Commonwealth pay unrest: a ‘return to command and control’?

The Abbott government is spurning co-operation on pay negotiations in favour of a more combative approach, says one labour law academic — and it’s a recipe for unrest.

The government’s hard-line approach to public sector pay negotiations signals “a return to a more command and control approach to industrial relations” that risks creating unnecessary hostility, labour law academic Professor John Howe has told The Mandarin.

Tensions between the government and public servants have been rising following the Prime Minister’s comments that he “would be very surprised if anyone in the Commonwealth public sector receives more than is received by our Defence Forces.” Below-inflation pay rises of 1.5% per annum for Defence personnel were approved on Monday.

In response to low pay offers, employees at the Department of Human Services are deciding by ballot whether to take protected industrial action that could include stoppages, work bans, strikes or other action. Fair Work Australia has also approved a ballot at the Department of Veterans Affairs on similar measures.

The current workplace agreements for 165,000 public servants in more than 100 Commonwealth agencies expired on June 30 and bargaining negotiations are currently under way in around 70 agencies.

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