Canberra bureaucrats draw up redundancy battlelines

By Julian Bajkowski

Thousands of federal public servants hit by Machinery of Government (MoG) changes after the Coalition’s election victory earlier this month could have to wait until the May 2014 Budget to find out whether they keep their existing pay and condition – or even their jobs.

The rollover of the APS’ enterprise agreements at the end of this financial year is shaping up as a key battleground between public service staff and the new government after the Canberra arm of the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) commenced a reinvigorated recruitment campaign to snap up new memberships and renewals of the back of fears over job cuts.

The end-of-financial year date is a critical time for both the union and the incoming government because it is the point at which transitional arrangements for displaced staff covered by existing industrial instruments are likely to be reset under a new enterprise bargaining agreement.

The preservation of existing pay and conditions for staff whose agencies have been abolished or absorbed into other departments is being closely guarded by those who are potentially affected because the rates and entitlements normally flow into calculations on which redundancy or severance packages offers are made.

Although the Abbott government has previously pledged that it will eliminate around 12,000 positions though natural attrition, there is a growing anticipation within departments that the government may ultimately have to resort to voluntary redundancies in the first instance followed by sackings to make its numbers work.

However it is understood that so-called ‘hard heads’ in the Coalition are wary about offering voluntary redundancies because they are usually snapped up by senior staff at the upper end of pay scales who are likely to be quickly re-employed by industries that sell into government.

Veterans of the Howard-era mass sackings and successive outsourcing waves are believed to have cautioned that the budget savings from job cuts could be squandered if the Abbott opts for voluntary redundancies because of the cost of replacing lost corporate knowledge coupled with big payouts – and less productive staff remaining.

However the so called ‘tough love’ approach, where staff are selected for termination, could bring the government into direct conflict with the CPSU and potentially prompt industrial action that would damage already delicate relations with public service chiefs.

Some of the agencies immediately affected by the recasting of departments include AusAID where around 1500 staff are being swallowed by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Also being abolished are the Department of Regional Australia, Local Government, Arts and Sport and the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism where functions are being absorbed by other departments.

The Australian Public Service Commission, which is effectively the bureaucracy’s industrial umpire, is trying to keep negotiations on an even keel and this week issued an official circular citing determinations on how transitional arrangements for public servants will work.

“The Determinations provide that as an interim measure, all employees who are to be transferred because of the Machinery of Government changes announced on 18th September 2013 will continue to have the same terms and conditions of employment (including remuneration) as they had immediately before the making of the AAOs on 18 September 2013,” the APSC circular said.

“In effect, this means that there will be no immediate change to the terms and conditions which apply to these employees as the provisions of Public Service Regulation 8.1 will not apply. In the case of an agency that has been abolished this will mean that terms and conditions of its former employees will continue to be preserved even though the agency itself has been abolished.

“This will give agencies time to work through the implications of receiving employees covered by agreements with potentially significantly different terms and conditions to those of the gaining agency,” it said.

For its part, CPSU is holding the line on pay and conditions not being watered down under the new arrangements, especially if staff sent from one agency to another are on different pay scales.

“These issues will have to be resolved in bargaining where bargaining parties will have to try to negotiate common pay, conditions and entitlements.

To ensure that we are able to protect the best possible pay, conditions and entitlements, and that some employees do not have to end up going backwards, we need a strong union,” the CPSU said in a bulletin to members.

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