The Queensland government has put a one-off $1250 bonus on the table in pay negotiations with public sector workers but is holding firm on its policy to limit pay rises to 2.5% per year.
Senior executives will miss out on the bonus; it is only for employees up to and including Administrative Officer level 8 (AO8) or equivalent. The Palaszczuk government has decided to include it in offers across the board after it helped secure recent agreements with firefighters and teachers.
Deputy Premier Jackie Trad and Industrial Relations Minister Grace Grace jointly announced it would be “available for new agreements finalised between 31 March 2018 and 30 March 2021” and said it was part of efforts to provide “certainty and stability in wage outcomes” with respect to the public sector.
The ministers said the bonus would be “extended to the majority of certified agreements already settled in this bargaining round” including those covering nurses and midwives, teacher aides, school cleaners and medical officers.
Trad, who is also Treasurer, said the one-off payment was a response to comments by Reserve Bank Governor Philip Lowe, who caused a stir last month when he said strict limits on public sector pay rises across the nation were a factor in the very low wage growth seen across the economy.
“The Governor of the Reserve Bank of Australia last month called for all levels of government to provide additional support above existing caps on wages growth to drive economic growth,” Trad said in a statement.
“The offer of a one-off payment will provide this additional economic support while maintaining the budget balance.”
University of Queensland economics professor John Mangan has been widely quoted saying the bonuses will do “nothing at all” for the economy because he thinks public servants are likely to use the money to pay off loans and credit cards. “If it were a permanent pay rise, that would be a completely different thing,” he told the Australian Associated Press. The Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland has called the plan fiscally reckless, deeply offensive and morally wrong in a time of drought.
The two ministers note that over a dozen agreements are currently under negotiation, with more bargaining to begin soon, and their strict wages policy is making enterprise bargaining a struggle, much like similar strict policies in other jurisdictions.
Negotiations over the core enterprise agreement, covering over 30,000 employees, have been referred to the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission for arbitration, along with three other public sector agreements. Grace Grace still holds out hope that unions will come back to the table.
“The Palaszczuk Government is hopeful of finalising the four matters before the QIRC without the need for an arbitrated outcome,” said the Industrial Relations Minister. “Our door remains open and we will be happy to resume negotiations with all parties.”
Grace said the government decided the bonus payments were a winning strategy after they helped get deals with teachers and firefighters over the line.
“The positive response to the payment in those negotiations has prompted the government to extend the offer to other agreements in the current bargaining round,” she said. “I am sure the Government’s enhanced offer will be welcomed in bargaining across the public service, especially by those on the lower pay scales.”
The government also plans to give its employees “gender equitable access” to paid parental leave and amend public sector awards “to remove the hours-based barrier to [pay] increment progression for part-time employees”, the Deputy Premier added.
“The changes to implement these important gender equity improvements will be made as soon as practicable,” Trad said.