Sunday, December 07, 2014

Public service pay rises over the past decade are 14% above inflation, says Abetz

Pay rises in the Australian Public Service have outstripped inflation by 14 per cent over the past decade, according to the government.

Public Service Minister Eric Abetz produced the figures in Parliament as he renewed his attack on the main public service union, the CPSU, and its approach to the present round of enterprise bargaining talks in the Commonwealth bureaucracy.

The union is taking an aggressive approach to a ballot of 1800 workers at Employment for a new pay deal, hoping to strike a blow in Senator Abetz's own department against the government's hard-line public sector bargaining policy. 

A union bulletin to its members at Employment urges them to reject the minister's "dud deal" that offers 1.4 per cent over three years in return for more job cuts, a longer working day and the loss of other entitlements.

But the minister produced figures to Senate question time on Monday showing that median public-service pay rises since 2004 had totalled nearly 42 per cent while the headline inflation rate for the same period was 28 per cent.

Senator Abetz poured scorn on the union's 4 per cent across-the-board wage claim for 160,000 federal public servants, accusing the CPSU of scaremongering over the crucial issue of public service superannuation.

"The Community and Public Sector Union has been falsely claiming that the government is stripping public servants' rights and conditions," Senator Abetz told the upper house.

"This is incorrect. The CPSU claims that the government wants to cut public servants' super when the contribution rate is actually set by the trustee, a legislative instrument subject to parliamentary scrutiny.

"This is just scaremongering by the CPSU - and what's more, public servants know it.

"The CPSU should cease its scaremongering and posturing and help it members negotiate what small productivity-backed increases are possible, given the mess left by the former Labor government.

"The CPSU should also remind its members that over the last decade, median public-service pay rises outstripped CPI by 14 per cent."

CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood, who is adamant that the superannuation guarantee is under threat, was also on the offensive, urging her members at Senator Abetz's Employment Department to reject the proffered wage deal.

"Attacking the CPSU in the Senate is frankly a bizarre way for a Cabinet Minister to conduct industrial relations policy with his Commonwealth workforce," she said on Monday. "Instead of attacking the CPSU the Minister should be talking with us."

"We have always said that we are happy to sit down with the Minister to sort out this mess he has created but 8 months after delivering Government's bargaining policy he is still refusing to meet with us. But no, rather than talk with us about a sensible solution he has again taken up the megaphone attack."

"The Prime Minister has declared that he has listened to the Defence community on ADF conditions, so why can't Minister Abetz? It's his policy that has launched an attack on public servants' conditions and pay; it is his policy that is pushing workers ever closer to industrial action and yet all he can do is fling insults. It's a bizarre way to behave."

The union leader said Employment staff were particularly alarmed by their department's plan to cut 46 jobs over the life of the agreement to help pay for the wage offer.


Public servant bludgers

Federal public servants who plan to leave their jobs are racking up nearly seven weeks of sickies and other unplanned leave in their final year, according to leaked landmark internal research.

And poor performers fail to show up more than 20 times each year on average, twice the rate of colleagues who do their jobs well, according to an analysis of the hundreds of thousands of sickies and other "unscheduled absences" at the Commonwealth's two largest departments.

With more than 900,000 no-shows in the 2012-2013 financial year, the Australian Taxation Office and the Department of Humans Services are the two worst performers on sickies among the big APS outfits.

The analysis, ordered by alarmed departmental chiefs, busts some of the myths about sickies in the bureaucracy, such as the fabled spike in carer's leave around school holiday time and the "post-public holiday sickie".

But many of the key findings from the research reveal the extent of the problem faced by the Australian Public Service if it is to bring its levels of unscheduled absence into line with that of the private sector.

The ATO research found the public servants least likely to show up to work were those whose time in the bureaucracy was coming to an end.

"On average employees separating from the ATO use around 34 days or over double the ATO rate in the 12 months prior to leaving," the report states.

The research also shows that women in the Taxation Office are more likely to use unscheduled leave than men.

"Female employees use more UPL… than males," the authors wrote.

"This is a long term trend consistent with external research.

"Within the ATO context the gap has narrowed from almost four  days in 2003 to just under three  days for the workforce employed at 31 January 2014."

Both the DHS and the ATO researchers discovered that the more leave the departments' public servants were entitled to, the more they took.

"Increases in annual leave credit entitlements, or changes to make access to leave easier, have been in each instance since 2002 followed by an increase of leave use," the ATO authors wrote.

"The one example of a decrease in annual leave credit entitlements has been followed by a decrease of use."

