28 June 2023

Government tech workers need their own classification to avert skills crisis, APS bargaining round told

| Chris Johnson
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ICT specialists are seeking their own APS classifications. Photo: File.

ICT workers in the Australian Public Service could have employment classifications all of their own, leading to higher wages and a more appealing sector.

The APS is struggling to attract tech staff or even keep current ones from fleeing to the private sector because of the level of pay on offer.

Instead, ICT contractors have been engaged en masse at a massively higher cost for the government.

This is happening as the work of government is becoming increasingly more reliant on technology and the specialist skills required to keep systems operating and program delivery digital.

If the issue is not sufficiently addressed, the APS is headed for a serious crisis in specialised staff and capability.

The latest round of APS wage and conditions bargaining has embraced the question of what to do with tech workers.

The Community and Public Sector Union wants the value of specialist workers to be officially recognised by the APS.

“A joint union-APS review of the Work Level Standards [is being sought] with a view to recognising that increasing work value at more senior levels includes technical and specialist leadership, not just increasing managerial responsibilities,” the CPSU’s statement to members said.

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The CPSU is also pushing for ICT professionals to be allotted a better classification range than currently available.

It wants the establishment of an ‘APS5-EL broadband’ of ICT classification for such workers instead of them having to fall into general cohorts across the APS.

‘Broadband’ simply means offering a range of salary and seniority options depending on the worker’s specific skills and the needs of the agency employing them.

ICT professionals currently have to settle for the more general APS classifications that limit their earning potential and career advancement opportunities.

A specialist-specific broadband classification could be included in the new Australian Public Service enterprise agreement being negotiated.

To date, successive federal governments have refused to recognise ICT practitioners with specialist classifications.

There have been previous attempts from agencies to have an ICT classification adopted but without success.

The Australian Public Service Commission has been the leader in dismissing the notion that tech specialists should be recognised with their own classifications, but in the latest round of negotiations, the APSC’s chief negotiator, Peter Riordan, has indicated the government’s willingness to revisit the matter.

“Mr Riordan heard proposals to improve specialists’ pay in the APS and will consider these claims as bargaining progresses,” the APSC said in a bargaining update.

“Mr Riordan also agreed that claims from bargaining representatives relating to recruitment and mobility should be negotiated in agency-level bargaining.”

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The current negotiations follow a process to bargain new enterprise agreements across the APS to improve commonality in pay and conditions across the public sector.

Agency-level bargaining is also part of the process, enabling agencies to negotiate terms that are necessary to support their needs and operating model.

APS employees will vote on their agency’s proposed enterprise agreement at the end of agency-level bargaining. This agreement will include common conditions negotiated during APS-wide bargaining, but not all APS employees will be covered by a single enterprise agreement.

APS agencies will continue to have separate, single-enterprise agreements, but agency-level agreements must include any common conditions negotiated during APS-wide bargaining.

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