APS bargaining

In August 2013 the APSC confirmed that it would move to recentralise the negotiation of core APS wide working conditions under one agreement, as part of the upcoming round of negotiations for APS enterprise agreements expiring on 30 June 2014.

Government is still to finalise the bargaining framework for those negotiations but agencies should be mindful of the potential impact of centralised negotiations as they commence consultation and prepare their bargaining strategies.

The obvious question is how will a centralised negotiation process work in practice and what working conditions will the APSC target for centralisation?

Why the move to centralise bargaining?

The proposal to move back to centralised negotiation marks a significant change from the process to date, where agencies have largely been left to conduct their own enterprise bargaining negotiations with employees.

One explanation for recentralising negotiations is that it reflects the APSC’s belief that recent changes to public service governance allow it to treat the APS as one workplace. It might also be used as an opportunity to address concerns about inequality in key areas such as wages across the APS.

How will centralised bargaining work?

Little detail is available on how the process will work or what areas will be brought back under central control. Much of that will, we expect, be determined only once the incoming government has determined its policy in this area.

Likely candidates for centralised negotiation however are wages, working hours, redundancy and redeployment provisions. Agencies would then, presumably, be left to negotiate the balance of working conditions directly with their employees.
Similarly, there is uncertainty about whether the core conditions will be contained in one agreement that is binding on all agencies, or simply negotiated at a central level and then imposed on agencies to incorporate into their individual agreements with the balance of working conditions.

Practical issues with centralising bargaining

Two issues with a centralised bargaining process are readily apparent:

  • It is unlikely that all 115 agencies with agreements due to expire on 30 June 2014 will be represented at the central negotiation table. Agencies will need to coordinate their positions carefully and be able to work together, particularly smaller agencies, who may otherwise find themselves battling to be heard at the negotiation table.
  • Given the current economic climate, the government of the day is unlikely to offer significant concessions on centrally negotiated conditions. Public sector unions are likely to want concessions at the agency level to off-set this.

Things you can do now

  • Work through this checklist to ensure your agency is prepared for bargaining:
  • Conduct thorough consultation with staff prior to commencing bargaining
  • Consider composition of the bargaining table
  • Educate executive and staff about the role of bargaining representatives
  • Benchmark against other agencies
  • Identify areas where you would like to increase productivity
  • Seek advice about conditions you would like to trade off against wage increases
  • Consider what might be confidential information that need not be disclosed during bargaining
  • Check resourcing to ensure you are able to comply with the good faith bargaining obligations
  • Engage a trusted advisor to assist you with any technical or procedural issues as they arise.

For further information please contact:

Jennifer Wyborn — Partner — Employment Industrial Relations & Safety
(02) 6279 4328
jennifer.wyborn@meyervandenberg.com.au