We need private sector firing powers: APS chief John Lloyd

By David Donaldson

March 17, 2016

The APSC is working with agencies on making it easier to fire underperforming staff, Canberra’s public sector chief has revealed. Recruitment is also on the agenda, and he wants an end to acrimony over pay.

Australian public sector commissioner John Lloyd has foreshadowed moves to make it easier for public sector employers to fire underperforming staff.

Current arrangements for “employer-initiated separations”, as Lloyd (pictured) calls them, “are often seen as punitive” in the public service, as well as being “frequently lengthy and complex”, according to speaking notes released by the APSC yesterday.

The response from many managers is to avoid having to deal with underperforming staff, Lloyd argued. Some staff “mask their lack of capability or lack of job satisfaction, time-serving rather than actively participating in their workplace”.

In many private companies, a “mutually respectful parting-of-the-ways works to everyone’s benefit”, suggested the commissioner. “We should aspire to this for the APS.”

Lloyd stated work was already underway to figure out how to implement stronger firing powers in the APS:

“These changes to the employment framework are likely to require a mix of policy and process adjustments, cultural change initiatives and legal reform. We’ve commenced the process of working through what’s needed with agencies.”

Applications ‘so complex it is not worth applying’

The commissioner contended too many private sector workers were saying that applying for public sector jobs is “so complex it is not worth applying”:

“We are keen to make sure that recruitment can be completed in a timely and straightforward manner. The objective is to enable rather than obstruct our ability to attract the best and brightest people.”

The APSC is working on making it easier for staff to move around within government, he explained.

Despite the news that it might be easier to fire people, employee motivation would be key to ensuring a productive workforce, he said:

“All the research shows that the key to unlocking high performance is to ensure that good performance conversations occur regularly between managers and employees.”

He added staff motivation was a “fundamental challenge” for performance management.

EBA negotiation ‘acrimonious debate’

Lloyd used the opportunity to call on unions and staff to agree to agency proposals in ongoing enterprise bargaining:

“Getting bogged down in an acrimonious debate over the detail of individual agreement clauses is no way to conduct a productive bargaining process. Agencies and employee representatives have to find workable solutions within the government’s established bargaining framework.”

He argued that removing conditions from EBAs and placing them in agency policy — a move unions argue diminishes workplace rights — “creates a more flexible environment for managing important but routine matters”.

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