Saturday, 21 April 2018 Sydney

Myth-busted: The truth about the ATO's EA ballot process::

There are a number of inaccurate and misleading comments about the ATO’s enterprise agreement ballot process reported in Fairfax media today.

It is disappointing that yet again in this process, the Australian Services Union are seeking to bargain through the media and in doing so, only undermine employees’ trust and community confidence in the ATO and unduly delay the bargaining process. If employees are on leave or are not rostered on during the voting period they would not be able to vote unless the company conducting the voting process could make contact with them.

Yet again we are seeing groundless mischief-making ahead of the greater good. It is unfortunate that baseless comments – like the vote process being ‘rigged’ – continue to cloud the truth. Imagine if we excluded employees not actually in the office or without remote access during the voting period from voting!

The comments made today erode the spirit of good faith bargaining and the trust we have with our employees. They are not constructive to reaching a new enterprise agreement for our committed and professional workforce.

We are committed to involving our staff throughout the EA process and to bargaining in good faith with the unions and other bargaining representatives. We have been working with the unions on outstanding issues to try and broker a constructive way forward.

We conducted our voting process using standard procedures that ensured all ATO employees were given an opportunity to cast an informed vote on their enterprise agreement, and maintained the integrity of the ballot process and outcome.

Assertion: The ATO covertly supplied its contractor with the names, email addresses, locations of work and pay grades of each of its 19,000 employees without their knowledge or consent.

Fact: All our employees would hold the expectation that they could correctly and easily cast their vote on the EA and our actions were to ensure they could do this.

The ATO did not covertly or secretly provide information to a third party. The process that we have followed is in line with broader practices for enterprise agreement ballot processes across the APS.

Provision of employee information was essential to the proper conduct of the vote, for all employees that worked at the ATO during the voting period. This was about nothing more than covering off the basics to ensure the integrity and accuracy of our vote process. Employee information was used to ensure the vote link was sent to the correct person and they were correctly identified, that employees could only vote once and their vote was received and counted. This is standard practice.

Assertion: In some cases private email and home addresses were supplied too.

Fact: Provision of a private physical address and/or email address was essential for the proper conduct of the vote, for any casual employees and employees on leave from the ATO during the voting period, for the same reasons as stated above – to ensure the vote link was sent to the correct person and they were correctly identified, that employees could only vote once and their vote was received back and counted.

From the commencement of this bargaining process, the ATO has provided employees on leave the opportunity to opt into receiving communications about the enterprise agreement to their personal email address and/or personal mobile phone. Employees were asked to agree to a privacy statement and that their information could be provided to the external vote provider to ensure that they were able to receive any advice about our EA, and they were able to participate in a vote.

Assertion: The revenue agency says its lawyers have cleared it of any unlawful conduct in the affair, which was exposed by a freedom of information request by one of its own officials, but unions believe the ATO may have breached the Privacy Act and the Public Service Act with one union saying it is going to call in the privacy authority.

Fact: The ATO provided limited personal information to our contracted ballot provider ORIMA Research. This is standard practice for enterprise agreement ballots and is lawful under the Privacy Act 1988.

The ATO sought external legal advice from a third party which confirms that processes undertaken are lawful. Should the matter be referred to the Privacy Commissioner, the ATO will openly share this advice and detail of our process.

Assertion: The information was then used to build a picture of which groups of public servants within the Tax Office were likely to support or oppose the agency’s industrial relations agenda.

Fact: The ATO does not know how any individual employee voted. We do not receive detailed information for business units less than 100 people in any location.

None of the employee information provided to ORIMA Research for the purpose of running the ballot was retained or used by them for any other purpose. The ATO’s only interest in receiving this information was to ensure that staff across all our sites and business areas participated in the vote process.