Workers stuck in the same job for many years were found to be taking nearly twice the amount of unscheduled absence than colleagues who were new to their roles.

"The longer employee cohorts are in one position the higher the average unscheduled absence rates," the ATO researchers wrote.

But in the ATO at least, the researchers found that bureaucrats were less likely to show up on an average Monday than the day after a public holiday and there was no spike in carers' leave during school holidays in either Taxation or Human Services.

Efforts to control unscheduled absence across the service are being stepped up although the Public Service Commission says all the research says there is no "sickie culture" in the federal bureaucracy.

The Canberra Times revealed last month that the Agriculture Department, the third worst performer among large APS outfits on sickies, says it has formed teams to target areas of its operations around the country where the levels of absenteeism are above average.


Low-tax nation a ‘harmful myth’

THE idea that Australians are relatively lightly taxed compared with people in other rich countries is a myth that is making it easier to raise taxes that undermine the nation­’s­ competitiveness in Asia, a new study argues.

The OECD puts Australian governments’ tax take at 26.5 per cent of national income, bless than the unweighted average share of 34.1 per cent among the 34 member nations, a long-term discrepancy that has prompted trade unions, statists and welfare lobbies to argue for tax increases rather than spending cuts to fix the federal budget.

“We are constantly being told that Australia is a low-tax country, but that is a complete myth”, said Mikayla Novak, a senior research fellow at the Institute of Public ­Affairs who wrote the report.

“Adding in compulsory super and private health insurance mandates raises Australia’s effective level of tax,” she added, arguing that they added 4.7 per cent and 1 per cent of GDP respectively to Australian governments’ tax haul in 2011, lifting the total to 32.2 per cent.

The new research comes as former Business Council of Australia chief and National Commission of Audit chairman Tony Shepherd said tax reform was vital to deal with structural deficits and that government spending should be capped.

“Taxes should not be grown to match this profligacy,’’ he told a forum in Melbourne yesterday.

“We should put a cap on the size of government. We recommended that in the commission of audit … about 24 per cent of GDP for the common­wealth seemed to be the right level.

“It’s very important that in reviewing tax we look at the role and reach of government. You can’t look at the revenue side without deciding what you are going to do in terms of what the government actually delivers.”

Ms Novak said her findings were “especially important findings when considering Australia’s economic future’’. “The Abbott government must ignore the calls for even higher taxation,” she said.

“That will only weaken our economic potential and impair future living stand­ards.’’

The analysis also showed Australia’s relative tax take was much higher when compared with nations we traded and competed with, such as those in the APEC grouping of countries.


What to give a child who can't read?

In the state of Victoria, there are approximately 40,000 students in Years 3 to 9 whose reading and numeracy skills are either at or below the minimum standard that will allow them to learn and achieve at school.

These numbers are calculated using the latest results from the National Assessment Plan for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) and school statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics. That there are large numbers of students either barely literate or illiterate - lacking the fundamental skill for educational success, secure employment, and quality of life - is common knowledge and has been evident for some time.

What did the education policy platforms from the Labor and Liberal parties promise Victorian families in response to this enduring and profound problem with literacy and numeracy?

The Labor party promised to build 10 new 'tech' schools, and provide $680 million dollars for building upgrades, plus hundreds of millions of dollars for breakfast clubs, school uniforms, eye-tests and glasses, camps and excursions, and driver training. Only one policy announcement from Labor actually pertained to the core work of schools - teaching and learning - the requirement for all new registered teachers to have completed a course in teaching students with disabilities.

The Liberal party policy platform was even worse in this respect. It expressly acknowledged the lack of improvement in literacy and numeracy results in the state at least since NAPLAN started in 2008, yet proposed no solutions. Instead, it promised $1.2 billion for building upgrades on top of a whopping $4.5 billion in funding for unspecified 'Gonski' funding, plus further millions for first aid training for students, 3D printers, foreign languages, student leadership, school safety grants, and mental health initiatives. Not one concrete policy proposal for improving outcomes for students in literacy and numeracy.

There is no doubt that the quality of school facilities is important, and it is a defensible use of public money, within limits. Some of the other programs, such as breakfast clubs, are also good things but most schools where breakfast clubs are needed are already providing them with community support.

Many of the programs dreamt up by the two major political parties, however, would be difficult to justify for inclusion in a school education budget even if schools were excelling at their core function - education. And clearly they are not. Families in Victoria deserve much better. Let's hope that the Andrews Labor government delivers much more than it promised.


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