Public servants across Australia hit with pay freezes, job cuts

By Shannon Jenkins

June 25, 2020


State and federal public service employees across the country have been dealt with pay freezes and job cuts as governments attempt to grapple with the economic impacts of COVID-19.

Job cuts

On Wednesday the Tasmanian government announced a pay freeze for senior public servants, while the CSIRO revealed that up to 40 jobs would be slashed.

Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein said the state economy has taken an “incredible hit” during the pandemic.

“This is why it is appropriate to postpone a wage increase for senior public servants, which would normally be considered at this time of the year, until the budget period later this year in November,” he said.

While the move would impact roughly 211 Senior Executive Service employees, Gutwein noted it was not a reflection of their efforts.

“They have shown the most outstanding strength and agility in these trying times, leading the state service to our strong public health position and supporting the Tasmanian community through our response and recovery phases,” he said.

Read more: CSIRO heads to Fair Work Commission amid calls to scrap staff cap

Meanwhile, the Community and Public Sector Union has called on the government to halt cuts to the CSIRO after it was revealed that there would be up to 40 job cuts from the energy team, including key scientists, engineers, and researchers.

“These are the latest in a series of staff cuts to hit the CSIRO, bringing the total number of job cuts to 619 this financial year alone, due to the impact of the governments’ Average Staffing Level Cap and continued budget cuts,” the union said in a statement.

It argued a number of projects could be affected, as well as four energy sites: Kensington (Western Australia), Clayton (Victoria), Newcastle, and North Ryde (New South Wales).

The union’s CSIRO section secretary, Sam Popovski, urged Dr Larry Marshall — who was this week reappointed as CSIRO’s chief executive — to help protect the jobs.

“There are growing concerns that the October federal budget may feature spending cuts and Dr Marshall and the board must ensure that the case for CSIRO public funding is heard loud and clear over coming months,” he said.

The agency has previously voiced its struggles to operate effectively under the federal government’s public service staffing cap.

As reported by The Mandarin earlier this week, the National Gallery of Australia has announced that it would be cutting more than 12% of staff this year, due to a $3.6 million funding shortfall. The news came less than a month after the Australian Taxation Office revealed that a regional office in Geelong would be closed due to building occupancy and costs, risking the jobs of 121 public servants.

Labor senator Katy Gallagher has warned that the hit to the Canberra gallery was “another sign” that further cuts to the public sector could be on the way.

Read more: Staff cuts to National Gallery ‘reckless and hurtful’, says Barr

NSW still pushing for wage freeze

Over in New South Wales, the state government’s lawyers and several public sector unions this week attended their first hearings in the fight over a year-long public sector pay freeze.

The NSW Industrial Relations Commission on Monday ruled that state public servants were not guaranteed a 2.5% pay rise under the NSW wages policy. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the commission disagreed with the unions’ argument that it must apply the full increase, instead ruling that it was “open to [the commission] to award increases in remuneration of 2.5% or less”.

The government has been arguing that a 12-month pause on pay rises would “protect public service jobs” as the state faces rising unemployment amid COVID-19.

Is Victoria next?

Last week it was reported that the Victorian government had announced a wage freeze for senior public servants, with a government spokesperson stating that the move would only affect “senior executives and board members”.

The Victorian branch of the CPSU told The Mandarin that it has not received any information regarding a VPS wage freeze.

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