Management of the Australian Public Service is shaping up as a battleground in this year’s federal election, with Labor launching a plan to “rebuild” the sector.
The opposition’s plan includes abolishing the ASL staffing cap, auditing insecure work in the APS, plus limiting the number of consecutive fixed-term contracts and capping them at 24-months long.
Scraping the APS staffing cap has been a recommendation of multiple parliamentary committees – some made up of a majority of Labor and Greens members.
But the government has previously defended insecure work in the public service, saying workforces need to be able to “surge” to meet fluctuating demand.
Labor’s plan, prepared by public service spokesperson Katy Gallagher, says government work by contractors, consultants and labour-hire firms could be “done more effectively and cost-efficiently by public servants”.
“Labor is committed to building a stronger public service that delivers better outcomes for the community, delivers frank and fearless advice to government, acts as a model employer, and contributes to building a fairer and more inclusive Australia,” the plan states.
Gallagher said the APS should be a place which attracts the best and brightest minds from around the country and then retains them.
“The job of rebuilding the brain drain must start by valuing, respecting and investing in the APS’s biggest asset – its people,” she said.
The most recent APS state of the service report showed a slight dip in the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander public servants, and men continuing to outnumber women in the top two bands of SES.
The opposition’s plan commits to take steps to increase the proportion of First Nations peoples in the APS and to address the gender pay gap.
The plan also says Labor will work with unions to “re-build” the public service.
“Our approach to fair and productive workplace relations is underpinned by Labor’s commitment to the rights of workers to union representation and the right to organise and bargain collectively,” it says.
“Current government policies such as the no enhancements rule, along with the inflexible wage cap and pegging policies deny APS workers their right to seek improvements for improved performance and outcomes.”
The government last year replaced a 2% cap on wage growth with a new system of a wage-price index that ties wage growth to private sector wages.
The plan says Labor will take a different approach but does not specify exact details, instead saying the opposition believes in “real wage increases underpinned by productivity growth” that would be determined through negotiations.
“Labor understands the benefits that would result from genuine service-wide negotiations on pay and common conditions with agency-specific conditions negotiated at the agency level,” the plan says.