State of the service

Enterprise agreement bargaining

Enterprise agreement bargaining

Bargaining for new enterprise agreements was ongoing in the Commonwealth public sector in the 2015/16 financial year.

Commonwealth public sector agencies negotiate their own enterprise agreements, within a policy framework established by the Government.

On 2 November 2015, the Government released the Workplace Bargaining Policy 2015 (the Policy), amending its original policy position and bargaining framework.

The primary objective of the Policy is to improve workforce flexibility, productivity and efficiency. These improvements will support agencies’ capability to deliver quality outcomes for Government, business and the community in a rapidly changing environment.

The new Policy modified requirements on enterprise agreement content and finding measurable productivity. The Policy provides agencies with the ability to negotiate remuneration increases of up to two per cent per annum, if affordable within existing budgets. The Policy seeks to remove restrictive terms which prevent normal management decision making. It does not require changes to employee terms and conditions, such as leave entitlements.

The release of the Policy led to a marked increase in successful ballots. By the end of December 2015, the number of agreements voted up increased to 32. December and January saw a brief slowdown in bargaining and agreements going to ballot. This can be attributed to Christmas closedown and limited access to bargaining representatives during this period.

Breakdown between frameworks

Figure 1.

This image shows the breakdown between frameworks. Under the 2014 framework, 6 APS agencies made new enterprise agreements under the initial bargaining framework. Under the 2015 framework, 35 APS agencies made new enterprise agreements under the revised bargaining framework

Early 2016 saw a steady increase in enterprise agreements going to ballot, and from January to May 2016, a further 24 agreements were voted up. Bargaining was on hold during the 2016 Federal election, with the caretaker period beginning 9 May 2016. Consistent with the caretaker conventions, agencies did not take significant steps in the bargaining process during this period.

Figure 2.

New enterprise agreements voted up – pre and post policy change

Paper icon representing the learn more pageLearn more about this chart: view data for Figure 2.

new enterprise agreements voted up

As at 30 June 2016, 56 enterprise agreements had been voted up in 53 agencies. 41 of which were Australian Public Service agencies. The remaining 15 agreements apply to agencies that do not employ staff under the Australian Public Service Act 1999 (Cwth).

Analysis of results from the 2016 APS employee census shows that employees in agencies that have made new enterprise agreements are more engaged than employees in agencies still bargaining. The greatest difference in engagement results is in the level of agency engagement.

Figure 3.

Employee engagement by enterprise agreement status, 2016

Paper icon representing the learn more pageLearn more about this chart: view data for Figure 3.

Results from the 2016 employee census also show that employees in agencies where a new enterprise agreement has been made report much more positive perceptions of their financial and non-financial employment conditions.

Figure 4.

Employee satisfaction with remuneration and employment conditions by enterprise agreement status, 2016

Paper icon representing the learn more pageLearn more about this chart: view data for Figure 4.

The causal relationship between employee engagement and the making of new enterprise agreements is unclear. Employees with higher levels of engagement may more readily accept the proposed terms in new agreements offered by agency management.

Alternatively, the certainty of employment conditions and wage increases provided through new enterprise agreements could have led to staff feeling more engaged. Further analysis would be required to better understand the nature of this relationship.

In 2016-17, the APSC will continue to work with agencies to finalise bargaining across Commonwealth employment.


  1. Anonymous

    Re fig 4: The vague “I am satisfied” benchmark appears to account for the variation. AFAIK the new EA does not offer any improvement in matters shown on the right side. Why is then then it seen better by those who signed a new EA? Probably because they are not in a position to anything about it and therefor are inclined to accept it as is. On the left, it quite logical that those without a pay rise see their conditions being worse.

  2. Anonymous

    Re figure 2 – for the data measured, it will always be neutral or a positive rise.
    Why not put in a graph that shows comparable data? ie, The number of agreements that went to a vote and the results of the votes…
    I remember at least one agency who put three variations of an ‘agreement’ to a vote and it was voted down all three times.