Q&A with the Chief Negotiator - Frequently Asked Questions
The Chief Negotiator, Peter Riordan, is hosting 3 APS bargaining Q&A sessions. These Q&A sessions have covered key elements of the APS bargaining package of pay and conditions. Peter engaged with APS employees and responded to questions about the package on offer, the process and unpacked any complex topics. We have summarised below the frequently asked questions from these sessions.
Headline Pay offer
1. How does the headline pay offer compare to recent pay offers for state governments?
Each of Australia’s state and territory public services use different classification structures. It’s therefore not possible to make an easy comparison between the starting positions on pay.
QLD: The Queensland offer is for a 4 per cent base salary increase, and a conditional CPI-linked lump sum payment. That payment is only provided if inflation exceeds the pay offer, and any payment will be provided as a lump sum and not as a base salary increase. The Commonwealth’s offer of a 4 per cent base salary increase is equal with the base salary increase being provided in Queensland.
NSW: While teachers have secured an 8 - 12 per cent pay rise for 2023-24, most other public servants, including nurses have received a 4% salary increase.
There are other sectors, with very different skill sets and different role requirements, offering other pay increases. This will always be the case. The Commonwealth maintains that its pay offer is a fair and reasonable pay increase specifically for the APS.
The Commonwealth offer is forecast to exceed both the CPI and WPI, while ensuring it does not contribute to broader inflation which would only erode the purchasing power of any greater pay increases.
2. How does/doesn’t the pay offer compensate for the lack of wage growth in the APS over the last decade?
We recognise that there has been a lack of recent wage growth in the APS, and that was part of the justification for undertaking genuine service-wide bargaining. One bargaining round won’t be able to remedy changes that have occurred over a decade, but the offer is both fair and affordable.
3. Is the 4 per cent pay offer in 2024 less than the forecasted CPI?
Over the next three years, Treasury forecasts that CPI will be 3.25 per cent in 2023-24, 2.75 per cent in 2024‑25 and 2.5 per cent in 2025-26. The Government’s pay offer is forecast to exceed CPI in each of these three years. The CPI has been higher than usual over the past year, however, forecasts now indicate this is moderating. Government is focussed on ensuring prospective pay increases are fair, reasonable, and in-step with the broader economic forecasts.
4. The accuracy of previous inflation estimates have been questioned, is there a level of certainty that the forecasted figures are accurate?
We are only able to use the forecasts and figures which are currently available. Based on these figures, the pay offer balances affordability, economic conditions and is a comparable market offer.
5. What is the likelihood the pay offer being increased with further industrial action?
We do not foresee the Government making a further pay offer. It is an employee’s right to take Protected Industrial Action, however, it shouldn’t be assumed that doing so would result in a revised pay offer. We believe the current offer is fair, reasonable, and in-step with broader economic forecasts.
6. Just to help us understand this better, as a first year APS5, would I get a 4 per cent rise next year and another one simultaneously for going up a level?
Yes, if you pass your performance progression to move up a pay point next year, you get incremental progression. You’ll also get a 4 per cent pay rise in March next year, this is regardless of your incremental progression.
7. What if there is a delay in approving the agreement? Would there be another 3 per cent determination.
No, there will be no remuneration determination if there is a delay in getting the enterprise agreement up after March 2024.
8. Is the 11.2 per cent pay rise over 3 years applicable to all APS employees regardless of current salary level?
The 11.2 per cent pay rise is applied to an agency’s general pay scale. Employees will see their salaries increase with the pay scale increase. Employees on maintained salaries above their agency’s applicable salary range will be maintained until such time as they are subsumed within the salary range.
9. Did the improvements in flexible work impact the size of the pay offer?
No, the salary increase was not discounted by the improvements to conditions like the flexible working arrangement provisions.
10. What is the pay fragmentation mechanism and how is it addressing pay disparity across the APS?
Pay fragmentation is the difference in salary ranges between APS agencies for the same classification. It can see employees earning more or less than other employees, at the same classification, depending on the agency in which they are employed. The proposed approach in APS bargaining creates a base salary range at each APS classification from APS1 – EL2 and reduces the current average fragmentation from 25 per cent to 13 per cent. Any salary below the minimum will be increased. Any salary below the maximum will reach the new maximum over time through salary progression.
