Senator the Hon Michaelia Cash

Shadow Attorney-General

Shadow Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations

Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate

Senator for Western Australia


The West Australian

5 March 2024

There is irony at the heart of the present push by public servants around Australia for large pay rises and vastly improved conditions which could see them working less for more.

The Albanese Labor Government released the genie from the bottle in the form of its radical industrial relations changes and public servants have taken that cue and gone hard in pursuit of new deals.

The genie now looms large over governments, including here in WA, demanding they bow down and deliver to them.

As reported by The West Australian last week, public servants are demanding a four-day work week on top of 12 per cent salary increases.

They are also seeking stronger flexible working arrangements and increased paid parental leave to 18 weeks for new mothers and fathers.

I’ll make several points about the union claims.

Public servants already have extremely generous pay and conditions.

To call for a four-day week along with a 12 per cent pay increase is an outrageous claim.

Surely the Cook Government should rule out such madness immediately and reset the negotiation at a more realistic level.

It will be incumbent on the Cook Government to ensure pay and conditions in the public service result in value for money for West Australian taxpayers and increased productivity in the workplace.

West Australians expect public servants to provide exceptional value for the generally high salaries they are paid and it is imperative that they are provided with high levels of service when they interact with those government departments.

Federally, public servants last week voted in favour of new agreements that afford them generous new working from home rights.

More than half the Commonwealth public sector’s 170,000-strong workforce have gained access to the working from home arrangements that include no formal cap on the number of working from home days each week and a “bias towards approving requests”.

Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox was reported as saying: “what is almost certain is that the private sector won’t look to the public service for advice on making their workplaces more productive, innovative or collaborative”.

“For those who have no choice but to be at work — truck drivers, plumbers, teachers, paramedics, factory workers, chefs, doctors — it is just a nauseating confirmation of how far out of touch the Federal public service, their unions and unfortunately the Government are from workplace reality.

“Business leaders look at this too and can only shake their heads. The last thing we need is for their ‘stay at home first’ attitude to infect our broader economy.”

I agree with much of what Innes and other business leaders had to say on the issue.

These work from home rights in the public service go much further than conditions afforded to many other working Australians.

The Albanese Government must ensure they result in value for money for taxpayers and increased productivity.

It was also recently reported that the Fair Work Commission is investigating whether it needs to change the basic rights for up to about 2.2 million Australians on awards to accommodate the working from home arrangements.

If the commission finds that awards should include working from home rights, several million other workers on enterprise agreements could also push for the same flexibility in negotiations.

This takes us into dangerous territory.

Employers and employees across Australia are more than capable of setting their own work from home arrangements in workplaces where it is possible to do so.

In many workplaces, working from home is simply not possible. The Albanese Government seems to be once again suggesting a one size fits all approach to working from home arrangements which will just not work in many small and family businesses.

Couple this push for expanded working from home rights with the new right to disconnect laws and you can see why many business leaders are tearing their hair out.

It is even more difficult for small and medium sized businesses.

The right to disconnect is emblematic of the Albanese Government’s ideological and cavalier approach to the workplace framework of our nation.

Look at the deal they did — Labor effectively outsourced their policy to the Australian Greens.

All indications are that the right to disconnect laws will end up harming flexibility in the workplace.

What the Albanese Government needs to focus on is increasing workplace productivity rather than creating rigid rules which will harm many small and family businesses.

Both the Federal and State governments need to be cautious when they are handing out pay rises and new workplace conditions to public servants.

Public servants have extremely generous pay and conditions already.

Taxpayers have every right to ask hard questions about the value being provided to them for the money they are paying public servants. If public servants end up working only four days a week, with much of that time being spent at home and then disconnecting outside of work hours, Australians will feel like they are being had a lend of.