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ATO public servants vote down wage deal hours before bosses get pay rise

A new wage deal for ATO employees has been crushed in a staff ballot.

A new wage deal for ATO employees has been crushed in a staff ballot. Photo: Andrew Quilty

More than 200 bosses at the Australian Taxation Office will score a 3 per cent pay rise next month.

The generous wage hike for the agency’s senior executives was announced just hours after a wage deal, averaging 2 per cent a year, for tens of thousands of rank-and-file public servants at the ATO was crushed in a staff ballot by a margin of 85 to 15 per cent.

Tax commissioner Chris Jordan used his discretion to approve the pay rise for the executives in the wake of the all-time-high “no” vote, in a move that looks set to be seen as a provocation by many tax officials, whose pay has effectively been frozen since 2013.


“I have considered the general productivity gains we have made over the last 12 to 18 months, including matters specific to the SES, and am satisfied that a pay increase for SES is affordable within our current budget constraints,” Mr Jordan wrote to his executives on Thursday afternoon.

The landslide no vote is a blow for the Turnbull government, which had been inching closer to settling the long-running pay dispute with much of the federal bureaucracy.

Second tax commissioner Geoff Leeper told his staff on Thursday the result would send both sides back to the bargaining table and that a settlement was unlikely for several months.

“In terms of ‘what now’, there was general consensus at the last bargaining meeting that if this was the outcome, given the Christmas leave period it would be unrealistic to do anything formal until early February,” Mr Leeper wrote.

“It is difficult to see how there could be another vote until at least well into March.”

But Public Service Commissioner John Lloyd struck an optimistic note, while warning workers that better deals were not going to be on offer.

“Enterprise bargaining is proceeding satisfactorily,” Mr Lloyd said.

“The current position is that 28 agreements have now been supported following ballots by employees.

“Employees should recognise that the essence of the rejected offers will not be changed.

“All the rejection means is that pay increases are delayed and the renegotiation of the agreement after this one is pushed further into the future.”

But unions were quick to seize on the ATO result, and the earlier wafer-thin no vote at the Agriculture Department, to declare the government’s bargaining policy was in deep trouble.

Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Nadine Flood said the policy was a mess while the Australian Services Union said the result would force Mr Jordan back to the bargaining table.

Earlier on Thursday, a new wage deal for more than 4400 public servants at the Agriculture Department was rejected by just 62 votes.

The department’s bosses were expected to have got their proposal over the line with an improved wage offer and by cutting a separate deal with the department’s most militant group of workers, the meat inspectors.

But Agriculture’s staff were told on Thursday morning that the proposal had fallen agonisingly short, with 80 per cent of the department’s public servants casting ballots, in a result that will send both sides back to the negotiating table in the new year.

The result follows another close-run vote this week at the Employment Department where workers voted by a 55 to 45 per cent margin to reject the deal on offer.

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