11. Does this result in all APS employees being paid the same?
Not yet, this may occur in future rounds of bargaining but it will be up to the Government of the day. The pay fragmentation model is set up in such a way that it can be re-applied and adjusted over time.
12. Only some APS employees will benefit from the pay fragmentation mechanism, why was this not implemented more broadly?
The approach to addressing pay fragmentation will benefit 83 agencies over the next three years. It’s difficult to estimate precise employee counts because employees are continually being engaged, separating, moving through increments, etc. However we’ve conservatively estimated that nearly 8,000 employees or 5 per cent of the APS will benefit under this approach. Future APS employees will now start on higher salaries than would otherwise be the case and can access higher maximums. Pay fragmentation occurred over decades and it will take time to fix. However these are important first steps.
13. Has consistency in salary advancement within a classification been reviewed?
The Government did consider salary progression and whether there was an opportunity to achieve greater commonality across the service. Some agencies have fixed increments that employees progress through, while other agencies provide a fixed percentage increase each year between a minimum and maximum salary. Due to these significant differences, we weren’t able to achieve that commonality in the current bargaining round. Agencies will be asked to maintain their current arrangements so we can consider the option further in future bargaining rounds.
14. How will pay fragmentation be applied to increments?
The approach to pay fragmentation proposes a minimum and maximum salary threshold for each classification, but doesn’t specifically address increments. This remains a matter for bargaining which we’ll need to work through with each agency individually.
15. Will the agency specific bargaining have a separate pay rise as well?
No. This is to prevent further fragmentation in pay across the service.
16. What is the realignment payment?
Realignment payments are being provided to support employees in transitioning to the common APS pay increase date of 14 March 2024. The realignment payment will compensate you for earnings you would have got between your scheduled pay increase date and the new common pay increase date.
17. When will the realignment payment be made?
You’ll get payment on the anniversary of the agency’s last pay increase, if that date falls between 1 September 2023 and 13 March 2024.
18. How does the realignment payment compensate for any disadvantage employees have in delaying their usual pay rise to March, where they were scheduled to receive an earlier rise?
The lump sum payment is designed to provide an additional benefit to employees compared to their current determination. This benefit occurs because of the difference between the percentage increase of the current determination and the percentage we use to calculate your realignment payment. The realignment payment, is calculated on the year 1 pay increase of 4 per cent, and has a further 20 per cent premium added to it. This means you‘ll get more under the realignment payment than with your ordinary pay increase.
19. How is my super impacted by the realignment payment?
The treatment of the payment for superannuation purposes may also differ by agency and by APS employee’s individual superannuation arrangements.
If an employee’s superannuation salary is determined using the Ordinary Time Earnings methodology, it is likely the realignment payment will attract a superannuation payment consistent with relevant legislation, fund rules, and industrial instrument requirements.
If an employee’s superannuation salary is determined using the Fortnightly Contribution Salary methodology (including employees in defined benefits schemes), it is unlikely the realignment payment will be reflected in an employee’s applicable superannuation salary.
Local HR Teams will be able to answer questions from APS employees about the calculation of these payments and discuss their individual circumstances.
20. Will the realignment payment be taxable?
Yes, realignment payments will be reported on employee payslips and have appropriate tax withheld.
21. Will superannuation be based on the Fortnightly Contributions Salary or Ordinary Time Earnings?
Agencies currently differ in how they calculate an employee’s salary for superannuation purposes. APS bargaining has not mandated a particular method, but has noted the simplicity and advantages of the Ordinary Time Earnings methodology. Agencies currently using Ordinary Time Earnings will be able to maintain it, and other agencies will be able to potentially negotiate it in Agency-level bargaining.
