The birth of the Home Affairs mega department has coincided with a blow to staff fighting a bitter workplace battle after the industrial umpire refused an interim pay rise to its Immigration workers.
A Fair Work Commission decision this week rejecting the pay rise came as wages for Immigration staff, now working under the Home Affairs banner, remain at 2013 levels following the failure of negotiations and a stoush that escalated with strikes.
The main public sector union accused the Coalition government of "sheer bastardry" for opposing the interim pay rise, but Home Affairs said it had only told Fair Work it had no power to make the order.
Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Nadine Flood said the government had nothing to gain legally or otherwise from stopping the pay rise for staff in the former Department of Immigration and Border Protection.
"This is a bitter pill to swallow for our members just a few days out from Christmas, particularly given how many of them will be selflessly working during this period," she said.
"It's a tough time of year financially for many people and our DIBP members have watched their cost of living rise over the past four years while their pay packet hasn't moved at all.
"The department's nasty proposals to cut take-home pay and rights and conditions, which it's still pushing in Fair Work, mean it's never offered anything that would leave workers anything but worse off."
Fair Work also rejected an interim pay rise backed by the Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers, saying there was uncertainty over how an industrial determination would cover workers entering the new Home Affairs department.
"We consider that granting an interim increase would effectively be a leap into the unknown given that there is no material presently before the commission regarding the terms and conditions of employment of those employees who will be covered," it said.
Fair Work recommended it convene a meeting with unions and government officials in early 2018 about how the establishment of the Department of Home Affairs would affect the industrial dispute.
The Home Affairs department said it urged Fair Work to expedite a final decision when arbitrating the dispute.
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"It is the CPSU's October 2016 request for bargaining to be terminated that brought about this arbitration," a spokeswoman said.
"The department is aware of the financial impact that this inability to bargain or vote for a new enterprise agreement has had on its staff.
"We have and will continue to engage fully and in good faith in arbitration proceedings to assist in finalising this important matter as quickly as possible."
Ms Flood said the government was doubling down on serious damage it had caused to Immigration through the dispute.
"The impact of this dispute on morale and staff turn-over is likely to continue being felt in DIBP for years to come," she said.
Home Affairs said the CPSU held a "simplistic view" that the department could raise wages any time through a determination.
"It fails to recognise that at least some reforms such as flexibility to deploy officers to where their services are needed or standardisation of employment conditions are critical for the department to deliver the important services that we are entrusted to deliver for the community."
The workplace battle over pay and conditions, which entered Fair Work arbitration after staff rejected several offers from bosses, is unlikely to end before March when unions and departmental lawyers are expected to close their cases.
Bosses at the Immigration Department in August received a second pay rise inside eight months, as its secretary Michael Pezzullo handed staff in the top-level senior executive service band an immediate 2 per cent increase to their pay, on top of another 2 per cent rise in November last year.
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