Public servant complaints rise in the Northern Territory

By David Donaldson

January 20, 2016

Northern Territory flag
Northern Territory flag

The Northern Territory saw an increase in complaints made by public servants against their employer in 2014-15, with 155 grievance reviews handled by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Employment.

Commissioner Craig Allen noted this was “a considerable increase” on the average of 120 each year for the last five years.

Much of the increase was in appeals against recruitment selection decisions, which jumped from an average of 40 in 2009-13 to 73 last year.

There were 55 complaints about management action or decisions, eight for unfair treatment, six for bullying, and three each for agency handling of bullying, review of a disciplinary decision and termination of probationary employment.

There were only two complaints each relating to application of procedures and policies and application of conditions of service.

Despite the 30% overall increase, complaints were still generally finalised well before the statutory timeframe of three months, with the average sitting at 1.2 months. Of the 153 grievances handled that year, only 11 took longer than three months to complete.

“Senior managers were identified as the most common source of bullying …”

Although only six people had complained about bullying, this is only a partial picture. One third of respondents had witnessed bullying in the past year, and 22% had experienced bullying, according to a workforce survey carried out at the end of 2014.

This is a similar figure to other jurisdictions, with 23% of those in New South Wales and Queensland responding that they had experienced bullying, 19% of Victorians and 17% in the Australian public service.

Senior managers were identified as the most common source of bullying (31%), along with immediate manager (29%) and fellow worker (29%).

Some 31% of employees with disability and 26% of indigenous staff reported having been the subject of bullying. People with disability were most likely to state that they were dissatisfied with the way the complaint was handled.

Among the good news is that “employees report a continued improvement in confidence in their manager/supervisor’s ability to deal with workplace grievances and disputes”, stated the commission.

The territory does relatively well on the representation of women at leadership level, with 45% of senior management positions being occupied by females. Women comprise 44% of public sector executive jobs in Victoria.

A whole-of-government review of corporate human resources policies is being undertaken in the NT to establish a common set of corporate policies and, where possible, generic procedures to standardise corporate policies, reduce duplication of effort in agencies, and enable employees to move around the NTPS with the knowledge that corporate policies and procedures are consistent and recognisable, according to the OCPE’s annual report.

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