Civilian Defence staff have narrowly voted to reject the federal government’s first pay offer by a margin of less than two per cent.
Around 81 per cent of Defence public servants (or 15,342) voted on the proposed enterprise agreement, with 50.91 per cent voting ‘no’ and 49.09 per cent voting ‘yes.’
CPSU National Secrtary Nadine Flood said: “It’s good that Defence staff will keep their workplace rights, but line-ball votes like this show just how divisive the Turnbull Government’s approach to bargaining is.
“With more strike action looming across the APS, Prime Minister Turnbull has an opportunity right now to end the division and meet with us to find a sensible solution. The ball is in his court.
“Defence staff have told us they were not prepared to give up the consultation rights in the agreement, particularly when the agency is facing yet another massive restructure and more potential job losses.”
The result means that it’s back to the negotiating table but Department of Defence Secretary Dennis Richardson made it clear in an internal email to staff today that his his hands were tied – there will be no improved offer – and he had to abide by government policy.
“I would note earlier advice that the offer just voted on was the best possible within the framework of the Government’s Bargaining Policy,” Mr Richardson said. “We would welcome, however, any constructive suggestions within that framework. We will seek to work through the next steps as quickly as possible.”
The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) had roundly condemned the offer and encouraged the Department’s 18,000 public servants to knock back a front-loaded pay rise of 6 per cent over three years – with no back pay to compensate for the two-year bargaining impasse – calling it “paltry” but the vote was nevertheless incredibly close.
“When the pay quantum is properly calculated from the nominal expiry date of the current agreement it equates to below 1.3 per cent per annum. This is below inflation,” said the Union.
But it was not just the money on the table that was rejected; the Union said the government was planning to strip rights and conditions from the enterprise agreement.
These included: no longer having to consult staff before major decisions, such as relocation or 12-hour shifts are made; removing the right to refuse to work on public holidays a small reduction in performance-based pay increase and removing the right to detailed about proposed organisational and structural, e.g. outsourcing.
The Australian Defence Force (ADF) got a six per cent pay rise over three years in March 2015 after Tony Abbott caved into intense lobbying from Senator Jacqui Lambie and Coalition MPs Linda Reynolds and Andrew Nikolic.
The Defence Force Remuneration Tribunal had set a 1.5 per cent pay rise four months earlier.
Military personnel are not allowed to negotiate wages or terms and conditions. Instead, the quantum of proposed wage rises are jointly determined by the Australian government and the ADF and either approved or rejected by the Tribunal.
The vote comes after the government announced the creation of 1200 new roles last week, following the Defence white paper. There will be 800 new jobs in the intelligence, space and cyber security divisions and another 400 roles in strategic policy, engineering, IT and diplomacy.
However, the government has made it clear that departmental numbers will be capped at 18,000 with a potential for 1,000 jobs being cut.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s own department, the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, rejected their offer from the government on Monday with 68 per cent voting ‘no’ for the second time to a pay offer of 5.5 per cent over three years – less than that offered to staff in other key departments, such as Human Services.
Department of Human Services staff voted by 79.5 per cent to reject their six per cent pay offer last month and ninety-one per cent of staff that voted at the Department of Immigration and Border Protection decisively rejected their pay offer in September last year. Australian Taxation Office staff are also holding out for a better deal.