Chapter 3: Base Salary
Base Salary is an employee’s full time equivalent annualised salary. It includes salary sacrifice amounts such as pre-tax employee superannuation contributions made via salary sacrifice arrangements. It excludes bonuses and other benefits.
The weighted  median Base Salary movement from 2019 to 2020 was 0.8% for the whole of the APS, reflecting a weighted median increase of 0.8% for non-SES employees and a decrease of 0.1% for SES (refer Appendix: Table 1b).
These figures reflect the Australian Government’s decision to suspend or defer remuneration increases for Commonwealth public sector employees in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
All SES remuneration increases were suspended from 26 March 2020. This continued until June 2021. The suspension applied to general wage increases and performance advancement through salary scales.
From 14 April 2020 non-SES general wage increases were deferred by six months from the intended date of the increase. A large proportion of agencies (42) had a wage increase that was scheduled in 2020 deferred to 2021. This included Services Australia, the Australian Taxation Office and the Department of Defence which make up 45% of employees. Another nine agencies did not provide a non-SES wage increase due to having exhausted all increases under an existing employment instrument prior to 2020.
In total 51 agencies, covering 62% of non-SES employees, did not provide a wage increase to non-SES staff in 2020.
Non-SES employees that had not reached the top salary increment for their classification continued to receive performance advancement through salary scales. This was influential in the higher Base Salary movement for non-SES when compared to SES. SES employees who were normally eligible for performance based salary advancement did not receive this following the suspension of remuneration increases from March 2020.
Base Salary by classification
Table 3.1 shows percentage changes in median Base Salary by classification from 2019 to 2020.
The highest median movement was at the APS 1 classification which increased by 6.1% followed by the EL 2 classification which increased by 1.6%.
The Graduate, APS 2, SES 2 and SES 3 classifications had median decreases of 0.2%, 1.4%, 0.5% and 0.2% respectively. There was nil movement at the SES 1 classification.
Table 3.1 Base Salary by classification, 2019 and 2020
Base Salary Trends
Figure 3.1 presents a comparison of median Base Salary by classification in 2016 and 2020. These are nominal figures, not adjusted for inflation. While all classification levels have seen increases over the period, the pace of change continues to vary. The highest percentage increase was 10.6% at the SES 3 classification. The smallest percentage increase was 4.6% at the APS 2 classification.
Over the period, movement in Base Salary for SES classifications has remained higher than for non-SES. This reflects some repackaging of motor vehicle related allowances into SES Base Salaries in previous years. As such, these figures should be used with caution. Total Remuneration Package and Total Reward are more reliable long term comparisons.
Figure 3.1 Median Base Salary by classification, 2016 and 2020
Figure 3.2 shows changes in Base Salary ranges by classification from 2019 to 2020. There was variable movement between classifications across percentiles. The difference in movement reflects factors such as performance advancement through salary scales (for eligible employees), promotions, engagements, separations and transfers between agencies.
Figure 3.2 Base Salary range by classification, 2019 and 2020
Of all classifications APS 1 had the highest percentile movements. The 5th percentile, Q1 and median increased by 5.1%, 11.7% and 6.1% respectively. This is most likely due to a large proportion of non-ongoing employees in the lower half of the salary range leaving the classification during 2020. The APS 1 classification had a 29% decrease in headcount, primarily non-ongoing employees. As a very small cohort (343 employees) this classification is easily impacted by these type of factors.
Similarly, APS 2 had the largest decreases of all classifications. The 5th percentile, Q1 and median decreased by 1.7%, 3.4% and 1.4% respectively, with nil movement at Q3 and the 95th percentile. These changes may be explained by the large proportion of newly engaged employees commencing in the lower half of the salary range during 2020. New recruits to the classification decreased during 2019 but increased significantly during 2020.
SES Base Salary generally showed lower movement across percentiles than non-SES classifications. This is consistent with the suspension of all SES remuneration increases from March 2020. Other factors affecting the distribution of Base Salaries within classification ranges include, but are not limited to, the following:
- The negotiation of individual workplace arrangements between agencies and SES employees. For example, some employees may negotiate higher remuneration or a repackaging of remuneration components on promotion or transfer to another agency.
- Different remuneration policy frameworks between agencies, for example, higher or lower remuneration ranges between agencies for the same classification.
- A large increase in the number of promotions and transfers to the SES 3 classification and increases in the number of ongoing engagements and promotions to the SES 2 classification.
 For the purposes of comparisons between non-SES and SES employees, medians are adjusted to account for the number of employees at each level. These are referred to as ‘weighted’ medians. For further explanation refer to Appendix A.1.