Commonwealth bargaining rules changed after succession of failed votes

By Harley Dennett

October 21, 2015

Senator Michaelia Cash today announced changes to the Commonwealth’s enterprise bargaining framework that prevented most department and agency bosses from reaching agreement with their staff after wage deals expired.

Under the revised bargaining rules, agency heads will be provided with more flexibility by lifting the yearly wage increase cap from 1.5% to 2%.

Very few three-year agreements put to an employee vote have come close to the 4.5% cap, which was effective set as the upper watermark when Defence chiefs arrived at that figure for Australian Defence Force members. But this is a symbolic shift from a government that has been steadfast in refusing to budge on the restrictive measures.

The government has not shifted from the position that any wage increases must be met from within existing budgets via productivity gains.

Only a small handful of departments or agencies have accepted wage offers since the previous deals expired and the framework was put in place. The majority of proposals put to Commonwealth employees have been voted down.

Last week the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet was the latest to emphatically reject its pay offer, which for some staff reached the 4.5% three-year cap. Department officials told Estimates on Monday that they needed to bring staff into alignment after machinery of government changes put staff from different agreements, some of them on very poor wage deals, under the same roof. To get the best deal for those, particularly those coming from FaSCIA, existing staff had to be offered a very low deal.

PM&C officials said they expected the deal to be rejected, however as it was the maximum permitted under the then-framework, more work would need to be done to find a solution.

Taking aim at the Community and Public Sector Union’s negotiating strategy, Minister Cash accused the union of running a misleading campaign.

“The Australian public expects the public sector to be flexible and responsive to changing demands. These reforms will enable employees to receive modest wage increases quickly and still see taxpayers benefit from productivity gains.”

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