Engineers in Victoria’s public service have slammed the state’s transport department, claiming that a merger of VicRoads into the Department of Transport last year has been ‘botched’ and that professionals are leaving a ‘dysfunctional’ department in droves because of a lack of respect.
Engineers at the Victorian Department of Transport (DoT) commenced limited protected industrial action on Tuesday, saying that a proposed Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) expected to be put to vote shortly will cut salaries for professional positions by up to 15 percent.
The action is being organised by Professionals Australia, and will include bans on providing ministerial advice and working overtime.
In a statement, the union said that:
- A merger between VicRoads and Public Transport Victoria to form the current DoT has been ‘botched’ and has created a dysfunctional department.
- The Department is bleeding talent as professionals are leaving amid the proposed reductions in salaries.
- Vacancies are not being filled, leading to delays, cost overruns and compromised community safety.
- Morale is poor and many engineers feel there has been a lack of respect for staff.
According to Professionals Australia, the current dispute originated more than twelve months ago when VicRoads and Public Transport Victoria merged to form the current DoT in July last year.
As this happened, a Machinery of Government process eliminated coverage of VicRoads staff for all their previous conditions, classifications and salaries as laid out in the previous VicRoads EBA.
According to the union, this process was implemented without consent or agreement of affected staff or their unions.
Now, the union says the Department is preparing to put to a vote a new Victorian Public Service EBA which it says will see remuneration slashed across the board.
A comparison table which the union provided to its members shows that engineers on a classification VRO-4-6 under the old VicRoads classification will see their salaries cut by $10,906 from $107,665 to $96,759 under the equivalent VPS classification (VPS 4.1.7).
An engineer on the former VRO-6-6 would see their wages cut by either $27,507 or $17,179 from $136,231 to either $108,724 or $119,952 under the corresponding VPS classifications (VPS 5.1 and VPS 5.2).
According to Professionals Australia, this will see remuneration levels cut by $14,245 per year for senior engineers with typically ten years’ experience and by $21,438 per year in the case of case of team leaders or specialists.
Whilst the Government had promised to address this through a classification review process, the union says DoT has claimed that 662 roles impacting 1,115 positions were found to have been matched to the suitable grade originally whilst an increase in grade was necessary for only 12 roles affecting 40 positions.
This means that of 1,156 former VicRoads employees, only 40 or two percent had their classification amended whilst the other 1,116 face having their remuneration reduced.
Professionals Australia Victorian Branch Deputy Director Sean Kelly said the dispute was impacting the government’s ability to hire and retain qualified traffic engineers and other professionals.
“As part of the $340 million Keeping Melbourne Moving program, the new Minister for Public Transport, Roads & Road Safety, Ben Carroll has announced that the government will hire new traffic engineers despite their inability to fill current roles due to proposed wage cuts for professional positions of up to 15 percent,” Kelly said.
“Under the leadership of Department of Transport Secretary Paul Younis, professionals have been leaving the department in droves, losing capability and oversight of large contracts during the state’s largest transport infrastructure spend.
“Dozens of highly experienced senior staff have resigned, some have left the industry entirely, some have moved to other agencies where salaries have not been slashed.
“Teams across the whole Department have bled talent, creating many unfilled vacancies, which will prove impossible to fill by recruitment of capable professional staff, using the sub-market salaries now on offer.”
Former DoT and VicRoads engineer Amy Stebbing said morale has been impacted by the merger.
“I left the DoT and went to another department in government because they had cut our career progression and devalued our positions,” she said.
“My former colleagues are working out their options. It’s not a question of ‘if’ it’s a question of ‘when’”.
The union recently wrote to Ben Carroll, Minister for Public Transport, Roads & Road Safety, seeking a meeting to discuss ways to resolve the situation.
Professionals Australia Delegate Tim Black said his members were reasonable, took their roles as managers of the state’s transport system seriously, and had been negotiating in good faith.
Nevertheless, he said the union would continue to escalate actions unless the situation was resolved.
“We are not seeking a rise in our salaries or conditions – we are seeking to protect and maintain what we had before the merger and what is rightfully ours,” Black said.
“The organisation is dying a death of a thousand cuts, and this will not be fixed until the underlying causes are addressed.
“Unless there is a breakthrough, not only will the recruitment and retention of dozens more traffic engineers fail, but existing unhappy DoT staff will continue to depart.
You can’t manage a transport system without professional engineers, who expect to be paid a fair wage for their expertise and their efforts.”
A Department of Transport spokesperson said a small number of Professionals Australia members (less than 120) had taken part in the action and that the Department would continue to act in good faith.
As for concerns about safety being jeopardised, the spokesperson said that Professionals Australia did not raise safety concerns as a key issue during the negotiations.