A number of government workers employed at Services Australia will be holding a series of strikes.
This comes in the wake of mounting frustrations among Australian Public Service (APS) employees who claim their wages have failed to keep pace with inflation.
These labour actions, involving public servants from various APS sectors, are driven by deep-seated discontent with their salaries.
Despite the recent APS pay offer, which includes an 11.6% compounded salary increase over three years, workers argue that it falls short of making up for previous real wage cuts.
While the offered pay raise surpasses inflation projections for the coming years, it has not quelled the dissatisfaction among the 170,000-strong APS workforce.
The underlying issue
A broader issue underlies this dispute: the belief that federal public servants are being undervalued financially, a notion that is is substantiated by historical research.
Studies conducted in the 2000s by remuneration experts Mercer revealed that, with the exception of junior positions, most public servants were being underpaid when compared to their counterparts in the private sector.
Mercer's analyses, which were commissioned under both Coalition and Labor governments, factored in the complexity of APS roles, workloads, managerial responsibilities, and more.
The findings consistently indicated that median private sector salaries for comparable roles exceeded the median APS pay, often ranking APS salaries in the bottom 25% of salaries paid to similar private sector employees.
While no comprehensive market comparisons have been conducted since Mercer's last study 12 years ago, it is evident that successive governments have made minimal efforts to bridge the salary gap.
Although replicating Mercer's work with current data is challenging due to a lack of private business data access, employment data from the Public Service Commission suggests that, in 2021, APS staff continued to be paid less than other Australians with similar qualifications and age.
The issue of pay is further complicated by factors such as job security and meaningful work, both of which public servants highly value.
The labour situation
However, amidst today's low unemployment rates and intense competition for skilled workers, the Labor government faces significant hurdles.
It seeks to attract private-sector contractors hired under the previous government into the APS, but many of these contractors are dissatisfied with the current salary offerings.
Additionally, the government recognizes the need to expand its recruitment efforts beyond Canberra to secure the next generation of APS staff.
Recruitment hubs have been established in Newcastle, Darwin, Townsville, and Launceston to address this concern.
Moreover, the problem of pay fragmentation within the APS persists, leading to significant disparities in salaries for employees doing similar work in different agencies.
In light of these complex challenges, there is a growing call for the government to reevaluate public servants' salaries comprehensively, considering factors such as job roles, responsibilities, and market conditions.