Queensland government releases sweeping review of public sector employment laws

By Shannon Jenkins

March 30, 2020

Brisbane. Adobe

A review of Queensland’s public sector employment laws has found the system is “long overdue for maintenance and repair”.

In a letter to Annastacia Palaszczuk dated May 3 2019, independent reviewer Peter Bridgman said he had found “significant problems and issues about the employment laws and practices that need resolution for a fair, responsive and inclusive public sector”.

Released to the public 10 months later, Bridgman’s report makes 99 recommendations, including a new Public Sector Act, a “permanent public service” of ongoing employment, and giving chief executives the responsibility to “ensure that managers in their departments or agencies have, or are taking reasonable steps to develop, appropriate management skills”.

Bridgman argues that a new Public Sector Act should focus on “the employment relationship”, a positive framework for management of people and organisations, as well as the systems for managing and employing people in the institutions of government.

“It is also an opportunity to bring consistency and coherence to an increasingly fractured public administration, through a new framework for public governance,” he wrote.

He said the act should make clear that an employee must take responsibility for their work performance, while managers should have “explicit responsibility to work with subordinates on developing their careers and sustaining and lifting performance”.

The report noted that the role of managing others is complex, and requires sophistication, soft and hard skills, detailed knowledge of the organisation and the duties of each employee managed, and accountability up the line.

“It is not uncommon for people to be promoted to management roles because they are good at the technical content of their more junior jobs,” it stated.

“Excellence in writing briefs, teaching, project management, delivering frontline health services or navigating complex policy through stakeholders is not necessarily a predictor of excellence in managing others.”

Chief executives should also have the power to demote managers who are not performing their duties, the review found.

It acknowledged the “excellent work” of the state’s Public Service Commission, but suggested it prioritise research into public administration and management, high quality executive leadership development, high quality management development, structured review of departments and agencies, reporting of performance and leadership, and achieving pay equity objectives.

It recommended the establishment of a Queensland Governance Council, with membership being the chief executives of the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, Queensland Treasury, and the Public Sector Commissioner (ex officio), and up to two other members who are chief executives of departments, appointed by the premier.

“The council’s functions should include setting the research agenda, managing whole sector systems, coordinating with the large employment sectors in health and education, and engagement with employee representatives,” the report said.

“The Council should have power to establish committees (including standing committees) and working groups to report to the council. The council should be established administratively immediately and given responsibility for implementation of the package of reforms recommended in this report.”

Bridgman also recommended a Special Commissioner for Equity and Diversity be appointed to drive improvements in equity, including gender pay equity, and a diverse workforce.

Other recommended initiatives for fairness, responsiveness and inclusiveness include:

  • The retention of merit as the central driver in selection and promotion decisions, expanded to reflect broader human rights criteria,
  • clearer, simpler language and removal of artificial distinctions and categories,
  • investment in management improvement for early and mid-career managers, to complement executive leadership programs, and to improve management consistency across the whole sector,
  • clearer criteria for engaging casual and temporary staff and for their conversion to ongoing employment, including a right to request conversion and a merits review of conversion decisions,
  • a review of senior positions to improve management and control of higher paid roles,
  • a new system for independent case management of complex, intractable or long-standing discipline and performance improvement matters,
  • an internal review of decisions to direct an employee attend an independent medical examination, and possible use of other health practitioners with an employee’s agreement,
  • an employee’s right to raise issues with a more senior manager,
  • realigning public sector appeals processes with the Queensland Industrial Relations Commission’s industrial jurisdiction, affording greater review rights and improved transparency of decision making.

The review was commissioned in September 2018, and complements the Coaldrake review released last year.

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