The Australian Public Service’s growing reliance on labour-hire to fill staff and work gaps, and surge when needed, faces a shake-up if Labor is elected next year.
Public Service spokesperson Senator Katy Gallagher says the party’s proposed labour-hire laws would be applied to the APS and a Labor government would conduct an audit of the current contracting practices.
Senator Gallagher also has her sights on the current staffing cap, which prevents departments and agencies from hiring more permanent staff.
“The Liberal/National Government’s approach to the APS over the past eight years has been defined by reckless cuts and expensive outsourcing all stemming from their damaging and arbitrary staffing cap,” she told Region Media.
Senator Gallagher made the comments after Labor leader Anthony Albanese introduced a private member’s bill into the House of Representatives to end labour-hire “rorts”, where different workers in the same industry or doing the same job are on different pay rates.
Mr Albanese’s bill is mainly directed at casual hiring in the mining industry and across other private sector industries, but Senator Gallagher said the Federal Government also had a responsibility to be a fair employer.
“Taxpayers’ money should be used to employ people in secure jobs with fair pay and conditions. That’s why @AlboMP’s same job, same pay announcement will extend to public servants,” she tweeted.
Senator Gallagher later said Labor’s commitment to an audit of employment in the APS would help identify areas in which work currently performed by labour-hire, contractors and casuals could be done more effectively by public servants with a view to increasing the number of direct, permanent jobs.
“At the end of the day, it’s about making sure that the Australian Public Service is a model employer that is using taxpayer money responsibly and to support secure employment with fair pay and conditions,” she said.
The comments also come after a Senate committee found last month that the increased use of outsourcing and short-term, temporary staff had eroded the capability of the APS and allowed labour-hire companies to “pillage the public purse”.
The Second interim report: insecurity in publicly-funded jobs from the Select Committee on Job Security blamed the Coalition Government’s average level staffing cap for the over-use of temporary workers, whose hire came at a considerable mark-up to agencies.
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The committee had also heard that contractors experienced lower conditions and less career progression than permanent staff.
It recommended that agencies only use outside staff when the work is genuinely short-term and not ongoing.
The lack of transparency around labour-hire deals also came in for criticism and the committee called for the Australian Public Service Commission to collect and publish data on the use of contractors, consultants and labour-hire workers; the Department of Finance to collect and publish data on their cost; and for labour-hire firms to disclose pay rates and employee conditions.
But Coalition members of the committee dissented, arguing that hiring outside staff was crucial to managing surges in demand and delivering the necessary services to the Australian public at the standard expected.
In August, Auditor-General Grant Hehir told a Senate inquiry that he would be investigating the APS’s use of labour-hire, but the audit is yet to be announced.
Last month, an Australia Institute report also hit out at the rising use and cost of consultancies, revealing that the Federal Government’s outlay on private consultancies had topped $1 billion.
It claimed the Federal Government was relying on private consultancy firms, rather than public service knowledge, with the results not open to public scrutiny.