31 July 2023

APS negotiations have hit a low point

| Chris Johnson
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The CPSU wants to wreak havoc on staff monitoring at Services Australia. Image: File.

On the bargaining front when it comes to negotiations over APS wages and conditions, 1 August marks a significant turn on two fronts.

Firstly, the Australian Public Service Commission’s chief negotiator Peter Riordan steps back from the bargaining table to “work through how best to settle the final package of pay and conditions”.

According to an APSC update, APS-wide bargaining has made significant progress over the past three months.

Mr Riordan and his team have been busy considering and hearing more than 1500 claims on pay and conditions across more than 90 categories.

Concessions have been made on some points, while heels have dug in over others.

The update points out that most matters have been discussed multiple times in an effort to develop principles to underpin common clauses for all APS enterprise agreements.

This “significant progress” will see many common conditions move forward to the next phase of the process.

There are two more bargaining meetings scheduled for August to allow all parties to keep advocating their positions.

This brings us to the other significant thing about today.

It’s when industrial action led by the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) kicks in at Services Australia.

READ ALSO APS Commission needs to step up and act more like the central agency it is, review says

The CPSU isn’t happy with the government’s pay increase offer and is holding out for a 20 per cent hike over three years across the APS, rejecting the APSC’s offer that comes in at half that.

Thousands of CPSU members throughout the APS have taken part in more than 700 meetings and voted for urgent improvement from the government over its pay offer.

In a bid to force the government’s hand, employees at Services Australia – where the CPSU has a significant membership base – will embark on two weeks of planned industrial action from 1 August.

That action is described as an Auxiliary Code Ban, during which staff will not enter prescribed codes that allow Services Australia management to track their tasks and note what individual employees are doing at any given time.

The union says the industrial action won’t impact frontline services at the agency and that the public will not be adversely affected.

But it does use the term “wreak havoc” when describing what the ban will do to Services Australia’s internal systems of staff monitoring.

“Banning the use of auxiliary codes for two weeks will significantly disrupt internal monitoring and data collection,” says CPSU national secretary Melissa Donnelly.

“And fly in the face of the toxic micro-management culture that exists in Services Australia.”

READ ALSO Canberra firm’s head ‘severed all ties to Australia’, won’t testify on procurement allegations

Donnelly is right in describing the monitoring of staff at Services Australia as “toxic micro-management”. The agency is notorious for it.

Industrial action against such draconian measures would be more than justified under other circumstances.

But during a negotiation process that only comes along every few years and in which parties come to the table with an understanding of mutual respect, linking wages to auxiliary codes seems tenuous and even petty.

Using terms such as “wreak havoc” conjures images of bully-boy tactics for which the CPSU is not normally known.

And while Services Australia might be a CPSU stronghold, it is also an easy target being an agency that has just gone through the wringer over Robodebt and with more pain to come.

It has an image problem and the CPSU is exploiting it.

And if by some means the industrial action does manage to find a way of affecting Australians needing welfare and social services, it will be the agency that will have to wear the flack.

In a negotiation process that has seen the CPSU secure a number of solid wins and improvements for its members, the tactic it is employing over wages seems a tad off point.

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Pay rises don’t necessarily have to keep up with inflation. Ask your motor mechanic, or the person that serves you at Woolies next time, how many wage increases they have received lately. That’s the real world.

They don’t, but it’s also debatable whether the economic rationalism that we’ve all been living with for the last almost 50 years, which has decoupled productivity from wages, is actually the real world, or an elaborate scam to keep mechanics and shop assistants on low wages while company owners make megabucks.

Cameron Hildebrand8:35 am 02 Aug 23

inflation was roughly 6% 2022 & another 6% 2023, and the pay rise for those periods was only half that, and looks to be at least 5% next year, and that’s being generous, if its projected to be 4% 2025 and 3% 2026, that’s 18% over the next three years plus back pay for the last two years just to keep pace with inflation and not slide backwards. 10.5 is a joke

Parzival Pimo1:31 pm 01 Aug 23

“20 per cent hike over three years”

Wait do they think they are politicians?

Cameron Hildebrand8:36 am 02 Aug 23

It should be 18% just to keep pace with inflation alone

John Freeman10:37 am 02 Aug 23

Put it this way. I’m quitting the public service for a 30% pay rise in the private sector. I’d rather have stayed serving the community, but I couldn’t pay my mortgage anymore after the last 12 months of rate rises. So yeah, if you want the public service to be able to retain skilled employees then 20% is a bare minimum needed.

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