Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland

ADJOURNMENT - Australian Public Service

Senator MOORE (Queensland) (19:47): Thank you, Senator Gallacher, for that contribution. Last century, when I was a member of the Australian Public Service, and very proud to be a member of the Australian Public Service, I was also a member of my union, which through a number of iterations became the Commonwealth Public Sector Union, the CPSU. Over those years-and there were many of them!-we went through a number of pay disputes and negotiations around conditions and services, including the difficult transition into an enterprise bargaining arrangement for the Australian Public Service. It was a difficult process because, from the very start, we had to look at enterprise bargaining arrangements for individual departments. But through all of my experience I was never part of the kind of process which is going on in the Commonwealth Public Service today.

As of today, a number of Australian public servants, people who serve the public daily to make sure that we have a safe, secure community, have been going for 1,027 without a settlement to their pay dispute. The enterprise bargaining arrangements cover approximately 165,000 staff across 115 Commonwealth agencies. Their agreements expired on 30 June 2014. As of today, approximately 70 per cent of APS staff in around 55 agencies-that is more than 100,000 workers-have not yet made an agreement. These cover a range of agencies but they are mainly focused on four very large Australian Public Service agencies-the Department of Human Services, the Australian Taxation Office, Defence and the Department of Immigration and Border Force. Senator Gallagher talked about the extraordinary hard work and commitment of workers in that last agency.

The concept of enterprise bargaining was that it would be based on good faith, that the employer, the employees and their unions-the organisations that work for them-would sit around together and work together to ensure that there would be an agreement. From time to time, that caused very robust discussions and, at times, limited industrial action. But for the first time in more than 30 years we are now experiencing a situation where the government-the employer-is not able to come to an effective arrangement that meets the needs of the workers in the agencies.

This is not me speaking as a proud CPSU member; this is me speaking as someone who values the Australian Public Service. The arrangements have gone through the process which we all understand, which is that a proposed negotiation is placed before every single worker in the department-not just union workers but every single worker. Time after time-in some cases once, in some cases twice and in some cases, for agencies such as Border Force, three times-a position has been taken to the workers in those agencies which they have overwhelmingly rejected. That is not because they want to. It is not that they enjoy not receiving a pay rise for over 1,000 days. In that time these workers have not received any increase to their basic wage. Rather, it is because they believe that the offer they have been made does not effectively reflect and respect the work they do and does not acknowledge effectively fair pay for fair work.

It is so important that that issue is made clear. This is not some conspiracy by the unions, saying, 'You must not accept what's coming before you from the government or departmental head of the day.' These are workers who understand their rights. They understand their working conditions. They understand the way that the process operates. And with all the information before them, they have been able to make a clear choice that they do not believe the offer in front of them adequately meets their needs. Why is that? It is because the offer before them caps the pay rise at two per cent per annum, makes no allowance for the gaps since the last pay rise and this is after more than two years of bargaining. That offer tends to work out across the board at about one per cent per annum. We know that that does not meet the cost of living increases that have occurred in that time. It also means that key working conditions and conditions such as the availability of flexible working hours, the times you can work, the way that you can make changes to your working program, the way that you actually can have appeals heard about conditions in your workplace, whether or not you can have your union there to support that you if you choose to have that are being removed from the core agreement and are being placed in policy.

I remember at the last round of Senate estimates I was involved in a number of discussions with some agency heads about conditions such as arrangements for mothers to breastfeed their children. I asked a number of senior departmental heads whether they had conditions around that particular entitlement in their enterprise bargain or in their policy and their answers were mixed-once again, this shows that there are different arrangements in every agency. In one case a particular secretary was not sure and had to find out but then we both found out the answer when he checked it. That department actually had that in its enterprise agreement at that stage but there were moves to put into policy.

The fact is that when something is put in policy, it does not have the clear entitlement that something as a bargain entitlement does. Workers in agencies say that they want to have a number of the core conditions that they value and they want to have them in their bargained outcomes so that there is no room to question them; they are an entitlement. This kind of flexibility around understanding how you work and what your conditions are is based on trust. And the trust built up between the employer and employee, when we are now into the 1,027th or 1,028th day since there has been an agreement, is seriously under threat.

The Australian Public Service is such an important tenet of our democracy-an effective, well-resourced, independent public sector. People who value the Australian Public Service want to ensure that there can be a negotiated outcome. Certainly Minister Cash has been involved through the last parliament and into this one. A number of times the CPSU met with Minister Cash until on 1 May this year when Minister Cash wrote to the CPSU saying she was no longer a bargaining agent and did not have responsibility for resolution of the matter. So what happens now? The employer is in fact the government of the day. The departments are the line managers but of course the employer, as the government of the day, has the ability to cut through and ensure that there is an ability to negotiate effectively around conditions of service.

Public sector workers value their work, they value their community and they value their integrity. They do not seek to take industrial action. Over the last 30 years you can see it has not been an area where there have been massive disruptions to service. But there are elements now where, after the offers on the table have been rejected a number of times, there will be periods of industrial action. This should be an opportunity now for employers, employees and their union to come back together to acknowledge that what has gone on has not been satisfactory, to look at what the workers value in their work, to look at what the employers value in their workforce and then we should be able to get back around the negotiating table, which is the basic process of enterprise bargaining-that we bargain in good faith-and put an end to the immense stress, the worry and also the anger and frustration of a proud public sector, my union the CPSU and the employer so that we can get back on track.

Senate adjourned at 19:57