22 May 2023

Levelling the paying field: APS negotiations turning to wage disparity across agencies

| Chris Johnson
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Australian Government building

The Australian Public Service Commission will meet with employee unions and some agency bosses on Thursday to discuss disparities in agency wage agreements. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Australian Public Service pay disparity will be the focus of a negotiations round on Thursday between the Government and employee representatives, to find more wages equality between agencies.

The Australian Public Service Commission will meet with the Community and Public Sector Union, other employee unions and representatives, and some agency bosses to discuss a way to break from the current tangled web of agency-level wage agreements.

Disparity in APS salaries has long been a significant point of contention for staff at all levels.

APS-wide bargaining was devolved to individual agencies in 1997, but the Labor Government is trying to bring the service back onto an even keel.

At the Executive Level 1 classification, for example, salaries vary as much as $50,000-plus between government agencies.

This has led to a surge in staff ”agency hopping” in efforts to change employment within the APS but also earn higher salaries for the same-level employment classification.

In the current jobs market, with intense competition from the private sector, the APS is struggling to recruit and retain staff while such disparity exists across the service.

READ ALSO Federal Government unveils first APS pay offer, but union wants double

Last week, the Federal Government unveiled its opening APS-wide wages position and offered employees a 10.5 per cent pay rise over three years.

It is the first wage offer to emerge from the APSC in the current round of negotiations over APS pay and conditions.

If accepted, it would be the largest salary increase for federal public servants in more than a decade.

The CPSU had asked for almost double that, with a claim for a 20 per cent wage hike over three years.

The union has opened a ballot asking its APS members to vote on the offer by 30 May.

Attention is now turning to the agency agreements and wages disparity.

The issue was vigorously highlighted earlier this year, as APS-wide wages and conditions negotiations were about to ramp up, when the executive director at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies called for things to change.

Caroline Hughes, a Ngunnawal elder, said some staff were being paid vastly less than the same-level staff of other agencies, highlighting gross inequities.

Speaking at an Institute of Public Administration Australia event in March, Dr Hughes said unfairness in salaries was having a negative impact on her staff.

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“It’s difficult being in that executive role and knowing how low the staff are in the organisation, the inequity of their pay, it’s mind-boggling,” she said.

“I must say that with AIATSIS, when we look at pay equity, for an Aboriginal organisation we have the second-lowest pay of the Australian Public Service.

“That is an Aboriginal inequity that is happening in the Australian Public Service, and that is impacting Aboriginal people and non-Indigenous people working in that organisation.

“That shocked me coming from the ACT public service, where that’s just not heard of, where one directorate would be paid less than the other for similar work.”

The issue won’t be resolved on Thursday by any means.

The Government has flagged that it will take a number of bargaining rounds over several years to find common ground.

But Public Service Minister Katy Gallagher and the APSC have already stated they are making the lowest-paid staff in the lowest-paid agencies a priority to address.

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TryingTrevor8:02 am 25 May 23

Struggling to recruit… I have govt experience here and in the UK. I’ve been a people leader for a national company and a client executive for its competitor. And I can’t get an interview for a temp role. Let alone permanent work. Maybe the PS needs a complete overhaul.

With all that experience, which I assume you didn’t amass in a ‘couple of years’, Trevor, perhaps you are a victim of age discrimination? Not that anyone involved in the selection process would admit that to you.

TryingTrevor – I am in my sixties and I have had no problems getting employment. I don’t have a degree, nor am I a tradie. In fact, the job I have now is the most highly paid employment in my 45+ years of working life. The ATO love me. I shirk management roles preferring to be the “grey” man busily performing my tasks. Oh, and my posts on here are not on my employer’s time

William Newby8:18 pm 23 May 23

This is not only one directional; with the skills and people shortage many agencies will now salary match to secure the right person – if they are coming from a department that pays higher for the same level.

@William Newby
As I recall, the APS once had a single pay scale for everyone at the same level. No need for multiple agencies to negotiate agreements … seems like things used to be a lot simpler.

P “フィル” C1:47 pm 23 May 23

You really wouldn’t have the issue if you employed aps staff and stopped hiring contractors, also stop filling roles that amount to gloried thrones where someone sits on top delighting their work to understaffers

People need to forget the preposition that an APS level is the same across agencies and thus deserving of the same remuneration.

Paul Middleton10:33 am 23 May 23

Yes. Some staff in some agencies are doubly disadvantaged, working in under classified positions in low paid agencies. For example, many compliance staff in the lowly paid ABF are doing highly complex work at the APS5 level, earning at least $20,000 less than staff doing equivalent work in other agencies.

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