Agreement making takes off in federal PS


Agreement making takes off in federal PS

A new survey into agreement making in the Australian Public Service shows that there is a greater percentage of agreement making than in any other industry, with 94.3% of employees covered by collective deals.


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A new survey into agreement making in the Australian Public Service shows that there is a greater percentage of agreement making than in any other industry, with 94.3% of employees covered by collective deals.


Five years since Commonwealth sector-wide bargaining moved to individual public sector agencies, the federal Workplace Relations Department has released a survey of 88 agencies, designed to tap into experience and revise any parameters necessary to make future agreement making more effective.

The survey, conducted last month and in August, followed up a similar survey two years ago. Conducted by the National Institute of Labour Studies, it also shows that only 5.2% of federal public servants are covered by Australian Workplace Agreements.

This compares with the Australian workforce as a whole, where only 35.2% are covered by certified collective agreements and only 1.8% by registered individual agreements.

Two agencies had their entire staff covered by AWAs, and six agencies - all without Senior Executive Service members - had all their staff employed under a collective agreement. At least 90% of all staff were covered collectively in 61% of agencies, and at least 80% in a further 20% of agencies.

Australian Workplace Agreements

These were most utilised within the SES, with 93.8% of those staff covered in this way. Below SES level, the use of AWAs was highly targeted. For example, 72% of agencies had at least one staff member at the executive level employed on AWAs, but only 14.6% of all staff at this level were employed under AWAs.

This coverage has been extended since 1999, the last round of enterprise bargaining, by 44% of all agencies. Larger agencies and policy or advisory agencies were more likely to have extended the use of AWAs.

Rewarding staff was the most commonly-given reason as to why agencies moved to AWAs. Pay levels on AWAs were higher than under collective agreements, and they were also more likely to incorporate performance pay, have streamlined conditions and focus on the total remuneration package.

Certified agreements

Most certified agreements are still struck with unions under s170LJ of the federal Workplace Relations Act. Non-union agreements (those struck under s170LK), account for only 11.4% of all collective agreements in the Australian workforce generally, but 35% of the APS. This figure has fallen since 1999, when it was 45% and meanwhile union collective agreements have risen from 55% to 65%, despite falling union membership.

Some 88% of agencies now have stand-alone agreements which totally supplant the award, compared with 60% in 1999, which the survey says is a sign of maturity and confidence.

The process of agreement making

Times taken to finalise agreements are becoming much more rapid. In 1999, more than half of all agencies took nine months to finalise - in 2001, that figure had fallen to 26%. Some 37% of all agencies now conclude their agreements in six months, compared with only 15% in 1999. Consultative arrangements seemed to be the biggest single factor in the time process. Almost a third (28%) of all agencies reported the process cost them more than $100,000, with 8% of agencies saying it cost more than $250,000 - a figure the survey says is likely understated.

Wage outcomes were currently averaging 3.9% per year in collective agreements, with 69% of agencies paying between 3% and 4.5%. Those covered by union agreements and stand-alone deals were more likely to have higher wage outcomes.

The top five performance-enhancing provisions in the agreements were:

  • Performance management arrangements and family friendly working arrangements (both 74%);
  • Flexible working hours (61%);
  • Tailoring conditions to agency business (57%);
  • Simplification of leave entitlements (56%).

Relatively few agencies - only 37% - included specific objectives within their agreements, which the survey said sat oddly with the central focus of agreement making and the extensive level of organisational performance monitoring undertaken by agencies.

'For example, 59% of agencies keep records and report upon labour turnover and staff retention, but not one agency includes targets on these in their agreement,' it said.

The next round

Most agencies are soon to embark on the third round of bargaining, and two-thirds indicated the pay/productivity/funding nexus would be the most crucial issue. Most indicated it would be difficult to identify further productivity improvements, and they were at the point of diminishing returns. They also indicated concern about not being able to meet staff expectations on pay increases.

The survey and another report on remuneration amongst non-SES members of the APS can be found on the DEWRSB website 





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