Senate Inquiry into APS Bargaining

Senate Inquiry coverage, ABC TV ACT - video second story – 10:48 

Senate committee says coalition has used 'misleading' claims in three-year public service wage 'seige': Canberra Times

Most public servants are now earning below average wages after a three-year "siege of attrition" by the Coalition government, a Senate Committee has found.  Read more here...

Inquiry implores Cash to "heal the wounds of division" in APS: Workplace Express

A Senate inquiry has urged Public Service Minister Michaelia Cash to intervene in the federal public sector bargaining dispute and soften the "intransigent" Coalition's "brutally hard-line" bargaining policy by relaxing the 2% wages cap and removing the prohibition on backpay, but Government senators have flatly rejected the recommendations.

Siege of attrition: the Government's APS Bargaining Policy says the Coalition's "brutally hard-line" and "combative approach" to the APS bargaining policy, implemented in 2014 under the Abbott Government and continued by the Turnbull Government, is "cruel" and "heartless" in its treatment of public servants and has failed to facilitate genuine negotiations.

"The fact that the Government has not successfully concluded enterprise agreements for the majority of its workforce after three years of protracted and painful negotiations is unprecedented in over 30 years of public sector bargaining," the report says.

The committee's Labor-Greens majority says it is in the interests of the APS and the broader community to resolve the dispute as a "matter of urgency".

The inquiry recommends that the Government amend the APS bargaining policy to allow for a "fair, reasonable and speedy resolution" to the current stalemate, which has left more than 100,000 federal public sector employees without a new agreement (see Related Article).

Make wages cap "more realistic"

The committee says the Government should adjust the annual wage cap in the 2015 bargaining policy to a more realistic level that is consistent with enterprise bargaining results.

It says the savings the Government has accrued through the delays in settling agreements should be used to finance higher wage offers that "should not come at the expense of cuts to pre-existing rights and conditions".

"To this end, it is critical that the government allows agencies to genuinely negotiate and agree various matters with employee representatives. . . [T]he government should ensure that the APS Commissioner is required to adopt a collaborative approach with employee bargaining representatives," the report says.

Backpay changes urgent

The inquiry recommends the Coalition "urgently" amend its prohibition on backpay or implement a system where payments are made on the commencement of new agreements.

This will enable agencies to provide "some limited and appropriate financial recompense" to public sector workers who have had their wages frozen for the past three years, the committee said.

Alternatively, the Government could provide for "a payment upon agreements commencing".

It says the backpay ban "is an outright case of industrial blackmail designed to starve Commonwealth public servants into accepting a range of cuts to real wages and previously agreed family-friendly rights and conditions".

The report says wage freezes create a "perverse incentive" for departments and agencies to prolong negotiations because the longer the dispute drags on, the more savings for the department.

The Education and Employment References Committee report notes that the Government has made substantial savings by not paying wage rises due in 2014, 2015 and 2016 at the expense of public servants.

The committee says back-paying employees is "altogether reasonable" because of the "extensive" and "unnecessary" delays to bargaining caused by the Government's "harsh attack on employees' rights, conditions and pay and the patently inflexible nature of the bargaining policy itself".

It says the back-pay prohibition "has had an insidious impact on the bargaining process because it removes the incentive for agency heads to bargain in good faith to secure an agreement".

"The committee received a raft of evidence that the interminable delays and failure of agency heads to come to an agreement with their employees was a deliberate strategy because any delay in coming to an agreement saved the agency money because staff miss out on a pay rise.

"The view was also put to the committee on several occasions that the intransigent approach adopted by the government and the APS Commissioner in the bargaining policy amounted to deliberate industrial blackmail that was being used to force public servants into submission", the inquiry says.

The inquiry says that to overcome the impasse, the Government should acknowledge that its policy is counter-productive.

It says it is clear that the Government's insistence that agencies identify productivity offsets to justify reasonable wage increases is a significant contributor to the prolonged dispute.

Unless the Government adopts a more "constructive" and "modern" approach to productivity within the public sector, it is likely the dispute will continue, the committee said.

"[A]s long as the Government and the APSC continue to interpret productivity improvements as requiring reduced employment conditions and increased working hours, the current protracted negotiations will continue," it said.

The committee recommends Employment Minister Michaelia Cash take immediate action to "remove the existing impediments" and work with employee representatives, unions and agencies.

The report also recommends that the Minister:

  • Take immediate steps to ensure the Department of Immigration and Border Protection reaches an agreed position with unions to assist the Fair Work Commission's workplace determination;
  • Act to provide that when she or APS Commissioner John Lloyd are responsible for bargaining results, that negotiations are conducted in good faith;
  • ensure that the Commissioner Lloyd removes impediments and works with unions and agencies to enable a "reasonable conclusion" to bargaining;
  • initiate discussions with the CPSU with a view to resolving the dispute.
  • It wants the Government to amend the bargaining policy to:
  • enable retention of family-friendly provisions such as hours of work protections;
  • remove the requirement to delete agreement provisions that provide conditions that exceed the NES; and
  • permit provisions for domestic violence leave.