should acknowledge that its policy is counter-productive.
It says it is clear that the Government’s insistence that agencies identify productivity offsets to justify reasonable wage increases is a significant contributor to the prolonged dispute. Unless the Government adopts a more “constructive” and “modern” approach to productivity within the public sector, it is likely the dispute will continue, the committee said.
“[A]s long as the Government and the APSC continue to interpret productivity improvements as requiring reduced employment conditions and increased working hours, the current protracted negotiations will continue,” it said.
“After this agreement round there needs to be a complete change to the approach to pay and conditions determination in the public sector. It’s ludicrous that at a time like this all senior Defence leaders are chasing agreement votes around the country rather than focussing their attention of the security challenges facing Australia in our region and across the world” said Mr Walton
“We need a Government that respects and values its own workforce rather than treating them either like the enemy within. Professionals Australia is ready to facilitate a more cooperative approach between the parties.”