Taxing week for Turnbull as ATO rejects third pay offer

Tax Commissioner Chris Jordan. Pic: Facebook. 



Tax Office staff have resolutely rejected the federal government’s enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) for a third time, this time by 71 per cent.

Union members at the 19,000-strong Australian Tax Office voted to knock back the EBA, compounding a hellish week for the ATO and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, after the revenue agency’s internal and external IT systems crashed late on Sunday, prompting demands for compensation from accountants.

The ballot follows two other ‘no’ votes at the ATO, a 71.5 per cent ‘no’ vote in May and 85 per cent in December 2015.

It was an important vote the government would have been desperate to win, after recently losing votes at the Departments of Defence, Human Services and Immigration and Border Protection.

Community and Public Services Union National Secretary Nadine Flood said the ballot result, which had a high turnout rate of 83 per cent, was an expression of the ‘real damage’ the Turnbull government had done to the ATO, accentuated by the critical systems failure earlier in the week.

“The Turnbull government has made illogical and short-sighted cuts to Tax, making it easier for multi-national companies and wealthy individuals to dodge paying their fair share and clearly also undermining the integrity of the systems underpinning the agency,” Ms Flood said.

She said the government’s intractable public sector bargaining policy was causing real pain for public servants.

“The Tax Office is one of many Commonwealth agencies that have tried to rush through new agreements before Christmas. The deals offered for the vast majority of those workers have been rejected, reconfirming the Senate inquiry’s recent findings about why this bargaining mess has stretched for three years and why there’s no end in sight.”

Federal Public Services Minister Michaelia Cash has vowed to ignore the report from the Senate’s Education and Employment Committee into Commonwealth public sector bargaining, which labelled the government’s approach “cruel and heartless” and recommended it sit down with unions and start making some compromises.

Meanwhile, the Institute of Public Accountants (IPA) has reiterated its call for compensation after the ATO’s systems were unavailable for up to three days. The tech nightmare meant customer service websites were down, as were many internal processing systems, after a hardware system that was just 13 months old failed.

IPA CEO Andrew Conway said his organisation had raised the unreliability the ATO’s portal with the agency in the past and that the Tax Office was “acutely aware” of the issue.

“Our member feedback has consistently stated that the ATO portal, which is an essential tool of trade for practitioners and agents, has been a constant point of frustration due to the portal’s instability and unreliability,” Mr Conway said.

“We are constantly being reassured by the ATO that it will fix its system going forward and practitioners can expect more robust ATO interactions from the deployment of better technology in 2017.  These reassurances are now falling on deaf ears of our members when the portal goes down for two days this week.”

He said that his members, many of whom were small businesses, had complained “on many occasions” that the ATO’s technological and administrative changes meant that they missed deadlines, lost money and had their client relationships damaged. Their productivity had also suffered.

The IPA is pushing for compensation for its members for the time and productivity lost.

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