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SA public sector recruitment reset follows growth of merit exemptions

South Australian public sector commissioner Erma Ranieri is asking other public service leaders to explain a high number of exemptions to merit-based recruitment processes, according to her latest State of the Sector report.

This year’s figures also show the outcomes from efforts to improve performance management, increase workforce diversity and keep a sharper eye on ethics across the whole government.

Ranieri reports there were 362 “exemptions to merit-based selection processes” for government jobs in the last two financial years — 192 in 2016-17 and 170 the year before — and that number appears to have started drifting upwards.

The commissioner will “remind agencies of their obligations in relation to the principles of merit” and ask if they can help explain the recent increase.

Reasons given by agencies for going outside the normal process in a survey were “entirely consistent with the intent” of the exemption, according to the report: they fast-tracked people for short-term roles, to convert their temporary jobs into permanent ones, or to hire specialists.

Premier Jay Weatherill has issued a range of recent public sector directives, including one clarifying minimum requirements for recruitment, and Ranieri will be initiating “further conversations with chief executives and agency heads about selection processes and minimum approaches for agencies to adopt” in future.

Diversity

Formal plans to achieve 50-50 gender representation at executive level have also multiplied; 69.4% of agencies now have them in place, up from 47% at the end of June, 2016.

Similarly, “workforce strategies to increase Aboriginal employment in their agency” were found in 73.5% of the sector this ear, up from 59% in the space of 12 months.

“We are still working towards achieving the targets for equal gender representation at the executive level, and Aboriginal employment,” Ranieri writes, but the report does not provide new figures to show progress, or lack of progress, on either.

Women held 47% of public sector executive roles at June 2016, and the report says this figure is still the latest available. Men are also slightly in the majority on government boards and hold about 60% of the chairing roles.

It’s the same story for Aboriginal employment; the report says the June 2016 figure of 1.77% for the overall public sector is the most recent available. The state government previously set a target of 2% by 2014.

“Responding to the progress to date, the Premier has set bold, new internal targets for chief executives to achieve,” according to the latest public sector workforce report.

Weatherill now wants each agency to have a minimum of 2% Aboriginal employment “by 2018” and by 2020, the Aboriginal representation targets are 4% across the public sector in general and 2% in the executive levels.

Ethics

There were 735 ethical investigations over 2016-17 — 126 more than in the previous year — and Ranieri says this is generally a good thing, showing greater awareness of the code of ethics, improved accountability systems and more reporting this year. But the probes take too long.

“The number of investigations into breaches of the Code of Ethics that have been underway for more than six months, in my opinion, is still too high (38 per cent of total investigations as at 30 June 2017),” the commissioner writes.

There were 295 investigations still outstanding at the end of June and 38% of those had run for longer than six months.

Based on agency survey responses, there were at least 328 ethical breaches and 112 investigations that found no breach. Over 60% of the problems concerned a failure to maintain professional and courteous behaviour, while other ethical issues involved handling of public resources and information.

Ranieri’s office is working with the Crown Solicitor’s Office on a way to speed up investigations and disciplinary processes, without reducing the rights of employees to natural justice.

Performance management

Twice-a-year performance management reviews are now the norm as mandated by Weatherill in May, 2016. As of June this year, 91.8% of the sector was operating the newer model, and more reform is coming. Over a third flagged a “new or significantly revised” approach in 2017-18 and 86.5% intended to modify their performance management and development system in some way.

Despite the changes at the policy level, however, the survey found only 36.1% of employees participated in a performance review in the first half of 2017.

Author Bio

Stephen Easton

Stephen Easton is a journalist at The Mandarin based in Canberra. He's previously reported for Canberra CityNews and worked on industry titles for The Intermedia Group.