Diplomacy has trumped ideology with the appointment of Peter Woolcott as Australian Public Service Commissioner says the union responsible for bargaining on behalf of APS employees.
The Community and Public Sector Union welcomed Woolcott’s appointment, while taking a parting shot at the outbound commissioner John Lloyd, with whom it never found common ground.
Woolcott will take up the dual role of APS values boss as well as chief enforcer of the government’s APS workplace bargaining policy on August 9. The position is one of the government’s highest paid, with an annual remuneration of more than $700,000.
CPSU national secretary Nadine Flood said they would be seeking to meet with Woolcott as soon as possible to begin discussions about his approach to the challenges facing the APS.
“There’s never been so much need for someone in the job who knows and values the role of the public service,” Flood said in a statement yesterday, indicating they were unclear if the appointment signalled a genuine shift in direction, or simply “a more professional and palatable messenger.”
Last month Lloyd announced he would be resigning, but declined to reveal the reason, other than to say the timing suited his family and he had been considering doing so for some time.
A merit protection inquiry involving his conduct was revealed shortly before the resignation.
‘Damaging ideological agenda’
Flood unloaded on the legacy of Lloyd, not for the first time, in a spray describing his tenure as “the worst Public Service Commissioner in history”.
“Mr Lloyd has put his own political ideology ahead of the interests of the public service and the Australian people at every opportunity, causing damage that will take literally years of work to repair.
“The Public Service Commissioner should be championing the importance of the public service and the people who lie at its centre rather than pushing an agenda set by the Institute of Public Affairs and the HR Nichols Society.
“Mr Lloyd’s rapid departure gives Mr Woolcott the opportunity to play an important role in the ongoing APS Review. Public service capability and service delivery has been run down by years of cuts and repeated attacks by the Turnbull Government. We’ve seen destructive policies such as the arbitrary staffing cap and the ballooning overuse of contractors, consultants and labour hire, while workers suffer job insecurity and declining real wages.”
Lloyd responded that it was disappointing that Flood “continuously resorts to petty personal attacks”.
“Her union adopted an ineffective bargaining strategy. This strategy merely resulted in delayed pay increases for employees.”
Relations started from a bad place, and were slow to thaw
The Commonwealth workplace relations has been turbulent during John Lloyd’s term, but many of the contributing factors began before he even arrived at the federal post in late 2014.
Lloyd had held senior roles under Coalition governments in Western Australia and Victoria in industrial relations and red tape reduction, and was affiliated with the Institute of Public Affairs that was at the time calling for significant job cuts to the APS.
He was likened by critics to Max ‘the Axe’ Moore-Wilton, who oversaw cuts of 11,000 public servants when the Coalition last came to power. There were plenty of cuts earmarked in the Abbott government’s first budget (16,500), as well as restrictions that became known as a ‘hiring freeze’, but most of the job loses occurred before Lloyd’s arrival.
He was also inheriting an APS that had been through years of harsh efficiency dividends, reaching as high as 4% annual cuts to operating budgets under the previous Labor government.
The then Abbott government minister for employment and the public service Eric Abetz introduced a restructured bargaining policy in 2014 in that environment of cuts and freezes. The first policy allowed individual agencies to trade away beneficial conditions of employment for higher wage rises, but those wage rises were capped at 1.5%. The government made it clear no additional funds would be made available to organisations to pay for wage increases, so the trade off was losing employee conditions or more internal cost cutting.
The first major concession from the government came late in 2015, after it became clear employees were not voting yes to the agreements proposed by agency management. The policy was modified to increase the maximum wage rise per year from 1.5% to 2%. These rises still needed to be drawn from existing agency resources.
But despite hold outs, especially in the larger departments, agreements were made. Under the 2014 and 2015 bargaining policies, 138 enterprise agreements in 125 agencies were voted up.
A softer policy was introduced in February this year. Nine more agencies, including the APSC itself, have voted up agreements under the new rules after their early agreements expired.
This story was updated with an additional response from John Lloyd after publication.