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APS Bargaining Trends
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HR and IR practitioners in senior roles in the private and public sectors before joining HBA Consulting.
This means that we understand how the advice and assistance that we give
can be implemented in the workplace, and what the employer needs to consider to
realise the best possible outcome while managing any associated risks.
CURRENT APS BARGAINING TRENDS
According to the statistics provided by the APS Commission, updated on 20 April 2021, under the government's 2018 and 2020 workplace relations policies, 79 APS and non-APS agencies received the APS Commissioners approval to make a determination to provide pay increases to employees in place of bargaining for a new enterprise agreement.
In contrast, 58 APS and non-APS agencies entered bargaining, with five agencies currently in bargaining.
What does this mean?
Many agencies have opted to go down the determination path as it offers a simpler and less disruptive option to facilitate pay increases to staff. However, it is important to remember that the determination option also leaves the agency exposed to risk of protected industrial action due to the expiry of the agency’s enterprise agreement.
With an impending federal election and several of the largest APS employers operating on expired enterprise agreements, coupled with the recent decision to align pay increases to the wage price index (currently sitting below the prior 2% threshold), the scene is set for a potentially adversarial environment, providing unions with the opportunity for a strong united front.
Has bargaining reached a stalemate?
“the scene is set for a potentially adversarial environment, providing unions with the opportunity for a strong united front”
Q: Do we know what the unions are thinking?
A: In our opinion, a recent CPSU publication appears to have all but confirmed a planned and coordinated approach identifying the exposure of many of the APS’s largest departments. The CPSU describe an impending opportunity for a coordinated campaign across the federal public sector, commencing late 2022; reminding members that their bargaining rights under the Fair Work Act are not impacted by a public service determination.
WHAT CAN BE DONE TO MITIGATE THE RISK?
We are often called upon by government agencies to advise on options and strategies relating to bargaining under the current Workplace Relations Policy. A standard risk mitigation strategy where bargaining is occuring post the existing agreements nominal expiry date is a simple and effective Industrial Action Management Plan. Such a plan is even more critical where agencies have opted for a s.24(1) Determination to supplement an expired agreement.
However, an Industrial Action Management Plan where Determinations are in place require a more strategic, coordinated and pragmatic approach than what we have seen more generally across the APS. Awareness of the wider APS environment will shape analysis of the risk and an agencies ability to pro-actively manage the strategic ramifications of any industrial action campaigns.
An obvious consideration will be whether to negotiate a new enterprise agreement under the current government policy. However, it is this policy that the unions have consistently lobbied against previously. And this initial position has been amplified following the latest policy variation which links increases in wages to the private sector wage price index as published each quarter, introducing uncertainty as to the amount of future increases across the life of an EA. It is likely that unions will take advantage of this ambiguity and assumed risk associated with signing up to a three or four year agreement providing unknown opportunity for wage growth. While union membership is considered to be generally low across the APS, we suggest that it would be unwise to simply disregard out of hand the broader influence union messaging can have on staff more generally.
HBA have expert human resource and industrial relations practitioners, many having worked in senior executive roles across the public sector. We find this experience, coupled with our ability to understand, analyse and develop organisational specific approaches that take into account the strategic, tactical and operational level (so not just what to do and when but also how) sets us apart from most other HR/IR firms
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