18 May 2021

COVID-19 boosts ACT Public Service workforce, hastens digital take-up

| Ian Bushnell
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The drive-through COVID-19 testing site at Kambah

ACT Health grew the most, in response to the pandemic emergency. Photo: Canberra Health Services.

The ACT Public Service grew and expanded its use of digital technology to meet the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic during 2019-20, according to the latest State of the Service report, which also shows the workforce increased by 5.7 per cent or 1,321 employees in 2019-20, mainly in Health and Education.

Unsurprisingly, the ACT Health Directorate grew the most, boosting its staff by 14.6 per cent.

As at 30 June 2020, the ACTPS employed 24,529 staff, 78.1 per cent of them permanent, 16.6 per cent temporary and 5.5 per cent casual.

The proportion of women staff remains above national averages, at 64.8 per cent, while 35 per cent were men, and 0.1% reported their gender as other than male or female.

The number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff has grown markedly over the past five years, and at 30 June 2020 there were 489 employed, a jump of 15.6 per cent on the previous year and a 58 per cent increase since 2016.

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In March 2020, the Chief Minister, Treasury and Economic Development Directorate established the adjunct role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Adviser, filled by Executive Branch Manager of the National Arboretum, Wiradjuri man Scott Saddler.

About 2.8 per cent of staff identify as having a disability, a steady increase since 2016, while 20.3 per cent identify as Culturally and Linguistically Diverse.

Incentive payments to staff recruited to the ACT during 2019-20 totalled $21,148,722, with Canberra Health Services arrangements accounting for about 95.1 per cent of that.

The report says that as the fallout from the pandemic hit home, the ACTPS moved more services online and adopted more technology to help staff work from home.

”COVID-19 has proven to be a catalyst for significant changes to service delivery,” the report said.

”By driving digital and phone services as the preferred transaction channels, Access Canberra has minimised the need for face-to-face transactions and non-essential travel to Service Centres, and in turn reduced Service Centre transactions by around 60 per cent.”

Access Canberra now has more than 450 services available online.

The report says that when the Public Health Emergency was declared, Shared Services ICT significantly expanded remote access technologies to support staff to work from home.

This meant that more than 20,000 ACTPS staff could access the network from anywhere as though they were still in ‘the office’, with the average number of remote users tripling from February to June.

There was also a significant rise in staff using digital tools such as Jabber, Webex and Microsoft Teams to continue delivering government services.

”The use of mobile web conferencing has provided flexibility to collaborate and connect with colleagues at the touch of a button by using the calling, (virtual) meeting and screen sharing capabilities,” the report said.

”The number of interactions through these collaboration tools have remained steady since their peak in July 2020, with well over three million connections held since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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While various directorates ran their own staff surveys during the year, the ACTPS will conduct a whole-of-government staff engagement survey during 2020-21, including questions on mobility and secondment.

The report said rigid legislative and administrative processes limited the Service’s ability to transfer staff quickly to areas of need.

”This became evident during the COVID-19 pandemic, making it at times difficult to quickly deploy staff to frontline services,” it said.

Reports of bullying and harassment, which has been a bugbear in Health, were down slightly. Still, the number that went to preliminary assessment increased from 90 to 153, attributed to staff being encouraged to come forward.

The number of complaints where there was a substantiated finding of bullying or harassment fell from 11 to four. There were seven cases still under investigation at the end of 2019-20.

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