As a nation, Australia has faced a challenging few years: from bushfires to dealing with a global pandemic. Through all this, the importance of our public service has never been so clear.
Whether it’s Centrelink workers undertaking hours and hours of overtime every night to ensure furloughed workers can put food on the table, or the tax office administering job keeper to keep 1000’s of Australian businesses operating, the Australian community would not have weathered the storm that has been covid without the tireless and exceptional work of the Federal Public Service.
But, as good as the work of our Federal Public Service has been, cracks are forming while opportunities to support communities and spend taxpayers money more efficiently are being missed.
A key example of this is the ever-increasing use of expensive labour hire employment practices in the Federal Public Service. Between 2013 and June 2021 excluding the NDIA (an agency itself with half its workforce employed through labour hire), $11.5 billion was paid out to labour hire companies.
Today there are at least 20,000 labour hire workers employed alongside permanent staff in the Federal Public Service. These staff, for the most part, are doing the exact same work as their directly employed colleagues. However, purely because of their form of employment they are significantly more expensive for the taxpayer, all the while the employees themselves receive lower pay and conditions.
Why is this ridiculous waste of money occurring, you may ask?
The answer is this: in 2013, the newly elected Coalition Government introduced arbitrary staffing caps that limited the number of directly employed public servants to 2007 – 2008 levels. This has forced Agencies and Departments to either privatise or use expensive labour hire arrangements to ensure they have enough staff to meet the needs of the public.
It is hard to know exactly how widespread labour hire is. The federal government, for reasons only they can answer, choose not to routinely report this data. The CPSU however, is aware of at least 350 labour hire staff in Tasmania and estimates put the real figure closer to 500.
CPSU research shows that labour hire companies routinely charge the taxpayer 20 -50 percent above the hourly rate of an equivalent directly employed public servant while paying their workers less. Not only are these employment practices eye wateringly expensive, but they are also used as a tool to drive down wages in both the public and private sector, with large profits skimmed off by multinational labour hire firms – money that will now never be spent in our communities.
It is no secret that many of these companies employ extremely aggressive tax practices and pay little tax in Australia. A good government would lift the artificial caps on direct employment and reduce its reliance on labour hire contracts. It could then use those same savings to create additional secure jobs all while reducing costs to the taxpayer.
There is also the opportunity to disperse these jobs into regional Tasmania, particularly areas that are not receiving a fair share of APS jobs.
The 2016 Census showed that electorate of Braddon and Bass make up 38.2 Percent of Tasmania’s total population. Yet, based on June 2021 APS staffing levels only 15.1 percent of the 3828 federal public service jobs in Tasmania are situated in the Northern Tasmanian electorates. Commercial real estate costs, particularly in the Northwest of Tasmania, are some of the lowest in the country and would provide a significant cost-saving to government. The pandemic has shown that previous technical barriers to remote work teams in the Public Service, are now next to non-existent. Last year during the height of the pandemic 69% of all APS staff, (excluding Services Australia) were successfully working remotely.
While the Morrison government has talked a big game when it comes to regional jobs and decentralisation, the evidence so far is to the contrary. Between December 2013 and December 2020, the amount of public service jobs in regional Australia in fact declined by 7.9%.
Research by the Australia Institute into the flow-on effect of public service jobs into local communities show that for every APS job created there is a multiplier effect of 1.68 jobs created in Tasmania.
The case for an investment in APS jobs in northern Tasmania has never been clearer. People living in Northern Tasmania are crying out for career opportunities and secure work.
A Northern Tasmania public service jobs hub could turn money wasted on expensive labour hire into secure jobs that support Northern Tasmania.
As a society, we have come to realise what holds us together. It is clear from the last two years that the Australian community would not have been able to face many of its recent challenges without the dedicated and exceptional work of the Australian Public Service. It’s time to get a better bang for our buck and choose secure work and better services in the regions over expensive labour hire contracts.