22. Will the delayed pay increase date impact employees on PSS FAS calculations whose birthday falls 1/9/2023-1/3/2024?
One of the quirks of Fortnightly Contribution Salary as a method of calculating superannuation is that it is only adjusted on an employee’s individual birthday each year. This unusual arrangement has always resulted in employee birthdays falling just before or just after a pay increase. This arrangement will continue for the purposes of the realignment payment.
23. What is being put forward for Superannuation as part of the bargaining?
15.4 per cent is the common super offer. This is a leading super offer in the government sector.
24. Will the Government be introducing the other recommendations from the APSC’s review of the Maternity Leave Act review, including pregnancy leave and surrogacy?
The Government is considering the recommendations of the review. We have received early approval from the Government to implement a select number of recommendations of the review, prior to full consideration by Government and any necessary legislative change. The remaining recommendations in this review remain open, and will be responded to by Government at a later date. The parental leave provisions put forward through bargaining are what we can offer at this time.
25. If I start my maternity leave before the agreement comes into effect on March 1 will I be entitled to the new 18 weeks leave?
Yes you will. You can extend your paid leave to the new entitlements if your agency’s enterprise agreement gets a positive vote and comes into effect within your 24 month parental leave period.
26. What does it mean that there’s no qualifying period?
It means you can work 1 day in the APS and still access the new parental leave entitlements regardless of whether you are a primary or secondary caregiver. Currently the most common qualifying period is 12 months continuous service before you can take parental leave.
27. How is Primary Caregiver defined, for example can a father claim primary caregiver status once a mother has exhausted their paid parental leave allowance and returns to work?
At the end point of this enterprise agreement, each parent will be entitled to 18 weeks of parental leave. In the transitional period before the paid leave entitlements become the same, employees will need to access one of either the primary or secondary caregiver entitlements. In many cases the existing legislation (e.g. Maternity Leave Act) will have a role in determining who the primary caregiver is, simply because this entitlement exists in legislation.
28. Will secondary caregivers be able to access the difference between the 8 weeks and anything they may have been entitled to previously if their child was born pre EA?
As long you are within 24 months after the birth of your child, you can access all new parental leave provisions within that period if your enterprise agreement gets a positive vote and comes into effect. For example, if your baby was born on 1 January 2024 and you are the secondary caregiver, you would be entitled to 8 weeks on commencement of the agreement, and then entitled to a further 3 weeks on 1 March 2025.
29. Can carer's leave be used for several days, requested a few weeks in advance, to visit and care for unwell family who are interstate?
30. Is there any consideration to expand the leave without evidence to increase from 5 days personal leave without evidence?
Yes, it has been expanded to 8 days per calendar year.
31. Regarding Cultural Leave, will all staff now receive the same amount of paid leave and do all staff get an extra day for NAIDOC?
NAIDOC Leave is an entitlement for First Nations Employees specifically. Cultural leave is an extra entitlement for anyone who has particular significant religious or cultural obligations, including First Nations employees.
32. For the purposes of the new Compassionate and Bereavement Leave clauses, can you explain what “someone you have a close personal relationship with” means?
This has deliberately been left open so employees can explain to their manager the relationship. It could be uncles, aunties or close friends, employees will need explain this relationship.
33. What is considered a chronic illness or disability for personal/carer’s leave?
The draft clause provides that a medical certificate can be provided as evidence for up to 12 months where the person has a ‘chronic condition’. This includes a chronic illness or disability. This is at the discretion of your medical practitioner or the medical practitioner of the person you care for.
34. Can you confirm the 12 month sick leave certificate can be used for carer’s leave? For example to attend appointments for a child with disability?
Yes. You’ll need a medical certificate from your child’s medical practitioner.
35. Can we claim back the cost of getting a medical certificate when doctors are charging $20 to $50 gap?
Your agency will not reimburse you, however eligible evidence includes a statutory declaration which can be at no cost to you.
36. In regards to using sick leave for certain appointments, can this be used for appointments during pregnancy?
37. Can you provide more information regarding disability leave?
Disability leave was a claim for a new leave type which was given consideration during APS-wide bargaining. Unfortunately, we were not able to agree to all claims for new leave types in this round of bargaining. Other entitlements, such as improvements to flexible working arrangements and personal/carers’ leave, will be available to assist our colleagues with disability.
