69 public service no-votes but women are the real losers

Policy working well: Australian Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd. Photo: Jay CronanPublic servants have rejected the Coalition’s tough industrial relations rules 69 times since 2014, as a Senate committee prepares to investigate the three-year bargaining saga.

But women working in the Australian public service have emerged as the big losers, according to Canberra-based workplace academics.

As the Senate’s education and employment references committee prepares for its first public hearing in its inquiry into the bargaining round, Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd has revealed in his submission that government workforces had rejected enterprise agreements developed under the policy 66 times since 2014.

Mr Lloyd argued in his submission that the policy was working well, and noted that agreements in 16 agencies were accepted at the second or even third time of asking.

“Enterprise agreements have been finalised in 65 agencies, with 69 agreements being accepted by employees. Fifty-four of these agreements have been accepted since the current bargaining policy has applied,” the Commissioner wrote.

“This demonstrates that the current policy is enabling agencies to make agreements with their employees.

“Since the 2016 federal election, 13 out of 19 agreements put to a vote have been accepted by employees.

“Sixty-six agreements have been voted down in 48 agencies during this bargaining round.”

Since Mr Lloyd’s submission was compiled there have been yes votes at Cancer Australia and, controversially at the ABC while workers at the CSIRO and the Department of Immigration and Border protection have voted no.

On Tuesday, public servants at the Fair Work Commission voted by a margin of 67 per cent to reject a deal, taking the total number of rejected proposals to 69.

The Department of Human Services has a ballot under way and Agriculture will vote next week after a union challenge in the Fair Work Commission to the holding of the ballot failed.

In their submission to the committee, University of NSW workplace academics Sue Williamson and Michael O’Donnell say they are worried that the bargaining policy’s rough edges were being felt most keenly by the public service’s women.

“Gender equality or flexible working arrangements clauses have also been amended – or removed – from agreements, to the future detriment of employees,” the academics wrote.

“Some agencies have reduced important part-time working provisions.

“For example, one agency has amended the relevant clause in their agreement so that employees no longer have the right to work part-time on returning from parental leave.

“Instead, the ability to work part-time is dependent on managerial discretion.

“Yet another clause removes the requirement for managers to provide written reasons for their decision on an application for an employee to work part-time and also removes a principles-based clause that part-time employees should be considered for promotion on merit.”

Dr Williamson and Professor O’Donnell told the committee that Australia has one of the highest rates in the OECD of women working part-time yet some agencies wanted to change part-time work provisions to the detriment of female employees

“Research we have undertaken on APS bargaining suggests that the current round of protracted enterprise negotiations is likely to be damaging employee morale,” they wrote.

“This may be resulting in lower productivity – and is likely to be lowering employee engagement, an important prerequisite for an efficient, creative and productive APS.

“In rather more tangible terms, however, the current bargaining round may be resulting in decreased entitlements for employees with a proportionately negative impact on female employees.”

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