They argue any increase will hurt job prospects in an economy already reeling from bushfires and coronavirus. But the Australian Council of Trade Unions wants a 4 per cent rise, arguing it will stimulate the economy and support poorly-paid workers when the virus recedes.
Minister for Industrial Relations Christian Porter said the ACTU had made a “pre-coronavirus” submission that did not reflect a new reality. But he has also called for employers and employees to work together, saying cooperation is the “key” to getting the economy through the crisis.
Brooke Muscat-Bentley, deputy president of the public sector union representing Home Affairs employees, said the department’s move to start work on the next pay deal smacked of “opportunism” and that her members were focusing on the coronavirus.
“Our members need time to consider these changes, our message is clear, now is not the time,” Ms Muscat-Bentley said.
The existing deal only expires in February next year but the department has set up a timetable for its employees, who work at airports and ports around the country, to decide whether they want to accept the department’s initial offer by the end of April.
That would mean a 2 per cent annual pay rise and the same conditions under a “determination” — a legal mechanism that can only be used before formal negotiations start on a wholly new pay deal.
Ms Muscat-Bentley and the Community and Public Sector Union want to bargain with the department for additional conditions for its more than 14,000 workers under a new deal.
A spokesman for the department said that process needs to start now to ensure there is enough time for formal negotiations to happen by February if staff reject the roll-over offer. Should negotiations continue past February the existing deal will hold in place.
The department is providing “staff information sessions by live stream” to keep its employees informed, the spokesman said.