6 March 2023

Wage discrepancy across APS agencies not on, says Caroline Hughes

| Chris Johnson
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Dr Caroline Hughes. Photo: File.

The disparity between public service wages depending on agency has been highlighted once again, with a big swipe from the executive director at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.

Caroline Hughes, a Ngunnawal elder, told an International Women’s Day event on Wednesday that some staff were being paid vastly less than the same level staff of other agencies.

With Australian Public Service wage and conditions bargaining set to start in earnest, the discrepancies in salaries have been a significant point of contention for staff at all levels.

At the executive level 1 classification, salaries vary as much as $50,000+ between government agencies.

She said it was unacceptable that staff in her independent statutory authority were being paid far less than counterparts in other areas of the Australian Public Service.

READ ALSO APS bargaining won’t be all smooth sailing, Minister tells roadshow

Dr Hughes called for change and told the event, hosted by the Institute of Public Administration Australia, that the unfairness in salaries was having a negative impact on her staff.

“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.”

She said she laughed at the salary being offered to her when she won her current role, adding she would not leave the job she then had for a position with greater responsibility if it was not properly compensated.

“I think it’s really important that females feel empowered to challenge what they’re offered,” Dr Hughes said.

READ ALSO Robert put cabinet loyalty first when told Robodebt was illegal

Finance Minister Katy Gallagher used her Susan Ryan Oration at the Australian National University on Thursday to outline in general terms what the Government was doing for gender equality and Indigenous representation.

“We have also begun work on a National Strategy to Achieve Gender Equality. This is the first time a government made a commitment to achieving gender equality – and set a roadmap to get us there,” the Minister said.

“This roadmap involves examining everything from our IR laws to our plan to tackle violence against women, to health and wellbeing and balancing care responsibilities and employment.

“And in May we will be hearing from First Nations women at the Women’s Voice Summit for an Indigenous perspective on gender equality.

“There is a strong economic case to be made for gender equality.

“Breaking entrenched gender norms could boost the Australian economy by $128 billion a year, according to Deloitte Access Economics.

“That’s an opportunity I don’t want our country to miss.”

Senator Gallagher has promised an APS-wide interim 3 per cent pay increase for most employees, while more permanent workplace arrangements are negotiated.

The Federal Government is asking public servants directly what outcomes they would like to see as a result of service-wide bargaining.

Deputy APS commissioner Peter Riordan has written an open letter to all employees informing them of the initial steps being taken to reduce pay fragmentation across the sector.

The commission is also seeking employee input via an anonymous survey.

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Jenny Graves3:49 pm 06 Mar 23

This is quite a problem within the APS because it often deters people moving from one Department to another. That isn’t a good situation for the Public Service. Rectifying this is going to be quite problematic, though. You either have to freeze the higher paying Departments’ pay scales until the others catch up or increase the budget substantially to equalise the pay scales immediately. Neither will be popular.

Imagine if all Commonwealth public servants were administered by the one body and at level people worked under the same pay and conditions no matter what the department?

Oh wait some numpty in government disbanded the Public Service Board.

Yes, and that numpty was John Howard!

SigmaOctantis11:34 am 06 Mar 23

Some people get paid more as they provide more value and have more skills. People are not equal. This has been the case since time immemorial, although granted it doesn’t align with communist policies so isn’t popular in the aps.

@SigmaOctantis … so perhaps you can explain how someone processing payroll in one ps department is providing more value and has more skills, than someone processing payroll in another department? There’s nothing communist about paying them the same for doing the same work – is there?

SigmaOctantis9:06 pm 06 Mar 23

No of course not. You’ve missed the point unfortunately.

@SigmaOctantis So enlighten me. “… staff in her independent statutory authority were being paid far less than counterparts in other areas of the Australian Public Service.” Counterparts means staff at a similar level doing a similar job doesn’t it? And an assessment of one’s ability to “… provide more value and have more skills … ” is very subjective and definitely open to cronyism.

There are 150,000 public servants. Within that there are 10s of thousands of people at the same rank. And surprise, surprise, within those ranks some people are absolute dead ***** who barely do anything and some are incredibly productive. You know, like in real life?! Assessing productivity is both objective and subjective. The solution is not, pay everyone the same. It’s pay them in line with their assessed productivity to the extent you can. And If you don’t like your salary, apply for a higher paying job or negotiate exactly like Dr Carolyn Hughes did. And as for cronyism, please, single pay will do nothing to solve cronyism in hiring and promotions in the APS. Conversely It’ll just be one more supporting beam ensuring the continued mediocrity of the aps. Robodebt, anyone?

“… within those ranks some people are absolute dead ***** who barely do anything and some are incredibly productive. ” Isn’t that the prupose of the performance management scheme? In theory, when these people were selected for the roles they don’t perform, it was to take on the duties of that role – and their compensation should be commensurate with the role (as per the APS work level standards – https://www.apsc.gov.au/working-aps/aps-employees-and-managers/work-level-standards-aps-level-and-executive-level-classifications).
Also, I’m not saying single pay will negate cronyism. What I am saying that individuals being able to negotiate their salary could be a further road to cronyism … AWA’s anyone?
I left the APS before individual agency bargaining came in – i.e. go back to the ASO / ITO level days. However, I wonder how much money is expended needlessly by each agency having their own EA bargaining teams negotiate a contract (salary and conditions) with staff who, for a large part, are performing very similar, if not generic, duties across the service. Afterall, the APS is pretty much the single employer, except for a few ‘specialist roles’ pertinent to the portfolio’s unique area of delivery.

SigmaOctantis4:19 am 08 Mar 23

You cannot be serious. You’re saying that APS performance management is effective? You’re completely unhinged if you believe that.

@SigmaOctantis Not being in the public service, I only know of the APS performance management system, not its effectiveness. Nevertheless you are completely lacking in understanding of the English language if you don’t understand the term ‘performance management’ – but just to give you a hand, it’s to manage performance and by inference, under performance. The fact that the people who are required to “apply” the principles of performance management and don’t is obviously the issue that needs to be addressed. You certainly don’t give others a higher rate simply because they are just doing the job for which they paid to do. That is definitely unhinged.

That is true, but it shouldn’t be dealt with through wildly varying pay rates between people effectively at the same overall level with similar overall job descriptions. It is by making sure people are actually employed at levels matching what they deliver. But that can be done within the context of a framework where same work effectively is paid the same irrespective of what agency you are in.

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