Human Services ups pay offer to 4.5%, dumps increased hours

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More than 30,000 employees at agencies including Centrelink and Medicare have been offered a marginally increased pay offer by their employer the federal Department of Human Services as enterprise bargaining negotiations grind on.

Human Services said on Thursday afternoon it had offered a 4.5 per cent increase over three years across 2015, 2016 and 2017 and was removing staffing ratio conditions for middle management Executive Level positions that that had been incumbent on its previous offer.

At 1.5 per cent over three years, the general base pay increase is almost a full per cent higher over the third year of the proposed agreement. Human services had started out offering staff just 0.55 percent at the start of negotiations. That third year figure that was then nudged up to 1.15 per cent in February this year.

However the sting in the tail for that offer came in the form of a condition that Human Services could meet an Executive Level staffing ratio of 1:9 over the three year life of the agreement.

In the event the middle management ratio could not be met “a total general pay increase of 3.25 per cent over three years” would come into play, a move that effectively pitted job preservation against a pay increase.

That sting, which was deeply unpopular, has also now been dumped.

“Following staff feedback, this offer is no longer conditional on the department maintaining a workforce profile staffing ratio of one executive level staff member to every nine APS-level staff,” Human Services’ General Manager Hank Jongen said.

“The July 2015 pay offer also includes a performance-based salary advancement for eligible staff of 1.5 per cent per year in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

“Under the 2011-2014 Agreement, those staff who are eligible will also receive up to 2.75 per cent salary advancement in 2015 – before the proposed start of the new enterprise agreement in September this year.”

There are also strong signs that new Public Service Commission John Lloyd is finally giving agency chiefs some much needed wriggle room on what can be defined as a productivity increase after the initial ham-fisted interpretation that was a pure labour cost reduction.

“The Australian Public Service Commissioner advised in April he was able to consider a broader range of productivity initiatives than before,” Mr Jongen said.

“This has allowed us to reassess what productivity initiatives and savings could be included in both the pay offer and the draft agreement, and as a result, many conditions in the 2011-2014 Agreement have been maintained, such as keeping working hours at the current level of 37.5 hours per week and retaining the existing accrual of personal/carer’s leave.”

The definitional debate surrounding productivity has remained one of the biggest irritants between unions, senior public servants and the Abbott government’s industrial relations war horse, Employment and Public Service Minister Senator Eric Abetz.

A major friction point has been that the government’s insistence on pure labour cost reductions as the benchmark of productivity essentially robbed departments of increasing employee output through either technological or systemic innovations.

CPSU Responds

Meanwhile the Community and Public Sector Union has labelled Human Services’ latest offer as an improvement, but still a bad deal.

In a bulletin to members the CPSU said the offer “still falls well short of a fair deal” and that “there are still many issues to be resolved.”

The CPSU’s main problems as communicated to members was that the new offer:
•    Strips rights and entitlements and moves them into unenforceable policy that can be changed at any time;

•    Makes it harder to balance work and family life by removing all rostering and scheduling protections, including right to negotiate employee hours;

•    Cuts part-time rights

•    Removes a DHS employee’s right to be represented by a CPSU delegate

•    Reduces salary advancement from 2.75 per cent down to 1.5 per cent

However the union is adamant that recent industrial action, both in Human Services and across the wider public service is making the government change its position.

“Strong action by CPSU members has seen [Human Services] back down [on] a number of their proposals including, increasing your working hours, increasing the bandwidth and cutting your personal leave.

Another possible factor in the improved offer, particularly the removal of staff to executive manager ratios, is the recent blistering Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) report into Centrelink’s call centres.

The audit revealed that more than a quarter of the calls made to Centrelink’s ‘13’ and ‘1800’ numbers never even made it through to the switch and got a busy signal, while waiting times exploded from 3 minutes to more than 16 minutes.

Of the 43 million calls that didn’t get the busy signal, the ANAO estimated that “around 30 per cent, were abandoned; that is the customer hung-up without resolving the reason for their call.”

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