The National Disability Insurance Agency has employed hundreds of its senior staff, including a deputy chief executive officer, through labour hire arrangements, documents released under Freedom of Information laws have shown.
The documents obtained by a Michael West Media employee reveal that as of last month, 236 of the agency’s staff in Executive Level 2 or higher positions had been employed through labour hire firms, including one SES Band 3 employee – the deputy CEO of design, digital and strategy, Oliver Bladek – six SES Band 2 employees, and 14 SES Band 1 staff.
In a report released earlier this year, the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee expressed concern over Australian Public Service agencies increasingly outsourcing their staff. The committee argued the government’s Average Staffing Level (ASL) cap has been a major factor in agencies turning to labour hire, noting that the outsourcing of what should be in-house roles ultimately costs the tax-payer more in the long run, “bolstering the private sector and labour hire companies without improving the budget bottom line”.
In a submission to the senate committee, People With Disabilities Western Australia said:
“The staff cap imposed is clearly restricting the NDIA’s ability to respond in a timely manner. This is again impacting on the level of service being received by participants, and in some cases placing them at significant risk.”
An NDIA spokesperson told The Mandarin that the agency’s decision to outsource some senior roles was not a result of the staff cap.
“The NDIA has engaged SES staff with specific skills, under the Executive Placement Program (EPP), to deliver on key priorities of work as the agency has continued to grow and evolve. This is not due to the ASL cap, but to the vast and specialised skills the agency has sought with the aim to impart these skills across the agency,” they said.
“As the NDIS has rolled out nationally, the NDIA has engaged a mix of ongoing and contracted NDIA staff, as well as community partners as local area coordinators, to ensure the agency has the agility to evolve and achieve the best outcomes for participants and long-term scheme sustainability.”
The spokesperson noted that APS Commissioner Peter Woolcott approves financial and human resource delegations assigned to executives sourced under the EPP.
The NDIA workforce is comprised of around 4396 APS employees and 1742 labour hire contractors and secondees, according to the agency’s annual report.
Government services shadow minister Bill Shorten described the outsourcing as “vandalism”.
“We knew this government were outsourcing-mad but using labour hire for the deputy CEO of our peak disability agency is scandalous,” he told The Mandarin.
“The rampant outsourcing of these senior roles is nothing short of vandalism perpetrated on the Australian Public Service. Not only will it ultimately prove to be more expensive, it risks real damage for Australians with disability who need quality service.”
The NDIA spokesperson said the agency was committed to ensuring it delivers the best possible service to every National Disability Insurance Scheme participant, noting that staff recruited through labour hire and under the EPP are required to “demonstrate behaviours” that are consistent with the APS Values and Code of Conduct as well as the NDIA Values.
“Prior to starting work with the NDIA, all labour hire workers are subject to referee checks and a verification of suitability, which is conducted by the supplier, as well as a mandatory Pre-Engagement check completed by the agency,” the spokesperson added.
“The NDIA operates in accordance with state and territory legislation to ensure it complies with jurisdictional Working with Children and Vulnerable People (WCVP) requirements. Like all employees, labour hire workers are required to comply with relevant WCVP checks as they vary throughout each state and territory.”
Staff numbers across federal departments and agencies has recently come under increased scrutiny after the 2020 Budget revealed staffing levels would temporarily rise in 2020-21, only to “gradually return” to 2006-7 levels by 2022-23. Labor quickly argued that the move would leave public servants under greater pressure, as departments would be forced to do more work with fewer employees.
Reflecting on the federal budget, Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Melissa Donnelly told The Mandarin that the use of labour hire has largely been driven by the ASL cap, which “has been a real handbrake on the capacity of the APS”.
Echoing Shorten and the Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee, Donnelly noted labour hire arrangements are generally more expensive than employing staff under the Public Service Act. She said the work conditions are also insecure.
“I think the issue for the government more broadly is about what the community expects and wants in terms of services, public services, but also this really problematic question – that there are agencies spending more money here to deliver services through labour hire employees and labour hire firms, where the labour high firm gets a premium, up to 25%, and they’re paying more than if they actually employed people properly as APS employees,” she said.
During Senate Estimates on Thursday, NDIA boss Martin Hoffman confirmed that the process of engaging staff through labour hire arrangements has incurred an “extra cost”.
When asked whether the APSC’s SES remuneration policy applies to labour hire employees, he said:
“They are employed as contractors, they’re subject to the remuneration policy set by the board. Some of those would receive more than APS guidelines, some do not.”
Hoffman said the SES remuneration policy allows for variations when approved by the APS commissioner.