Australian Public Service staff get 3% wage rise as government pledges end to ‘pay bargaining Hunger Games’

By on 12/10/2022 | Updated on 12/10/2022
Minister for the public service Katy Gallagher said the current disparity of pay and conditions across the APS had led to a “Hunger Games approach to bargaining”. Photo courtesy Australian government, under the CC-BY-4.0 licence

Australian Public Service (APS) staff are to receive an interim 3% pay rise while a longer-term policy that aims to reduce fragmentation of pay and conditions across the service is worked up.

The Labor party – which came to power in May after nine years of Liberal-National coalition rule – had committed to improve APS bargaining as part of its election campaign.

Minister for the public service Katy Gallagher said the current disparity of pay and conditions across the APS had led to a “Hunger Games approach to bargaining”, referring to the novels and films in which characters are pitted against each other in a game of survival. She said “re-engaging with genuine bargaining and establishing the public service as a model employer” was a key focus for the new government under prime minister Anthony Albanese.  

The interim 3% pay rise will apply to all public servants who are due an annual pay increase before 31 August 2023.

The government said the move would ensure public servants “who have worked so hard to support the community during the pandemic and the transition to the new government are not worse off in their pay packets while more comprehensive arrangements are developed”.

It said it “understands the benefits that would result from genuine service wide negotiations on pay and conditions” and that the interim pay deal “creates certainty and consistency” while it develops a process to support that.

It said it would work in partnership with agencies, unions and employees to develop a “comprehensive workplace relations approach” for the APS over the longer term.

“This is a complex undertaking as there are significant differences in pay, terms and conditions across the Commonwealth. The proposed reform will need to include careful consideration and consultation on these matters,” Gallagher said.

‘A new era for the public sector… but rise doesn’t meet cost of living’

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) said it looked forward to working with the Labor government “to deliver a new era for the public sector” and that “a centralised approach to bargaining, job security, and consultation with workers will go a long way to address the damage done by the former government’s bargaining policy and programme of widespread outsourcing and contracting”.

Brooke Muscat, deputy national president of the CPSU, welcomed the interim pay rise but said the union would be pressing for a better deal.

“We do acknowledge that it is an improvement to the previous government’s wages outcomes, but we don’t think it’s enough, we don’t think it meets the rising cost of living… current inflation is sitting around 6%, so 3% is well below that,” she said, as reported by ABC News.

She said the union hoped to negotiate to improve the offer “so that our members get the pay rises they deserve” next year.

Read more: ‘Urgent’ need to streamline Australian Public Service, review finds

The government said that agency specific conditions would be negotiated “at the individual agency level” and that the Australian Public Service Commission would issue guidance for agencies, including the expected next steps towards future arrangements in consultation with employees and their representatives.

Based on Australian Bureau of Statistics labour force and wage data, the interim pay hike would add at least AUS$700m (US$439m) a year to budget costs.

APS employees numbered 247,600 at June 2021 and were paid AUS$23.13bn (US$14.51bn) for that financial year.

Irish unions accept 6.5% public sector pay rise; UK union ballots strike action

Against the backdrop of the cost-of-living crisis, other countries to have recently announced public service pay increases or which are currently engaged in negotiations include the UK and the Republic of Ireland. Unions in Ireland formally accepted a 6.5% pay increase for public sector workers – including civil servants, nurses and teachers – on 7 October. The increase is to be paid in increments over two years.

In the UK, meanwhile, the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) is balloting its 150,000 members – who work in more than 200 government departments and agencies – for strike action over pay, pensions and redundancy terms.

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka described the vote – which comes after the government rejected the union’s demand for a 10% pay rise, a 2% cut in pensions contributions and a £15-per-hour minimum wage – as the “most significant ballot for strike action” in the union’s 24-year history.

At present, civil service pay rises range up to 3%, with departments able to make average increases up to 2%, and a further 1% rise if they can demonstrate the pay would address specific priorities in the workforce.

The PCS said this amounts to a 10% real-terms pay cut, and that some of its members are having to claim the benefits they administer and skip meals or resort to food banks because they can’t afford food.  

In May 2022, a PCS poll of its members found that 81% were willing to take industrial action.

The ballot will close on 7 November, with the result expected to be announced on 10 November.

Read more: Diverse government workforce ‘better positioned’ to adapt to future challenges, says Australian Public Service Commission

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About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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