Family violence leave on the negotiating table for Tasmanian state servants

By Stephen Easton

Wednesday June 1, 2016

Tasmanian state servants will be offered 10 days of family violence leave in their next workplace agreements, but last week’s budget papers show the government is banking on pay rises well below its 2% cap.

Premier Will Hodgman said the new entitlement would come with “a range of supporting arrangements … including awareness raising and better training for contact officers and managers” in a statement announcing the sweetener yesterday.

He also endorsed the idea that government should “lead by example” as an employer, as his government prepares for a stoush with public sector unions that want 2.5-3% pay increases in the new agreements.

A 2013 ruling recognised the issue of family violence and ensured Tasmanian State Service employees could take personal leave as a result of family violence, along with other measures around employee assistance programs, flexible working arrangements, confidentiality of personal information, training for relevant staff members and safety at work, particularly in frontline contact roles.

‘Responsibility rests with us’

The head of the premier’s department, Greg Johannes, said last year it was “unacceptable” that one of his staff members had felt unable to raise the issue with anyone at work and “ask for the help she needed”.

Citing Australian of the Year Rosie Batty as a prime influence, Johannes did not shy away from the link between family violence and society’s ingrained gender inequality, acknowledging that women were most commonly on the receiving end. In a memo to staff shared with The Mandarin, he wrote:

“The attitudes of men toward women and the way many of us behave are overwhelmingly the cause of family violence in our community. Responsibility for change rests with us, not with victims, and it starts with embracing gender equality.”

His counterpart in the Victorian public service, Chris Eccles, has also spoken strongly on the issue and how all public sector agencies would need to undertake “fundamental changes in the way [they] design policy and deliver services” and work with the community to take on the challenge of family violence:

“This is more than just a reform task for the public sector. It’s a moral duty. The people have entrusted us with it and we must not let them down.”

Premier under pressure

Meanwhile, the Tasmanian Premier has struggled to counter analysis of last week’s budget that suggests the state service faces either very low pay rises or more job cuts in the next few years.

Credit rating agency Moody’s claims that employee costs can only rise by 0.9% per year over the forward estimates, for the government to meet its ambitious target of keeping average spending growth to 0.6%.

Job cuts are the other obvious option to keep the state’s finances “on track” as the government’s slogan would have it, according to Moody’s, but Hodgman denies this is part of the current plan.

The Premier told journalists “the surplus isn’t dependent on job cuts” and, while Treasurer Peter Gutwein suggested on Friday that there was money in the budget for pay rises up to 2%, Hodgman has since conceded the cap is an “upper limit”.

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