APSC rejects bargaining shift claim, defends own pay offer

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The Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) has hit back at growing speculation that its own pay offer to staff, which is notably higher than deals offered by other agencies, may signal a shift towards relaxing a contentious definition of productivity gains contained its official Bargaining Policy ahead of another wave of strike action by members of the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU).

The CPSU last week called out the pay deal offered to staff at the public service’s own industrial enforcer — which includes a 4.5 per cent pay rise without the winding back leave and other entitlements conditions — as a significant change from offers to other agencies because of what the union’s National Secretary Nadine Flood was the use of workforce cuts over the last 12 months to fund the pay offer.

The APSC’s offer is at the very top end of what other agencies have offered their staff in the present bargaining round with some bureaucrats offered as little as 0.5 per cent a year. A number of other agencies have also tried to marginally extend working hours and prune back some leave and higher duties pay entitlements.

“This is a shift from the previous advice agencies have received from the APSC, as relayed to the CPSU across a number of the 87 active bargaining tables,” Ms Flood said last week.

But the APSC has now moved to try and counter that interpretation, with a spokesperson telling Government News that “workforce re-profiling and business re-engineering or restructuring have been available as productivity offsets for bargaining since the introduction of the Bargaining Policy in March 2014.”

Any notion of a real or perceived backdown by the APSC in the face of prolonged and escalating union action is clearly a sore point as both sides get to the pointy end of negotiations.

“There has been no shift in the government’s bargaining policy,” the APSC spokeswoman said.

“The [bargaining] policy states that “Genuine productivity gains are demonstrable, permanent improvements in the efficiency, effectiveness and/or output of employees, based on reform of work practices or conditions, resulting in measurable savings”. Enterprise Agreements must be funded from within Agencies[’] existing budgets.”

A key bone of contention is a push by the APSC to remove what it calls “restrictive work practices” — language that the CPSU is highly wary of because the union’s suspicion it could be used as a cover to move some employee conditions and rights now written in Enterprise Agreements over to less black-and-white workplace policy.

However the APSC and its head, John Lloyd, have importantly indicated a less constrained approach to acknowledging productivity gains bowled-up by agency chiefs to try and get a deal over the line.

“The Commissioner has advised agencies that he is prepared to consider a broader range of productivity initiatives than had previously been the case, particularly where those initiatives have not been able to be precisely quantified but would clearly result in a productivity gain,” the APSC spokesperson said.

“These would include, for example, removing restrictive working arrangements from agreements which, once implemented, would lead to cost savings, or initiatives to reduce unscheduled absences.”

Meanwhile, the APSC has outwardly defended its proposed pay deal to staff and said the “offer is not unique or unusual.”

The view from inside the APSC is a little more upbeat.

“This is a good pay offer—at the very top of what other agencies are offering,” the APSC wrote to its employees when outlining its bargaining position.

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