I rise to speak about the Public Service pay negotiations that have been dragging on for more than 18 months, creating uncertainty and stress for the 150,000 public servants across Australia.
The negotiations have stalled due to the appalling deals being offered to public servants by the coalition government. The former employment minister, Eric Abetz, was offering public servants no more than a 1.5 per cent pay increase while at the same time trying to slash conditions, remove rights, diminish job security, increase hours, cut super protections, dilute redundancy provisions and reduce take-home pay. As a result, tens of thousands of public servants in large departments rejected these deals, resulting in industrial action across the country. We have seen public servants striking in our airports, at our seaports and at Centrelink offices, just to name a few.
Eric Abetz's hardline approach to bargaining was not at all productive and not at all conducive to coming to a constructive outcome. So when Senator Michaelia Cash was appointed the Public Service minister during the government reshuffle I was hopeful that there could be a breakthrough in the negotiations. We are talking about 18 months here. I was hopeful that Senator Cash would sit down with public servants and hear their concerns.
I have seen reports this morning that the government has decided to relax its tight and unfair limits on Public Service pay rises. I understand that agencies will now be able to offer wage increases of up to two per cent a year. But, given the government's track record on our proud servants of democracy to date, I will wait and see it. I am not holding my breath.
We need to keep this in perspective. This two per cent increase is against what is happening in the private sector. Across the private sector in the year to June, wages rose by an average of 2.2 per cent, and inflation is forecast to rise 2.5 per cent a year in the medium and long term.
Despite the fact that I will wait to see what happens with this two per cent offer, I do take heart from the fact that the government did reverse its unfair decision on a slash to ADF pay—an insulting offer to ADF pay; they were offered a 1.5 per cent increase and the government capitulated in the end after pressure from Labor and settled on two per cent.
During the last 18 months, tens of thousands of public servants have been without an agreement, meaning they have not been receiving any increase at all. Will these public servants be back paid? Reports today suggest that they will not; if not, why not? It has been two years since these people have had a pay rise.
I also understand the cost of the increase to two per cent will have to be met within existing departmental budgets, and this goes to the crux of the issue. Coalition governments have complete contempt for our public servants— our proud servants of democracy—and continually ask our departments to do more with less. The damage done to the Public Service by this government will take a decade or more to fix.