38. What are the arrangements for flex/TOIL?
Your supervisor will grant TOIL for additional hours worked once you have worked out TOIL and working arrangements through a discussion, but the new arrangements set the expectation that this conversation must occur. We’ve added in some tighter requirements to ensure people aren’t working too many additional hours, such as asking you to track your hours if you want to access regular TOIL and that you must have a formal discussion with your manager on at least a quarterly basis. The clause doesn’t define additional working hours as a 1:1 arrangement. It does encourage employees and managers to have a discussion to work out what works best for you and the agency. Those with more generous arrangements can keep them.
39. What is the unacceptable ratio of EL TOIL? Such as 1 hour for 10 hours of additional hours worked?
The draft clause doesn’t provide guidance on a ratio of EL TOIL. However, it does provide guidance that there should be a discussion and agreement on working arrangements.
40. Is there any provision to allow ELs flexibility in hours from day to day, with or without TOIL?
You will be able to request flexible working arrangements, including on an ad-hoc basis. Additionally, if you are an Executive Level employee, you will be able to talk to your supervisor and agree on a pattern of hours which is flexible enough to accommodate short-term peaks and troughs in workload. You can request flexible time off consistent with this agreement, subject to operational requirements.
41. How will the new principles for Flexible Working Arrangements apply?
There are a number of aspects to this draft clause that give you more right to request to work from home or ask for a flexible work arrangement such as a 9 day fortnight, job share or part-time. Like many of the conditions in the package, the aim is to try and drive engagement between managers and employees. You and your manager will need to talk about any reasonable business grounds which may impact on this request. If there are reasonable business grounds, your manager will need to suggest an alternative arrangement to try and accommodate your needs.
42. Do the new flexibility conditions better support remote work from overseas? Such as to accompany a DFAT / Home Affairs / Defence officer on posting.
We only considered domestic conditions, international arrangements will be considered through agency-level bargaining.
43. Are the flexible work arrangements still based on the NES? For example, you must have been working for 12 months before applying?
No, you can apply as soon as you start with an agency.
44. If there is no cap on flexible work, will there still be a requirement to submit a business case for your request.
You will need to submit a reason for your request, your manager will need to provide reasonable business grounds to refuse any request. They will not be able to do this without first discussing the request with you, and trying to reach an agreement with you about changes that could be made to accommodate your circumstances.
45. Is there a plan to have all the APS working the same hours per day? Some agency's work slightly longer days.
We have standardised hours for any new agencies created to be 37.5 hours per week. If your agency has more than 37.5 hours, hours can be bargained down to 37.5 hours through agency-level bargaining. If you have less hours, you can keep them.
46. Was there consideration of a working from home allowance? For example, to cover costs related to office supplies/furniture?
Yes, although not mandated, the flexible working arrangements clause includes the option for your agency to pay for equipment to set up your work from home office. This is not an allowance, but would be a reimbursement.
47. Will we be seeing any changes to recruitment in the new agreement or in the future?
This isn’t a matter for bargaining, as it sits in the policy space.
48. If we work for another agency either short term or a permanent move, will all of our leave balances move with us?
Yes, annual leave, personal leave and long service leave would continue to move with you between APS agencies.
49. Noting the 4 day work week was dropped from current negotiations, is there any appetite within the APS to move towards the 4 day work week in the future?
Nothing is ruled out for the future. The issue is that it has not been broadly adopted across the economy, and so there is a lack of data on 4 day work weeks for us to apply it across the service in this round of bargaining. While a trial was also claimed, we were not keen to introduce different entitlements in different agencies while working towards greater commonality. We suspect in future rounds more information and data will be available to make a better assessment.
50. What provisions are considered for standardisation? How will standardised conditions be rolled out or rolled back within agencies?
We have 94 provisions considered all up. Currently we’ve landed on about 40 common matters. Nothing will be rolled back as a result of APS-wide bargaining for common conditions. Agencies will need to implement them as the new enterprise agreements are voted up by employees and come into effect.
