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PM backs down on Defence pay, hope for other agencies?

Soldiers, sailors, airmen and airwomen will have their wage offer bumped above the inflation rate in Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s first back down over his government’s tough public sector pay stance. Today’s decision will cost an extra $200 million, but will not have to be matched in departmental efficiencies.

The generosity will not extend to the Defence Department’s public servants, who are still waiting to hear from the Fair Work Commission whether they can proceed to a ballot for protected actions.

In a statement today, the Prime Minister and Defence Minister Kevin Andrews said the government had decided to increase the wage offer for ADF personnel to 2% per annum over the three year workplace remuneration agreement, up from 1.5% per annum. The current annual inflation rate is 1.7%.

Abbott and Andrews said the government had listened to the concerns of the Defence community and this change was in recognition of the unique circumstances in which ADF members worked. They said the decision provides certainty to ADF personnel and their families:

“The Australian Government understands that the work performed by members of the Australian Defence Force is unique and crucial to our nation and our security …

“ADF personnel are trained and prepared to put their personal safety at risk in the interests of our nation and this should be recognised.”

The decision is not one government can make unilaterally, and will seek the Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal’s agreement to vary the terms of the WRA signed in November.

Despite assertions that ADF pay is a unique case, the move will give hope to half of the Australian public service at agencies currently considering industrial protected actions as part their own wage negotiations.

On Monday, Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Nadine Flood described the Defence APS offer of 1.05% per annum with cuts to conditions was a “nasty low-ball deal”. Today, in response to the ADF pay back down announcement, Flood said 2% “isn’t exactly generous”, but was a mile ahead of the offers cutting conditions and wages of public sector workers:

“If the government can move for our ADF personnel, why don’t Defence civilians and the public sector workers who protect our borders in Customs, Immigration and Quarantine deserve more than a vicious attack on their rights and conditions? Why don’t the people on average wages in Centrelink and Medicare deserve some recognition for the tough job they do for our community?

“With tens of thousands of Commonwealth public sector workers ready to take industrial action, now is the time for the government to listen to its own workforce, and reconsider its hard-line and unworkable approach to bargaining.”

The CPSU has applied to the Fair Work Commission for permission to hold a ballot on strike and other industrial action against the Defence department. That hearing will be held Thursday.

Defence force chief Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin and departmental secretary Dennis Richardson faced questions about the current offers below inflation at Senate Estimates. Richardson defended the differential between civilians and military personnel:

“From where I sit, for what that is worth, the greater the differential you have, between base salaries in the ADF and base salaries in the Defence APS, the greater are the difficulties we are going to run into in terms of an integrated workforce. The Defence leadership, both ADF and APS, have worked very hard over the years to develop a sense of being together and a sense of working together. We are still on that journey. The ADF salary outcome is 1.5% each year over the next three years. The APS offer that we have put on the table is 3.16% over three years, which is fully offset. I do not think that differential between 3.16% and 4.5% over three years is something, from where I sit, to be overly concerned about.”

Questioned on the offer being below inflation, Richardson said “the latest inflation figures even make that statement questionable”:

“… it was not a pay cut. By no dictionary definition was it a pay cut. Secondly, simply in terms of where the inflation rate looks to be moving, even the comments about inflation may be wrong. I am not making a judgement; I am just saying it.”

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The Mandarin

The Mandarin staff journalists.