An almighty stoush is brewing between the main public service union and Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd, after he blamed the union for paralysis in the public sector bargaining process.
Mr Lloyd accused the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) of running a scare campaign, sabotaging negotiations and “letting down” union members in an opinion piece in The Australian last week.
A hot button issue is over whether employee agreement must be secured before any changes are made to staff’s work locations, hours and days.
The union is fighting the government’s attempt to remove this clause, which it says will hit women, part-time workers and parents the hardest.
Mr Lloyd said the government was trying to achieve a “modern workplace” and merely wanted to “remove from agreements clauses that unduly restrict the capacity of agencies to adapt and change” and improve service delivery.
Mr Lloyd broadsided the union for its “intransience” and said it had continually pushed for a pay rise of more than 6 per cent over three years and refused to delete “restrictive content in agreement clauses.”
“This union attitude is nothing new,” Mr Lloyd said. “Over my long involvement in workplace relations, I cannot recall the CPSU embracing genuine reform initiatives that enhance flexibility or improve efficiency,” he told The Australian.
The Commissioner painted a rosy picture of public servants living the good life with “generous conditions … equal or higher than community standards”, including leave entitlement, overtime and shift penalties, childcare help, remote locality allowances, travel allowances, training and education.
“In contrast, the government has raised its pay offer and relaxed the bargaining position on super and the treatment of productivity improvements,” Mr Lloyd said.
“A shift by the union to a bargaining position more grounded in workplace reality would be welcome.”
The Public Service Commissioner has also been working with senior human resources executives from QUANTAS, Telstra, ANZ and Australia Post in order to modernise the public sector and make it more “businesslike.”
He wants to implement the APS contestability review by senior businesswoman Sandra McPhee and has said he will look at talent and performance management, recruitment and separation and staff mobility.
Meanwhile, the CPSU said Mr Lloyd had finally revealed his true colours and exposed the “dark heart of bargaining policy.”
CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood said: “We are delighted that John Lloyd has written this piece because it exposes the sort of misleading and deceptive advice he has been giving to Minister Michaelia Cash and through her to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.
“Mr Lloyd’s piece seriously misrepresents crucial aspects of the dispute and goes a long way towards explaining why public service bargaining remains an unresolved mess.”
She argued that the union had shifted its position on pay a year ago and had already been involved in workplace reform, including Human Services, Tax and Defence.
“Mr Lloyd seriously argues that workers of the public service are acting to disadvantage themselves and doing that because the CPSU tells them to,” she said. “Public sector workers are smart and know what’s in their best interest.
“The real reason why almost 130,000 public sector employees still don’t have new agreements is because employees remain deeply concerned by the nastier aspects of what Mr Lloyd is serving up.”
So far 34 departments and agencies have signed on the dotted lines but scores more – and many of these are in larger agencies such as Defence; Department of Human Services and Immigration and Border Control – are holding out.
Several critical votes are imminent, including the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, which opens on Monday next week and concludes on March 6 and the Department of Premier and Cabinet, which concludes on Friday. The Defence ballot is expected to be in late February, early March.
Staff at the Department of Human Services voted by 79.5 per cent to reject the government’s latest offer early this month.
Most enterprise agreements expired in mid-2013 and the government has repeatedly stated there will be no back pay.
In the meantime, the union is believed to be considering its options, including the possibility of further rounds of industrial action.