Labor’s Shadow Employment Minister Brendan O’Connor has finally put Australian Public Service chiefs on notice an election win by his party would immediately junk the current deadlocked bargaining policy and offer a better pay deal.
The declaration by the Opposition creates a fresh headache for agency heads still officially tasked with attempting to secure workplace deals before the commencement of a pre-election caretaker period because it could force them to make an invidious gamble on which political side may win.
“A Shorten Labor Government will remove the Abbott-Turnbull Government requirement that forces agencies to strip rights and we will provide a fair pay outcome that will ensure workers do not go backwards in real terms, unlike the Abbott-Turnbull Government,” Mr O’Connor said in a statement.
It is understood some senior public servants had been hoping attempts to force the divisive bargaining process to a conclusion would be effectively parked by both the Coalition and Labor until after the anticipated July election, giving both the bureaucracy and whoever is elected clear air to reset the deadlocked process.
Mr O’Connor’s statement on Thursday followed an extensive speech by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to the public service the day before which conspicuously blanked the issue of bargaining and strikes and instead painted a broad picture of need for performance improvements that could be delivered by technology.
Mr Turnbull’s speech was interpreted by many as a nuanced signal bargaining parameters would be substantially recalibrated in the event the Coalition is returned.
With an election looming, Labor’s Shadow Employment Minister was not about to let the opportunity of highlighting one of the Turnbull government’s enduring problems slip away.
“Mr Turnbull is blackmailing workers,” Mr O’Connor said.
“Thousands of workers have already lost important workplace rights and many thousands more face doing so as the way out of the Abbott-Turnbull Government’s imposed wage freeze.”
Labor is yet to put a number on what a new pay offer may look like, although the prominent commitment to come up with an offer that is not negative “in real terms” suggests it will need to be at least as good as inflation –which remains at record lows.
A major absence from Mr O’Connor’s pledge is any commitment to back pay, an issue the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) is likely to pursue in the event of a Labor win.
The CPSU immediately welcomed Mr O’Connor’s stand.
“Public sector workers and their bosses will both welcome Labor providing a sensible solution to this two-year bargaining dispute caused by the hard-line ideology of the Abbott-Turnbull Government,” said CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood.
“It’s an absolute mess, with over 120,000 employees still without a new agreement.”
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