Can agencies finalise pay deals in Caretaker period? Er, we’ll get back to you, says APSC

100821: Polling Day Imagery, Adelaide.
pic: Australian Electoral Commission


There are plenty of pitfalls for public servants and their agencies thanks to limitations placed on them through the Caretaker Conventions immediately before an election – but inking a new pay deal or enterprise agreement isn’t usually one of them.

As the odds of a double dissolution election in early July continue to narrow, Australia’s largest public service agencies, and arguably unions, have had a new spanner thrown into the works of bargaining negotiations – whether deals can be done after writs are issued.

It’s a rather curious question that has the Australian Public Service Commission treading very warily in terms of what agencies and departments are being be told, with a definitive position still yet to emerge … despite the clock ticking loudly.

Asked what the APSC’s position is on finalising deals during the Caretaker period, the public sector’s industrial watchdog appears to be buying itself a little time before committing to any definitive answer.

“The APSC will issue advice to agencies regarding bargaining during the caretaker period prior to the period commencing,” a statement from the Commission provided to Government News says, with no further information provided.

With unionised staff at giants like Australian Taxation Office, the Department of Human Services, Defence and a swathe of mid-size and smaller agencies still all holding out (some only just) the knocking-out of the Caretaker period would act to either sharply truncate or extend already protracted negotiations.

Any interregnum is likely to suit the Community and Public Sector Union no matter who is elected later this year.

A re-election of the Turnbull government would likely produce a reset of the present bargaining framework, with many expecting much greater flexibility in terms of the what productivity offsets can be included.

A return to Labor, under Bill Shorten, would give the CPSU a much more influential seat at the bargaining table, with the widely loathed efficiency dividend that took out 14,500 APS jobs would certainly be painted up as a target for attack.

The worst case scenario for the CPSU, although a distinctly remote possibility, would be a Coalition return to power under deposed Prime Minister Tony Abbott.

Those prepared to gamble on backing an Abbott comeback are getting long odds from Australia’s bookies.

CrownBet has Mr Abbott at an unflattering $51 for an election win.

Malcolm Turnbull is sitting on $1.02.

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