51. How is bargaining ensuring agencies don't lose benefits/conditions through the standardisation process?
We’re working with all agencies, and your representatives to make sure this doesn’t happen. This approach has helped us pick up on any inconsistencies between existing conditions and matters up for commonality.
52. With the growing pay disparity of STEM related private vs public remuneration, will special conditions for STEM be provided to entice and retain skilled APS STEM staff?
Unfortunately we couldn’t address everything in this round of bargaining, and a separate pay structure for STEM roles wasn’t able to be accommodated. We believe the flexible work arrangements, parental leave arrangements and pay work together to offer a competitive package. We also are revisiting professional qualifications to see if we can offer something more in this space, this is still being discussed with bargaining parties.
53. In respect to the inclusion of old clauses (from former EAs), how does this interact with claims that were not supported in Part A?
Agencies in agency-level bargaining may negotiate to include in their enterprise agreement existing entitlements (excluding procedural matters) which were previously in an enterprise agreement and are currently located in policy.
54. Is purchased leave in this agreement?
No. Entitlements vary considerably so it has not become a common condition in this round of bargaining. Your agency may bargain to include purchased leave arrangements in your agency enterprise agreement.
55. Is there going to be a review of the classification levels, some people feel they are working at a higher level than what they are currently classified as?
Agencies are required to apply the work level standards through legislation. Classification issues will be a topic on the agenda for the proposed APS-wide consultative committee.
56. Why was the matter of professional streams rejected in APS Bargaining?
Claims for professional streams were considered in this round of bargaining. Ultimately, the focus of the Commonwealth has been to address the disparity in this lowest paid employees and bring them closer to the payment that other APS employees have. It is not possible to address all pay issues in this round of bargaining. Professional specialist employees will receive the same pay increases and improvements in conditions as other employees in this round of bargaining. Further consideration is being given to reimbursement for conditions to benefit professional specialists, such as reimbursement for professional qualifications.
57. What happens if the offer is rejected?
If some agencies vote yes and others vote it down, what happens next will be a Government decision. However, matters negotiated in APS bargaining can’t be changed at the agency-level unless there are exceptional circumstances. The pay offer cannot be changed by agency-level bargaining.
58. Why was the Christmas shutdown not considered in Part A, when agencies like Defence can offer it?
Christmas Closedown already exists in most agencies, and where it does not currently exist, many agencies have an equivalent entitlement instead, such as additional annual leave. If your agency does not have a Christmas Closedown between Christmas Day and New Years Day, or equivalent entitlements such as additional annual leave, your agency is able to bargain with you to provide this.
59. Can there be some agencies with an EA and vote no? How will those agencies without a yes vote be managed?
A current enterprise agreement remains in place until replaced or terminated, even if it has passed its nominal expiry date. Therefore, if employees do not vote yet to a new agreement the current agreement will remain in place with its current terms and conditions. The pay and conditions bargained as part of APS-wide bargaining will not apply to that agency unless there is a yes vote from the majority of employees who vote.
60. As part of the implementation phase for the APS-wide EA, will training be given to supervisors including the SES to ensure a consistent interpretation and application of the conditions of service? What assurance will staff have that their requests for leave/entitlements are considered favourably?
Your Senior Executive Service and Agency leaders have worked with Mr Riordan throughout this process and understand the intent of the clauses built through APS-wide bargaining. The EA will be legally binding on the agency and its employees.
61. Will I be given the opportunity to read the APS Bargaining Common Conditions in full before I vote?
Yes, we will release the Statement of Common Conditions which will include the full clauses and details before you vote.
62. Do you think too many issues have been pushed to agency-level bargaining?
No, many have parameters in which they can negotiate to limit impacts to commonality and to make things easier.
63. Can you give more information on 'vaccinations'?
Yes, it includes flu vaccinations each year at no cost to APS employees. If your agency requires you to have other vaccinations to do a particular job, you will also be offered these at no cost.
Watch the recording
Watch a recording of the sessions here.