The federal Department of Human Services has broadsided the Community and Public Sector Union over the union’s tactics to prolong the contentious enterprise bargaining process, saying that it will now have to review its current pay offer to staff because of a bid to buy more time via a conciliation conference through umpire Fair Work Australia on Monday.
In an apparent breakdown in negotiations on Monday, DHS said that it has now “decided to reschedule our timetable for bargaining and voting on the proposed agreement” and appears to have taken off the table the “redistribution of the $62 million saving from salary advancement that would have been otherwise available.”
The statement by DHS bluntly reasserts the Department’s position that the more time negotiations take, the less money will be on the table. But with a below inflation offer, there was never that much in the first place.
Senior management at DHS and the CPSU have been facing-off for several weeks over the massive department’s below inflation pay offer to the welfare bureaucracy’s close to 30,000 staff that management had been hoping to put to a vote within a fortnight.
Last Thursday DHS officially offered its staff a conditional core pay rise over, three years of, a 1.5 per cent pay increase in year one, 1.5 per cent in year two, and 0.55 per cent in year three.
As of last week, Australia’s official annual inflation rate is now 3 per cent, putting the offer well below the waterline in terms of any realistic increase in take home pay.
Human Services had also attached a 1st September 2014 deadline for acceptance of its first pay offer, a move that realistically had little probability of being accepted by the union.
However a major sticking point has been a clear bid to wind-back conditions like higher duties pay, increase the length of the working say and increase the window of rostering hours.
With the first pay proposal and its deadline now effectively dead in the water, DHS has gone on the attack over the union’s tactics and is now conspicuously returning fire over why negotiations are bogging down.
“Throughout the bargaining process, our goal has been to have a draft agreement for our staff to consider at the earliest opportunity,” said DHS General Manager, Hank Jongen.
Mr Jongen said the latest action by the CPSU came after “six weeks of bargaining discussions, the provision of facilities to union representatives and considerable efforts to provide information and documents – including various versions of the draft agreement and the proposed remuneration offer.”
“Human Services was one of the first departments to start the bargaining process following the release of the government’s bargaining framework in March this year, and the first to make a remuneration offer to employees, despite assertions from the CPSU that we were ‘delaying the process’,” Mr Jongen said.
The battle between DHS and the CPSU is regarded as a key test of the Abbott government’s resolve to substantially recast Australian Public Service workplace conditions and culture ahead of what is expected to be a wider attempt at industrial relations reform should the Coalition win a second term.
A key complaint about the government from elements of the business community, which is agitating for reforms that lessen union influence over pay, awards and conditions, has been that it is too quick to criticise the private sector for acquiescing to union demands, but resistant to leading by example.
With attention so firmly fixed on its negotiations with staff and unions, DHS is playing the straightest of bats in terms of sticking to the official industrial relations script.
“We remain committed to working towards an agreement we can put to a staff vote as soon as possible, and will continue to negotiate with all union and non-union representatives in good faith,” Mr Jongen said.
However the CPSU has hit back hard at DHS management over the cause of the latest breakdown and delays.
“Hank Jongen fails to mention that the CPSU got the proposed agreement late last week and that was the first time [DHS] staff saw it,” said CPSU Natioan Secretary Nadine Flood.
“Human Services is desperately ducking for cover after their industrial smash and grab was exposed in Fair Work yesterday.”
Ms Flood said that DHS staff were “outraged that two thirds of their existing rights will be stripped out of this agreement while their pay goes backwards.”
“For an agency to attempt to rush through an agreement as terrible as this just goes to show that how much pressure the Government is exerting on agencies to impose its radical agenda to cut jobs, conditions and rights,” Ms Flood said.
“DHS was trying to take $62 million from staff that was guaranteed in their existing agreement and then promote it as a pay rise for staff. It is disingenuous and dishonest.”
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