Public workers: overpaid, or victims of a 'con job'? - Public Service Association

Public workers: overpaid, or victims of a ‘con job’?

The New Daily – Oct 2, 2014

Thousands of jobs have been quietly cut or not replaced in the public service with further job losses to come, says a major union.

Almost 8000 positions have been lost in the public sector, the largest reduction in more than a decade, with more cuts to come.

The Australian Public Service Commission announced on Tuesday that the total number of public servants had been reduced by 4.7 per cent in the last financial year, leaving 159,126 employees in the public sector as of June 30, 2014.

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The Health Department (1773) and the Tax Office (1649) shed the most employees, with a further 8500 job losses expected across all departments by 2017. This comes as public broadcaster the ABC is considering axing current affairs program Lateline and state-based 7.30 editions in order to absorb the $35.5 million it lost in the budget.

Minister for Employment Eric Abetz described the cuts as “moderate and reasonable” and claimed more than half of the job losses were voluntary, but unions have responded harshly, hitting out at the stereotype that public servants are underworked and overpaid.

A long cliched ‘con’

Slashing the public sector is an Australia-wide “con” that relies on such derogatory clichés, Public Service Association of NSW general secretary Anne Gardiner told The New Daily.

“This is part of a long con. What you do is demonise the people who are providing the service that you want to get rid of,” Ms Gardiner said.

“[The job cuts are] happening in every state around Australia as we speak, and by the time we work out what’s happened it’ll be too late to stop it.”

Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) national secretary Nadine Flood said the “massive” cuts are hitting the public service hard and will result in a reduction of services.

“So if you are experiencing frustration at delays at a Centrelink office or dealing with Customs at the airport, then there is no one to blame but Tony Abbott and his cuts,” Ms Flood said.

According to ABS data, public sector employees earn on average $223.30 more per week than those in the private sector. But union officials told The New Daily that this discrepancy is explained by the fact that most lower paid public jobs have been outsourced to the private sector.

A CPSU spokesman said the public service is no bigger than it was 20 years ago, despite significant population growth, which means it is being forced to do “more with less”.

“We would take great issue with the characterisation that public servants are underworked and overpaid. It’s just not true,” the spokesman told The New Daily.

Are public workers paid too much or too little?

In order to make tough budget cutbacks like these more palatable, Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced in May a pay freeze for all public officials, politicians included, until next year.

The base salary of backbencher MPs was frozen at $195,130. All 18 heads of federal departments, whose wages have also been put on hold, currently earn more than $600,000. The salary of the country’s most senior public servant, the head of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, has increased by more than $200,000 since 2012 to $802,820, although the Reserve Bank Governor still earns the most – a base rate of $842,285. Treasury Department boss Dr Martin Parkinson receives a base rate of $785,410.

Prime Minister Abbott earns at least $507,338 before other allowances, while Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss is on $400,016. Treasurer Joe Hockey earns a minimum of $365,868, with other Cabinet ministers on $336,599. The outer ministry is on a base salary of $307,329. Opposition Leader Bill Shorten ($360,990) and his shadow ministry ($243,912) are on similar base salaries.

At the other end of the scale, Victoria’s paramedics are one group of public sector employees who argue they are severely underpaid and overworked.

According to the state’s Ambulance union, these paramedics earn between $15,000 and $30,000 less than university-educated professionals with similar training and experience in the private sector.

Ambulance union secretary Steve McGhie said fully qualified paramedics with a three-year university degree and a further six years of experience are paid $71,000 a year to be “always on the clock”, including public holidays and weekends.

“They work extremely hard and they work long hours, very fatiguing hours, and I don’t believe they are appropriately paid for it,” Mr McGhie said.

Private industry still takes the cake

The earnings of Australia’s highest-ranking public officials are dwarfed by the top 10 highest paid CEOs, who collected an average of $10 million each in the last financial year, according to a report from the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors.

But the gap is narrowing, according to corporate remuneration expert Michael Robinson, partly because the salaries of senior public officials have increased “quite markedly” and partly because of a dampened economy. The median fixed pay for a chief executive of an ASX top 100 company was $1.83 million in 2013, down from $1.95 million the year before, the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors reported.

Mr Robinson, a Guerdon Associates director, told The New Daily there is “a strong argument” for paying cabinet ministers more in order to attract better candidates. Politicians and public officials in Singapore earn millions of dollars, Mr Robinson said, with visible benefits to the economy.

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