22 September 2023

APSC backs default 'yes' for work from home

| Chris Johnson
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Australian Public Service Commission chief negotiator Peter Riordan is holding Q&A sessions over the wages and conditions package. Photo: File.

All Australian Public Service agencies will have a bias towards saying ‘yes’ to work-from-home requests from staff if the new bargaining conditions are accepted.

As the government awaits its workforce’s reaction to a string of new conditions, including a wage increase offer of 11.2 per cent over three years, it is busy spruiking the improved employee benefits of the package.

Australian Public Service Commissioner chief negotiator Peter Riordan has already held two of three virtual Q&A sessions with staff to cut through any confusion over the package and highlight its positives before a vote is taken.

The APSC wants a decision on the package by Thursday next week (28 September). The last of the Q&A sessions will be held the day before.

“We have released a snapshot of how the broadly supported common conditions will impact each APS agency and you,” the Commission told staff in an update before the first virtual session.

“It shows if the proposed common condition is an improvement; if you’ll have the same or equal conditions; if you’ll retain any better current conditions.

“These conditions are broken down by agency.

“You’ll see all APS agencies will see gains in their conditions, some more than others, depending on the conditions you currently have in your enterprise agreement.”

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Mr Riordan told staff that when it comes to flexible working arrangements – a condition the Community and Public Sector Union fought hard for – agencies must have a good reason to reject work-from-home requests.

An ad hoc approach would not be tolerated and a detailed specific clause in the agreement spells it out.

“It attempts to create an environment whereby there’s a collaborative, constructive engagement between employees making requests and their managers to accommodate the request,” he said.

“With a bias to ‘yes’, if there are reasonable business grounds [to reject an application], they need to be articulated. It can’t be ‘our rule is you’ve got to be here three days a week or two days a week’.

“That just won’t cut it. It doesn’t meet the expectation or the intent of the clause.”

Questions over the wages offer were met with responses indicating the government was standing firm on the 11.2 per cent increase – up from its previous proposal of 10.5 per cent.

The CPSU has a claim for a service-wide 20 per cent increase over three years.

Its members are voting whether to accept or reject the government’s counter-claim.

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“All I can do is deliver what we think is a fair and affordable increase for the Australian Public Service,” Mr Riordan said.

He said he remained hopeful that CPSU and other union members and staff representatives would not reject the pay offer.

“If they do, we’ll have to consider what the next steps might be,” he said.

“We’ve spent a lot of time working with people and getting the approvals to put this package together.

“It’s a considered package, which we think is comparative to what’s being offered elsewhere but with quite a few extra items in there.”

He pointed out that overall, the package delivers numerous improved benefits for staff, adding that there was no trade-off in the pay offer.

“The flexible work arrangements form a positive part of the package but didn’t diminish what we’re able to offer in terms of the headline pay increase,” he said.

Meanwhile, the APSC has delivered a response to the recent independent capability review of the umbrella agency.

The APSC Capability Review made a range of findings that fall into two broad categories: improving the APSC’s value proposition, influence and impact across the APS; and improving how it operates as an agency, including how it plans, prioritises and resources, and how it attracts and retains the right people to deliver its services.

“The findings of the APSC Capability Review will guide us to become a stronger central agency and better partner to APS entities,” its response states.

“Building the APSC’s capability will take time, effort and commitment, and we are taking a staged approach to transformation. The change will be managed in a way that supports psychological safety and strong engagement with our staff.

“The APSC has commenced a project to assess our future state and strategic priorities, setting out a roadmap for change.”

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