1 December 2023

A backroom party deal couldn't have come up with a better way for both sides to win

| Chris Johnson
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Finance and Public Service Minister Katy Gallagher

Finance and Public Service Minister Katy Gallagher has reached agreement with the CPSU on APS wages. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The Australian Public Service has just witnessed a textbook example of a compromise situation where both sides agree to allow the other to save some face.

APS-wide wages and conditions bargaining seemed destined to be a neverending story, with both the Federal Government and the Community and Public Sector Union at loggerheads over pay.

That came to an end yesterday (30 November) when the CPSU accepted the government’s ‘final offer’ and embraced the whole package.

The decision was announced soon after the union’s ballot closed, resulting in a two-thirds majority of the CPSU’s APS-employed members voting for the deal.

That means public servants will get an 11.2 per cent pay rise over three years.

Barely two months ago, an 11.2 per cent increase was deemed insufficient.

The union’s membership voted for it, though, with a 51.9 per cent majority saying yes.

READ ALSO CPSU members vote to accept ‘final’ APS wage offer

The CPSU leadership – under a lot of internal pressure to act tougher against the government – said 51 per cent (ignoring the extra 0.9 per cent that made the vote pretty much 52 per cent) was not a clear enough result to accept the deal.

The government had already revised its earlier offer up from 10.5 per cent and made it clear 11.2 was as far as it would go.

And so the stalemate.

Industrial action escalated. The union said the government had to do better.

Finance and Public Service Minister Katy Gallagher outright stated there would not be another wage offer made. She’d already revised it once.

Most public servants just wanted to know, sooner rather than later, when they were getting paid better and by how much.

The whole situation looked dire.

No one was backing down. And in the end, no one really had to.

The fix? An added bonus of a one-off payment by bringing forward by 12 weeks the start date of the agreement.

It only equates to an extra 0.92 per cent, but this time, the .9 was something the union bosses weren’t ignoring.

In recommending the deal to its membership, not only did the CPSU describe it as a win for the union, but they reminded folks that 52 per cent of them (no longer referred to as a mere 51 per cent) had already said yes to the 11.2 per cent offer.

This extra 0.92 per cent bonus payment showed the government had moved after being forced to do so by the union.

READ ALSO Breakaway group calls for CPSU caretaker conventions to kick in

At the same time, Senator Gallagher can rightly say she didn’t revise the offer.

It’s still an 11.2 per cent increase.

The government just dangled a sign-on bonus payment.

The whole compromise equated to a get-out-of-jail card for both sides.

And the brilliance of it all is that both sides can feign some sort of victory.

Meanwhile, the CPSU is currently having its own elections for the union’s national executive positions. There are some very disgruntled contenders whose campaigning platform is that the current leadership is way too close to the ALP to secure a good pay deal for employees.

Members United wanted the union to hold out for the 20 per cent claim the CPSU initially threw on the table.

A 20 per cent increase was never going to get up, but a tougher stance might have secured a little more than 11.2 per cent. But that’s all hypothetical now.

As it stands, public servants are getting a CPSU-endorsed pay rise that’s almost identical to the CPSU-rejected one, and there are bubbles and handshakes all around.

And maybe a few ALP candidate preselection applications are being prepared.

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Don’t ALL public servants have to vote for the “deal” before it becomes formally accepted? Perhaps all the glad-handing is a little premature?

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