In a November 9-15 ballot, Austalian Taxation Office (ATO) staff voted 57% to 43% to accept management’s proposed enterprise agreement.
This was the second all-staff vote. The previous version of the enterprise agreement was rejected by 59% to 41%.
The two drafts did not differ much. Both provided for a pay rise of 9% over three years. The final version includes two once-off bonuses, but these are dependent on meeting certain targets which may not be achieved.
One reason for the different outcome of the two votes was the changed position of the Australian Services Union (ASU). At the time of the first vote, the ASU and the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) both urged a “no” vote.
By the second vote, ASU Tax Branch secretary Jeff Lapidos had changed his position. Even though the Tax Branch Council of the ASU favoured a “no” vote, Lapidos was able to circulate numerous emails to all ATO staff in the name of the ASU, urging a “yes” vote.
The other factor was that no industrial action was taken, nor was any proposed by the CPSU leadership. This was because any such action would have been illegal in the particular circumstances of the ATO.
The new agreement will cover all employees below the level of the Senior Executive Service. Previously there had been two separate agreements. Most ATO staff had been covered by an agreement expiring in June this year, but some others were covered by an agreement expiring in June next year.
The Labor government’s Fair Work Act is written in such a way that, as long as some workers were covered by an agreement, it would have been illegal for any workers in the ATO to strike, even those whose previous agreement had expired.
The CPSU ran an effective propaganda campaign, highlighting the double standard whereby the Commissioner of Taxation is expecting a 58% pay rise while the majority of staff will only get 9% over three years. Posters on this theme adorned many workers’ desks.
But without any prospect of industrial action, many workers became skeptical that a significantly better deal could be obtained.