Federal public servants hit with union fee hike



It’s a paltry figure that has set tongues wagging about what unionised public servants might ultimately settle for in their year-long dispute with the Abbott government and its industrial hard man Eric Abetz.

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) has – in the middle of the biggest public sector industrial row for more than a decade – gently hiked its dues by 1.7 per cent for the 2015-2016 financial year.

It’s a modest annual rise that few members are likely to object to, given the bare-knuckle negotiations that are looming over conditions and pay after a week of strikes that resulted in walkouts by tens of thousands of public servants across the nation.

Unions, generally, aren’t big fans of performance pay. Even so, the increase extracts between “15 to 55 cents per fortnight” per member according to the CPSU.

The fee hike is being interpreted in parts of the Abbott government as a reflection of where the real waterline is when it comes to inking a new Enterprise Agreement for APS agencies.

The logic (even if optimistic) is rudimentary: unions can effectively only push onto their member’s a fee increase that can be collected via a commensurate boosts in remuneration. Increases over and above pay rises result in even more money being extracted the pay of union members.

“To ensure we can continue to provide the high quality support, advice and representation, the CPSU will be increasing membership fees by 1.7 [per cent] for the 2015/16 financial year, in line with long-standing Governing Council policy,” the CPSU said in a bulletin to members.

“This change is based on movement in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) which showed a 1.7 [per cent] increase in prices between 1 Jan 2014 and 31 Dec 2014.  CPI is calculated by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).”

That may be so, but the government’s negotiators are arguing a similar line when it comes to offering APS staff lowball pay increases that have been left in the dust by New South Wales settling on a 2.5 per cent public service-wide increase as major productivity uplifts from new technology kick-in.

Conversely, the Abbott government has narrowly defined how productivity increases can be measured, primarily setting them out as labour cost reductions rather than increases in the output of individuals.

The present negotiation approach has deeply frustrated younger, more progressive and ambitious sections of the Coalition who believe the public service can attract a broader range of talent from private industry that is more outcomes focussed and can impart much needed innovative or “agile” practices into agencies that would otherwise be too conservative to question existing models.

A frequent complaint is that top talent is now drifting to state agencies because of the federal industrial malaise, and that the kudos of working for a Commonwealth agency has been badly diminished.

Another major issue is that as Commonwealth pay rates stagnate, they become conspicuously less competitive with private industry over time, especially where technology and web-based skills are concerned.

The fear is that that a readily available talent pool sufficiently hungry for success is being squandered as negotiations remained deadlocked.

Meanwhile the CPSU, which has dined-out on understaffing problems at agencies like Centrelink that resulted in more than a quarter of calls to the agency getting the engaged signal, has broken down how it spends its own money.

According to a spending chart more than 67 per cent of spend goes on “organising and member services.”

It could be money well spent given that the CPSU has been reported as saying around 12,500 have joined it despite more than 17,000 public servants recently exiting Commonwealth employment.

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