The election of a Coalition government will have significant
consequences for the Commonwealth Public Service.
The Coalition has indicated that it can accumulate approximately
$5.2 billion in savings by shedding 12,000 jobs in the public
sector. This estimate is based on a reduction of 6,000 positions by
June 2014 and a further 6,000 positions by September 2015.
The Prime Minister elect has stated publicly that the reduction
in the size in the public service will come from natural attrition
and a "freeze" on new public sector jobs. The Community
and Public Sector Union has however argued that large scale
redundancies are inevitable if the reduction is to be
The Coalition has indicated that the freeze in public sector
employment would apply to a large number of agencies outside of the
main departments. Agencies that may be affected by the freeze
include the AFP, Customs, Future Fund, Austrade, Australian
Research Council, National Water Commission, Australian Competition
& Consumer Commission, ASIC, ATO and Productivity
With significant reductions in public sector employment in
recent years Departments and Agencies will need to consider the
implications of further staff reductions from a legal risk
management and organisational health perspective.
Managing change and managing risk
Job uncertainty and workplace change can have significant
impacts on a workplace. We know that these factors can have an
impact on workplace stress, workplace bullying and performance. How
well an organisation manages change will largely depend on its
engagement with employees and union representatives and compliance
with legal obligations.
As APS Departments and Agencies prepare for more workplace
change some key industrial and legal considerations for planning
and implementing change include:
dealing with employee grievances when they arise in a timely
and transparent way,
compliance with enterprise agreement requirements, particularly
ensuring that if there are redundancies, they are genuine
redundancies for the purposes of the Fair Work Act (FW
Act) unfair dismissal provisions, and
ensuring that selection processes for those employees affected
by change do not give rise to bullying, adverse action or
We also recommend that difficult issues with employees get dealt
with sooner rather than later. Public sector employers should not
hold off dealing with difficult employment management issues, such
as poor performance or illness unless there are good reasons to do
so. There is significant legal authority making it clear that an
employer can effectively manage difficult workplace issues so long
as there are sound and genuine processes in place: Sluggettv
Commonwealth of Australia  FMCA 609; Hodkinson v The
Commonwealth  FMCA 171 (31 March 2011).
Communication key for managing risk
As a risk management strategy, as well as supporting the health
of the workplace, we recommend that sound decision-making and
communication are a focus for dealing with workplace change.
It is important that Departments and Agencies form clearly
articulated grounds for making changes that impact on employees.
These grounds must not be for reasons that include dissatisfaction
with employees' workplace rights (including the right to make
complaints; employees' entitlements and responsibilities under
industrial instruments and laws; or employees 'rights of
participation in proceedings); employees' actual involvement,
or otherwise, in industrial activities; or a prohibited
In our experience, consultation that includes one on one
discussion about the possible impacts of change on employees, as
well as an opportunity to receive feedback from impacted employees,
can make a significant difference to how successfully a change
process is implemented and whether claims or grievances are
Key take-away: It is critical that public
sector employers have effective strategies in place to manage the
legal risks of workplace change including the management of
difficult employment situations.
Because of the high costs, royal commissions should only be convened to address issues of substantial public importance.
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