Public service bosses in dark on pay policy

Originally published in Canberra Times 17/08/16

Public service departments are stalling on wage talks with their workforces while they wait for a clear lead from the Coalition government on its workplace bargaining policy.

Confusion deepened on Wednesday with the public service minister declaring the government's position clear, after its workplace authority confirmed departments had not been advised of the government's position.

The Turnbull Government went into last month's election locked in industrial stalemate with 100,000 of its public servants amid hope the poll would act as a circuit breaker to the 3-year dispute over wages and conditions.

But departments have conceded they are still waiting for the re-elected government to brief them on its policy approach and the federal workplace authority, the Australian Public Service Commission has confirmed it has not briefed its agencies and would not say when the advice would be issued.

After a quiet period in the wake of the election, the dispute between the government and much of its public service workforce is gathering pace again with Border Force, Immigration and Agriculture officials walking off the job at international airports and other sites around Australia in recent days.

The Community and Public Sector Union has lodged another attempt in the Fair Work Commission to secure an order against public service minister Michaelia Cash over her handling of the dispute, with the minister dismissing the union's action as a "stunt".

But face-to-face talks between unions and departmental officials are beginning again, with the Tax Office negotiations underway in Melbourne on Wednesday and Thursday, despite departmental negotiators operating in a policy vacuum.

CPSU negotiators showed up last week for talks at the Agriculture Department, where workers have voted three times to reject offer made under the Abbott-era bargaining policy, to find the department could not even provide an agenda for the bargaining process and could not indicate when they might be advised by the Public Service Commission.

At Defence, talks are scheduled to re-commence next week but unions say they have already been warned by the departmental counterparts there may not be much to talk about unless political guidance is provided in the next few days.

At the ATO, the Australian Services Union says it was told the revenue agency was slow to get back to the bargaining table, partially as a result of "not having a bargaining position" until it received guidance from the Public Service Commission, which it was hoping to get by August 17.

Public Service Commissioner John lloyd was unable to shed light on when the government's positions might become clear.

"Advice will be provided to agencies on bargaining in the near future," he told The Canberra Times.

In a press release attacking the CPSU and published on Wednesday, public service minister Michaelia Cash said the government's position was clear.

"The Government's position is clear," Senator Cash's press release read.

"The 2015 Workplace Bargaining Policy remains unchanged.

"Agencies will continue to be able to offer wage increases averaging up to 2 per cent per annum, with costs to be met within existing budgets."

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