The federal government has been spending more than $5 billion a year on labour-hire and consultants, new analysis has found.
The research conducted by the ABC looked at roughly 120,000 federal government contracts for services including consulting, staffing and recruitment. It has estimated that the federal government’s market for private labour has doubled in the past five years.
The Department of Defence, the Australian Taxation Office, and Services Australia have spent the most on contractors, while companies such as Manpower, Serco and Datacom have been awarded the most, the ABC has found.
Meanwhile, documents obtained under Freedom of Information laws have revealed that some major federal departments have been outsourcing thousands of non-IT public service roles, including senior positions.
A senate committee earlier this year noted that the federal government’s controversial average staffing level cap has led APS agencies to use more contract labour, costing tax-payers more in the long run. The committee called for the ASL cap to be abolished, arguing that “outsourcing government services is an activity fraught with risk”.
In its submission to that senate inquiry, Services Australia argued that outsourcing employees had been a “cost-effective” way to deliver services within the limitations of the staff cap.
“Additional resources are sometimes required to deliver on government priorities or to progress initiatives to transform and modernise our technology and capability. Employing non-APS staff provides timely access to the people needed for specific and often time-limited priorities … where we are already operating at our ASL limit, it is important to be able to access non-APS resources to make sure we have the capacity to deliver on all of the government’s priorities,” it said.
Last year the Thodey Review of the APS also recommended the government abolish the ASL cap once the APS Workforce Strategy has been released. The government rejected this recommendation, to the dismay of the public sector union and Labor.
In a recent report for Michael West Media, former Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) employee Geordie Wilson noted that documents accessed under FOI laws had revealed that the number of non-IT public service roles outsourced by the federal government is “in the thousands”.
The documents showed that even senior roles, including assistant directors, executive officers, ministerial advisers, and in policy, management, and biosecurity were being outsourced. Wilson argued that the public service has been “quietly moving its workforce off the books”.
The investigation by Geordie Wilson of Michael West Media found that:
- The Department of Defence has outsourced nearly 29,000 roles, despite employing about 17,400 public servants,
- The Department of Home Affairs outsourced 1082 positions last financial year, including intelligence analysts, legal officers, border enforcement officers, and policy officers,
- The Australian Taxation Office has outsourced 5300 roles,
- The Department of Agriculture has outsourced 830 jobs, including assistant directors, biosecurity officers, policy officers, project managers, and executive assistants,
- The Attorney General’s Department spent $13.4 million on labour-hire contractors last financial year but does not keep formal records on which roles have been outsourced,
- The Department of Infrastructure has outsourced 151 positions,
- The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has outsourced 190 staff,
- The Department of Industry, Innovation and Science has outsourced 250 positions, including assistant directors, business analysts, grants officers, and project managers,
- The Department of Veterans’ affairs has outsourced 321 public service roles,
- The AAT has outsourced 114 public service roles.
The AAT has engaged more than 551 contractors via labour-hire since 2016. Earlier this year it was reported that some casual staff at the organisation, who had been hired through labour-hire company Launch Recruitment Pty Ltd, may have been underpaid by thousands of dollars a year.
Some AAT employees have also allegedly been denied promotions unless they end their legal employment with the APS and agree to enter into privatised contracts.
Former senior public servant Andrew Podger recently told ABC News that labour-hire raised “important legal issues”, and may only be addressed by a class action brought on by a union or a labour-hire employee.