Lessons from across the ditch on our public services
It may seem like a Herculean task, but the PSA is investigating the possibility of moving towards common employment conditions across the public service.
To help us on our journey towards this goal, we recently hosted Karen Batt and Wayne Townsend from the Victorian branch of the Community and Public Sector Union/State Public Service Federation (CPSU/SPSF) Group – one of the largest trade unions in Australia.
Karen and Wayne addressed a number of audiences in Auckland and Wellington, including PSA delegates and staff, Members of Parliament, representatives of the State Services Commission and other unions; sharing their lessons from the CPSU/SPSF’s own journey towards gaining a set of common employment terms and conditions of all public service workers, which they achieved in 2004.
The employment conditions of Victorian Public Service workers were significantly weakened during the 1990s as the Kennett Liberal Government made thousands of workers redundant, and imposed non-negotiable individual employment agreements on remaining workers. However, with the election of a Labor government to the state in 1999, the union gained political support for the establishment of a single employment agreement across the Victorian public service. It took five years to get there and huge amounts of hard work – both the union and the government provided dedicated resources to the project – and in 2004 the Victorian Public Service Agreement was signed. The initial agreement covered 24 public service agencies and departments and was expanded in 2016 to cover 39 agencies and departments.
The benefits of a single employment agreement are compelling: as well as enabling the consistent application of new improved terms and conditions, a core objective of the single agreement has been to rebuild a career public service. Public servants are now able to shift between agencies without any loss of employment terms and conditions.
Importantly, the introduction of a common set of terms and conditions for all public service employees has also benefited the machinery of government. The ease with which workers can move between positions and agencies has led to a more flexible and a more responsive public service.
The Victorian experience is a good example of the steps we can take to make our public service more responsive, flexible and innovative. It demonstrates that common employment conditions are a tangible step that current and future governments can take to eliminate institutional and administrative barriers between agencies that too often hamper innovative ways of working.
We also know that great efficiencies can be gained – for public service workers and for the state – if we don’t have to negotiate different collective agreements for individual public service agencies.
We have a long way to go in achieving common standards across the public sector, but with baby steps, and with the help of our Australian friends, we hope to make progress.