This Bargaining Framework will apply to both public service agencies and Australian Government statutory authorities.
Professionals Australia ACT director David Smith commented on this news in The Canberra Times this morning in, “Public servants union says government picking a big fight,” Read.
Good News, Bad News
The good news is that the release will enable bargaining over wages and conditions to begin.
The bad news is that the majority of the agreements to be replaced through bargaining nominally expire on 30th June. Three months is an unreasonably short time in which to:
- Expect the parties to formulate their claims;
- Have the outcomes approved by the various arms of the bureaucracy (see below); and
- Have any agreement approved by the Fair Work Commission.
Worse still, the new policy states that:
- Remuneration increases should apply prospectively; and
- Sign-on bonuses should not be offered, unless approved by both the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Public Service, Senator Abetz, and the relevant agency Minister.
As an example Defence has already indicated that they will not be in a position to commence consultation sessions with staff until May let alone negotiations with the Defence unions.
The new policy prescribes no cap on the size of pay increases. Rather:
- “improvements in pay and conditions are to be funded from within existing budgets”;
- increases are to be “affordable” and “offset by genuine productivity gains which satisfy the Australian Public Service Commissioner”; and
- proposed agreements “may be subject to enhanced scrutiny by the Department of Finance in relation to affordability”.
Agreements are to have a life of between three and four years. They are to:
- be streamlined
- “not impose restrictive work practices and other arrangements that confine the operation of the agency”.
In addition “(o)perational, implementation or administrative matters that may be subject to change during the life of the agreement” are to be “dealt with in separate policy documents, outside of the enterprise agreement”. (Bolding added – examples of this could include approaches to accommodation and travel but it could go much further).
Agreements are not to enhance certain conditions of employment, including redundancy provisions and paid parental leave entitlements. The cashing out of personal leave is proscribed.
A draft of any proposed agreement is to be assessed by the APS Commission (and possibly also the Department of Finance) against government policy before it can be submitted to a vote of the affected workforce.
The APS Commission intends to mandate new work level standards (WLS). These will regulate the classification of individual positions. We have asked for more information from the APSC but this may have a more significant effect on agencies with more distinct WLS (and in some cases classifications) such as Defence.
Dispute resolution clauses are not to provide “third parties with the ability to interrupt workplace improvements and managerial prerogative”. “Third parties” are usually interpreted to mean unions and sometimes industrial bodies such as the FWC.
Individual flexibility agreements are to be promoted and it is likely that more targeted clauses will be removed.
What does it all mean?
Much depends on how the new policy is to be interpreted.
What is “affordable”? Under the heading of “Government Warns Public Servants to Expect Low Pay Rises”, Senator Abetz was quoted in Workplace Express on Friday as warning Commonwealth employees that there will be “minimal capacity for wage increases” in bargaining.
- How will “genuine productivity” be assessed?
- What will “streamlining” mean in practice?
- What effect will changes in operational matters during the life of any new agreement have if current content is removed from that agreement?
- What relevance will APS-wide work level standards have to the classification of those in engineering and science roles?
The policy is just that – the government’s preferred position. It is not law. It can be challenged, just like the policy of the former government – with its 3% a year cap on wage increases – was challenged.