25 March 2022

Temporary staff drive surge in public servant numbers in 2021

| Ian Bushnell
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Government building in Canberra

Services Australia led the agencies that boosted staff during 2021, most of them temporary. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

The number of temporary Commonwealth public servants is at its highest in 20 years, apart from the government surge of June 2021 to meet the demands of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The latest employment data from the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) showed that at the end of last year the number of non-ongoing staff had increased by 2330 on the previous year to 19,512 or 12.5 per cent of the workforce.

The increase (2811) occurred in the first half of 2021, while non-ongoing employees decreased by 481 in the second half.

A little more than half (52.1 per cent) of non-ongoing staff (10,816) were engaged for a specific term while 3.3 per cent were hired for specific tasks; casuals made up 44.6 per cent (8696).

The proportion of ‘specified term’ non-ongoing employees as part of the whole APS workforce at December 2021 was 6.5 per cent, up from 5.4 per cent the previous year.

READ ALSO APS Census reveals the most – and least – satisfied and engaged staff in the public service

It has also more than doubled since 2014 and is the highest representation since 2002. It is also the first time since 2012 the proportion of specified term non-ongoing employees outnumbered casuals.

The proportion of casuals as part of the whole APS workforce has also risen since 2006. The amount at December 2021 (5.6 per cent) is down slightly from 5.8 per cent in December 2020.

The big employers of casual staff were Services Australia (3396, 39.1 per cent of all casuals), the Australian Taxation Office (1429, 16.4 per cent), the Australian Electoral Commission (1278, 14.7 per cent) and the Australian Bureau of Statistics (740, 8.5 per cent).

Almost all casual employees (96.9 per cent) are engaged at the APS 1–4 classifications.

APS job numbers.

Despite overall staff numbers surging by nearly five per cent during the year to 155,796, APS employee numbers have fallen by nearly seven per cent from their peak of 167,339 in June 2012.

At December 2021, there were 7170 more employees (4.8 per cent) than for the same time in 2020.

Most of this increase (5319 or 3.6 per cent) was in the first six months of 2021 when the APS was responding to the COVID-19 pandemic; a further 1851 (1.2 per cent) staff were hired in the second half.

Services Australia had the biggest increase, dominated by 2286 more non-ongoing employees, followed by Health, the Australian Electoral Commission, the Australian Bureau of Statistics and the National Disability Insurance Agency.

READ ALSO APSC to step up training to improve relationships with ministerial staff

Some departments and agencies had net losses of staff, led by Defence, Home Affairs and the Tax Office, including an increase of 980 ongoing and a decrease of 1599 non-ongoing employees.

The largest four agencies in the APS accounted for more than half (53.6 per cent, 83,560 employees) of the total APS workforce – Services Australia (21.4 per cent), the Tax Office (13.0 per cent), Defence (10.6 per cent) and Home Affairs (8.6 per cent).

There were 136,284 ongoing employees at December 2021, an increase of 4840 from the same time last year and the highest number since December 2017.

Ongoing employees make up 87.5 per cent of the APS workforce, down slightly from 88.4 per cent in 2020.

The ACT is home to the largest number of APS employees (59,724), or 38.3 per cent of the workforce.

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