Almost 1000 Commonwealth public servants asked for official reviews of workplace decisions affecting their employment in the last financial year.
Most applicants were seeking reviews of adverse promotion decisions made against them.
The Merit Protection Commissioner’s annual report for 2021-22 was recently tabled in the Federal Parliament, showing its reviews under the Review of Action Scheme.
Across the Australian Public Service, 996 employees sought merits reviews over the 12-month period, a rise from 746 the previous year.
In total, 323 merits reviews were conducted.
Merit reviews are for decisions that affect APS employment, such as promotion or workplace decisions.
Of the 996 applicants, only 130 covered a range of workplace decisions other than promotion decisions.
The top four agencies with staff asking for merit reviews of promotion decisions were Services Australia, the ATO, Home Affairs and the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
Merit Protection Commissioner Linda Waugh said her office was proud to independently support an APS underpinned by merit, integrity, accountability and transparency.
“In addition to meeting these core objectives, my office also discovered the [Review of Actions] scheme can detect unintentional issues with the application of the merit principle,” Ms Waugh said.
“This often applied in newly designed selection processes that involved artificial intelligence (AI) and automated technologies. This led to several recruitment decisions being overturned by the MPC.
“As a result, the MPC sponsored an APS graduate project to design guidance for APS agencies to use AI and automated technologies selection assessment tools that follow the merit principle.”
The annual report highlights the key achievements for the last financial year, which include increased engagement from the MPC with key stakeholders, and delivering more resources to both employees and agencies. This was achieved by providing more training and information sessions and enhancing the commission’s website content.
The MPC appears to have effectively managed the challenge of a surge in applications for promotion review applications.
The report shows it met its deadlines in more than 80 per cent of workplace decision reviews and 83 per cent of reviews of promotion decisions.
“One important review function that saw increased utility in 2021–22 was for promotion reviews,” Ms Waugh writes in the foreword to her report.
“Limited to promotions up to APS 6 level, this function allows an APS employee to seek an independent merits review of a promotion they applied for and missed out on.
“It can only be exercised when another APS employee won the role, and the review is solely to assess who had the most merit for the advertised job.
“This type of review was designed to assure staff and senior leaders that merit forms the basis of APS promotions and to prevent nepotism and cronyism.”
During 2021-22, the MPC discovered that the scheme could also detect unintentional issues with applying the merit principle in newly designed selection processes.
The Commissioner pointed out that this led to a number of recruitment decisions being overturned.
“In 2021-22, Promotion Review Committees overturned 4.46 per cent of promotion decisions reviewed,” she said.
“This was significantly higher than the 0.66 per cent in the preceding year. Overall, 12 promotion decisions were overturned.”