Labor promises public servants above-inflation pay rises and APS-wide conditions

By Stephen Easton

Friday May 10, 2019

Labor promises federal public servants “real wage increases” and a shift towards “service-wide bargaining” over common pay and conditions that sit above agency-specific agreements. 

“Labor would undertake genuine service wide negotiations on pay and common conditions with agency specific conditions negotiated at the agency level,” according to a joint statement from Shadow Finance Minister Jim Chalmers and the Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Brendan O’Connor.

But it won’t happen overnight, if Labor comes back into government. O’Connor and Chalmers say it will “require some preparation time” to get there from the present situation. “Prior to commencing service wide bargaining, Labor would consider what interim arrangements may be required and how these would be taken into account in service wide bargaining.”

The late pitch claims a Labor government would be committed to improving service delivery standards and enabling the Australian Public Service to provide it with “frank and fearless advice” as well as offering its workers more generous workplace conditions and stronger bargaining rights than the Coalition. Labor also claims it would do more to improve public service efficiency.

Since 2013, the opposition argues, the conservative party has mounted “attacks” on the APS through wage restraint and “regressive workplace relations” policy via the enterprise bargaining framework that tells agency representatives what they can and can’t put on the table.

“The Liberals have deliberately moved to cut the pay and working conditions of staff, reducing the living standards for many workers while undermining the operational capacity of the APS to deliver on its objectives,” Chalmers and O’Connor declared on Friday, holding out the possibility of pay packets growing faster than the cost of living.

“Unlike the Government’s approach, we believe real wage increases underpinned by productivity growth and delivered through fair and genuine negotiations – not cuts to conditions or rights – are more important in ensuring a dependable APS workforce able to deliver on a Government’s objectives.

“Labor will have an approach to enterprise bargaining and workplace relations that actually improves the capability of staff and provides fairness in the workplace, work-life balance and secure, meaningful jobs.”

They say there has been “fragmentation of APS pay and conditions and … inequities” under the Coalition, as well as strong-arm tactics.

“Labor will never use industrial blackmail or draconian policy to delay workers receiving a pay rise, believing this is wrong and understanding that APS workers and their families face the same pressures as other working families,” the pair of shadow ministers have promised, in addition to the public-service policies Chalmers outlined last August.

These include:

  • Abolishing the cap on budgeted staffing levels.
  • Reducing what Labor sees as “wasteful spending” on contractors and consultants
  • Cancelling the remaining 0.5% additional efficiency dividend next financial year.
  • Adding 1200 new permanent, full-time staff to the Department of Human Services.
  • A 10% cut in spending on travel across the APS.

The Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Community and Public Sector Union were both understandably pleased by the announcement. “The Federal Government should be a best-practice employer, not amplify the worst trends in our broken industrial relations system,” said ACTU president Michele O’Neil.

The CPSU claims that “family friendly conditions” for public servants have been a particular victim of the Coalition’s policies. “This is about helping Border Force officers doing shift work at our international airports pay the bills, it’s about helping a mum working at Centrelink balance her work with the need to pick up her kids for school or day care,” said national secretary Nadine Flood, who said the Commonwealth would be “a model employer” if Labor wins government and follows through on its pledge.

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