Public sector workforce tops 2 million, 5% average pay growth shows those on top did well

By Stephen Easton

Monday November 11, 2019

The number of people working in the public sector edged over 2 million this year, after growth of 3% over the 2018-19 financial year.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that as of June, about 1.6m Australians in total worked for organs of state and territory governments, about 242,000 were employed in the federal public sector, and 194,000 worked in the local government sector.

Their “cash wages and salaries” added up to $166.9 billion, so on average, they earned just over $81,500 each. This total grew by over 5% in the year but the figure is skewed upwards by significant growth in the pay packets of politicians, senior executives, and others at the big end of the sector, which are typically decided by remuneration tribunals. For nearly everyone else in the sector, strict limits on pay growth well below 5% are the new normal.

The largest publicly funded workforces are in the middle tier of government, notes the ABS head of labour statistics, Bjorn Jarvis.

“The industries with the highest public sector employment were education and training (649,000 employees), public administration and safety (637,000), and healthcare and social assistance (527,000),” he said. “These industries include teachers, police officers, and nurses who are employed by state and territory governments.”

State public sector workers earned about $131.4bn last year, compared to almost $13.3bn that went into the bank accounts of their local government counterparts and just under $22.2bn in wages and salaries at federal level. This does not all come from taxpayers; various entities in the public sector obtain significant amounts of revenue and funding from other sources.

Of those working for organisations in the federal sphere, the latest stats show just over 30% are located in Canberra (75,700). In comparison, there are 53,400 in New South Wales, 48,800 in Victoria, and 28,100 in Queensland. South Australia is home to 14,000 people working for federal entities, and Western Australia has 12,800. Tasmania has 5100 and the Northern Territory has only 1000 fewer, but less than half of Tasmania’s population.

The spread of the Commonwealth-controlled workforce around the nation fluctuates slightly from year to year; in the last financial year it contracted most significantly in NSW, Queensland and SA while it grew the most in Victoria.

The combined public sector workforce in NSW has grown to 596,000 people, with 485,500 of them employed by arms of the state government and parliament and 57,200 working in the local government sector. In Victoria, the breakdown is 386,700 state and 52,500 local. In Queensland, there are 341,200 state workers and a local government sector workforce of 43,100.

The ABS public sector workforce statistics cover a wide swathe of the economy, including all government agencies, government marketing boards, publicly owned corporations, universities, non-profit institutions controlled by governments, legislative courts, municipal authorities, and other statutory authorities.

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