The ATO and Defence Department came up with the idea of employees working longer hours while consulting with them in the lead-up to bargaining, according to the Canberra Times.
Geoscience Australia is also reported to have brought up longer hours during bargaining.
For ATO workers, an extra nine minutes per day would take the average working week from 36 hours and 45 minutes to 37.5 hours, which works out as an extra 39 hours per year.
The Australian Services Union, which represents ATO staff, told the Times that adding the extra minutes would be like taking away a week of annual leave.
“It’s like asking people to work another five and a third days a year,” said ASU tax branch secretary Jeff Lapidos.
He predicted industrial action.
An ATO spokeswoman said the agency would negotiate in good faith with the unions involved and individual employee representatives.
Professionals Australia executive officer Dave Smith told the Times that the Defence Department had consulted on changing working hours from 37.5 hours a week to 38 hours and had floated the idea of taking away
Christmas leave, which is currently paid but not counted as annual leave.
Staff would either have to work through that period or take annual leave.
He said the combined measures would create an average of an extra nine or 10 minutes of work per day.
Kieren Turner, a consultant for industrial and employment relations firm Adelhelm & Associates, told HC that Australian employers have had a greater focus on reducing costs in the past few years as they tried to come to grips with the country’s economic state.
He said Australia was in a better position than many countries during the global financial crisis because of the mining boom, but that credit was starting to run out.
In some cases, employers made employment agreements that included clauses like having an all-up rate of pay which included a certain amount of hours of overtime each week.
“The clause was put into the agreement with the presumption that they would always have the high requirements or productivity. Productivity has now dropped off and the employer is saying, ‘You don’t need to work the overtime, let’s revisit the all-up rate of pay’. The problem is that the employees have become used to a certain living standard and they don’t want to reduce that.”
He said that in the public sector, there was a requirement both on a state and federal level for pay increases to be justified by efficiency gains.
Turner said that while something like an extra nine minutes of work per day might not prompt industrial action on its own, it was more likely to be driven by a culmination of issues. Industrial action may also take a less traditional form.
"In the past there may have been stoppages for one or two days, but now there is more of a tendency in the private sector for work bans and limitations and that I expect the public sector would be similar in this trend as people are concerned about job security due to the redundancy process that has now started."
Workers at the Australian Tax Office may be expected to work until 5pm instead of 4.51pm as the official bargaining on agreements begins today.