Who’s to blame for the effective APS pay freeze? Abetz calls for union head to roll

By Stephen Easton

Tuesday January 9, 2018

Australian Minister for Employment, Senator Eric Abetz opens the G20 Labour and Employment Ministerial Meeting on September 10, 2014 in Melbourne, Australia. Representatives from G20 member countries are meeting this week in Melbourne to discuss jobs and employment growth. Brisbane will host the G20 leaders summit in November.

Tasmanian Senator Eric Abetz says the national secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union should resign for leading resistance against the Abbott-Turnbull government’s efforts to put the brakes on Australian Public Service wage growth.

Abetz, who had ministerial responsibility for the APS over two years ago, seems to believe the union should have accepted a one-sided process where agencies made one offer and employees accepted it as the best they could get.

His latest broadside at the union follows the release of very rough estimates of the wages public servants gained, or lost, depending on how long their agency held out before voting to accept a new enterprise agreement.

The Australian Public Service Commission estimates the government would have forked out an extra $343,448,850 in wages across five big agencies — Human Services, Defence, Agriculture, Immigration and Border Protection and the Tax Office — if the staff had accepted early offers they rejected.

Of that $343.4 million in estimated lost earnings, $114.5m was foregone by staff in Human Services, according to the commission. It is part of the federal government’s policy not to provide back pay to cover any of the bargaining period itself once an agreement is reached.

Abetz says the bargaining policy from 2014, when Tony Abbott was prime minister and he was responsible for APS employment, offered pay “in line with the community standard” and oddly accuses the CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood of running a campaign to bolster her own political profile.

Of course the union has a different view and blames the government for the foregone pay:

“Ms Flood should hang her head in shame and resign over her legacy as the head of the CPSU given that she was prepared to see her own members financially worse off as long as her political career was advanced — albeit this puts her in lockstep with Bill Shorten’s legacy as a union operative,” said Abetz.

However, there is nothing surprising about the”illustrative examples” and rough estimates, which were published to answer a question on notice asked by Nationals Senator Bridget McKenzie in the last round of Senate Estimates.

The overarching campaign led by Flood was not all about payrises either; a lot of CPSU members had major concerns that other entitlements were being weakened in the process and the union did eventually begin advising members to vote in favour of offers.

The APSC says there are too many variables for it to provide “meaningful” estimates of either wages gained or forgone over the three-year enterprise bargaining marathon, but it offered estimates for individual public servants at certain levels in selected agencies.

An EL1 in Treasury, where staff accepted the government’s pay offer in 2015, could have earned as much as $10,314 more since their new agreement took effect two-and-a-half years ago, according to the APSC. At most an APS5 Treasury employee would have taken home an extra $6586 over that period.

The APSC itself was another of the first cabs off the rank to accept an agreement. There, an EL1 could potentially have earned an extra $8,540 since the new EBA took effect in mid-2015 and, at most, an APS5 could have banked an extra $5,879.

In mid-December, the Greens argued the Abbott-era policy of restraining APS wage growth was inappropriate given slow wage growth is increasingly seen a key issue across the whole economy.

The cross-bench party’s symbolic alternate policy is for the government to backflip on austerity and raise the wages of public servants below middle-management EL1 level by 4% a year for the next five years. At the same time, they would cut top executive pay and cap it at $420,000 per annum, less than half of what the highest paid secretaries earn.

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