Home Affairs accuses CPSU of 'cherry-picking' agreements
The Department of Home Affairs has accused the main public sector union of "cherry-picking" from enterprise agreements, while the union has labelled the government's approach to bargaining as "scorched earth".
The four-year battle between the government and employees in the new Department of Home Affairs is entering its final stages, with lawyers beginning their closing statements at a Fair Work Commission hearing in Canberra on Monday.
The Department of Home Affairs' lawyer Paul O'Grady QC told the full bench of the commission that it would be wrong to give "presumed primacy" to the enterprise agreement that covered former Customs staff members.
Former Customs staff are covered by what was described on both sides on Monday as a more "generous" agreement than other staff, which are covered by an agreement for the former Department of Immigration and Citizenship.
Mr O'Grady argued that the Customs agreement should not be the "starting point" for a new agreement, and said that the Community and Public Sector Union's proposed workplace determination tried to get the "best of all worlds" in choosing elements from the two agreements in its proposal. He said the union's position was based "not on principle but on convenience".
Tony Slevin, acting for the union, said that while the term "cherry picking" was used in a derogatory way, his client didn't shy away from advocating for the most generous terms in each agreement.
"We do take a highest common denominator approach," he said. It was the union's position that no one should lose pay and conditions that they were previously entitled to under a new agreement and that staff members working in the same teams, but originating from two different departments, should not have different terms and conditions.
Mr Slevin argued that while the department itself is new, the commission should respect the 25 years of agreements that had previously been agreed to.
Negotiations over an enterprise agreement for staff in Home Affairs have been complicated by the 2015 merger of the then Department of Immigration and Border Protection and the Department of Customs to become Australian Border Force. More than 15,000 staff will be covered by the new agreement after the creation of the new Home Affairs department, which absorbed Border Force, late last year.
The hearing also covered the role of the government's workplace bargaining policy, which caps wage rises and limits concessions that can be made by government departments.
Mr O'Grady said that the policy should be seen as "an element of the government's fiscal strategy" and that it "reflects the range of economic and budget challenges the government is facing".
The government has previously argued that the CPSU's proposed agreement would cost $469 million more than what it has put on the table.
Mr O'Grady said the CPSU's evidence about where the funds would come from was "speculative".
"Ultimately if that's the path you go down there would have to be a decision made at the highest level of government [about the funding] and it wouldn't pay to speculate about what direction they would go," he said.
The hearing continues on Tuesday.