“Seamless” is the buzz word when talking about the new ACT Government Service. There is to be a “”seamless” transition from having all ACT public servants as part of the Commonwealth service to having a separate ACT service. There is to be “”seamless” transfers from one service to the other.
You can just see Bernard Wolley interrupting: “Er, Minister, if it is to be seamless then it is the same fabric, so you cannot have two fabrics joined seamlessly.”
And he’s right. There will be some seams when the new ACT service begins on July 1 and about 20,000 Public Sector employees in Canberra find themselves moved by legislation from the Commonwealth Service to the ACT Government Service.
It is inevitable, if we are to have a separate service, and without a separate service we cannot be truly called self-governing. The seams are not a bad thing. What are they? How will the two services differ and what effect will that have on employees, present and future?
After five and bit years of self-government, the ACT Government hopes to have its legislation through the Assembly and that the Federal Government will have got complementary legislation through the Federal Parliament so the new service can begin on July 1.
There are several views about the place on what is to happen.
The ACT Government thinks the new position will provide a comprehensive public-sector ethos for the ACT; protect existing employees’ rights; and provide a structure for effective and efficient delivery of government services to the people of the ACT.
The ACT Opposition thinks the Government, after slopping about for five years, has just hoisted a new logo, left everyone in the same chairs and nothing will change. In short, an opportunity was lost.
The Federal Government wants to cut the apron strings and does not want a whole lot of ACT public servants continuously integrated with its service. Rather it wants similar transfer arrangements as the states with some extras in recognition that both services work in the same town and some special rights for present employees who move from what is technically Commonwealth employment to ACT employment on Day 1. (Let’s call these people Day Oners and people who join the ACT service after Day 1, the Thereafters.)
The unions have wanted both Day Oners and the Thereafters to get access to the Commonwealth beyond what the Federal Government wanted to give.
Government lawyers are very concerned about independence and potential conflict of interest in having their employment under the new Public Sector Management Act. The chief executive of the Legal Aid Commission, Chris Staniforth, and the Director of Public Prosecutions, Ken Crispin, have argued that lawyers in their offices have to take action from time to time against government and its employees and they need independence to do that. They are being supported by the private profession.
Some professional engineers, particularly at ACTEW, are concerned about being embraced in the government system.
Clearly the task was not going to be easy. Let’s look at the difference in structure between the ACT and Commonwealth services before looking at what will happen to Day Oners’ rights.
There are several major differences:
1. Control. The Commonwealth Government has divested a lot of control over public-sector employment to the Public Service Commission (or previously the Board). The Commission controlled not only details of individuals’ employment (who gets promoted etc) but also general principles of employment. The Government was at arm’s length. The ACT will be different. The Government will be at only fingers’ length. The Commissioner for Public Administration (appointed directly by the Chief Minister) will determine matters of individual employment, but the Government will retain control over matters and policies of general employment (equal opportunity, training etc).
2. Consolidation and codification: All the law is put in one place, the Public Sector Management Act. The Commonwealth has it in several Acts, so that supernnuation, maternity leave, long-service leave etc are treated in separate Acts and you have to shuffle between them. The duties of ACT public servants and consequential disciplinary requirements are set out in the Act near the front. The Commonwealth duties and disciplinary provisions include common-law requirements and are vaguer. The single ACT law will also include whistleblower-protection provisions.
3. Comprehensive treatment: In the Commonwealth, as a hang-up from the past, a lot of blue-collar workers were not “”officers” and have had lesser rights. These are called “”continuing employees.” The Commonwealth Act applies to only 30 to 40 per cent of the Commonwealth public-sector employees. In the ACT every public-sector employee will be covered, be defined as an “”officer” and have the same rights. The ACT’s underlying employment rights and duties will apply throughout the public-sector, including to semi-independent bodies and commercial enterprises. (There are some minor exceptions, detailed later.)
4. The position of head of department: The Commonwealth has a mix of permanent, fixed-term and contract heads. The Remumeration Tribunal has recognised that an “”on-your-bike” arrangement is worth about 20 per cent extra pay. The theory is that after a fixed contract term the head of department can be put on his or her bike with no recompense, but during the contract gets a 20 per cent loading. The ACT is to have its heads of department (called chief executive officers) as permanent officers.
5. The Senior Executive Service: The ACT will have a unique system for appointing and promoting members of the Senior Executive Service. It will obviate the the sort of difficulty posed by the NSW Metherell affair. A three-person committee will have to unanimously endorse departmental recommendations for SES appointments and promotions. The members of the committee will be the commissioner (or delgate), the head of the Chief Minister’s Department (or delgate) and the chief executive of the department (or delegate). The system may obviate allegations of favourism but will concentrate a power of veto over all SES appointments in the hands of head of the Chief Minister’s Department.
6. The last difference is that the Commonwealth requires permanent officers to be Australian citizens; the ACT will require only permanent residence.
(Drop Cap) On Day One, 22,800 (give or take a few) employees will transfer from the Commonwealth to the ACT Government Service. The transfer will change the nature of employment and the changes will come by statute.
The arguments have revolved around mobility. One what terms can Day Oners and the Thereafters go back to the Commonwealth service.
The Federal Government has been keen to make ACT public-sector employees as close to their counter-parts in the states. The unions have sought far greater inter-changeability.
Day Oners going back will get credit for theit pre-July 1 1994 service for purposes of recreation, sick and long-service leave and for redundancy.
The Thereafters will get credit only for recreation, sick and long-service leave, not redundancy. The Feds argue that the Thereafters will be transferring “”on notice” or “”with knowledge” whereas the Day Oners will have been transferred by statute.
An issue to be resolved is whether recreation leave will get paid out before the transfer or whether credits can be carried and the accounts fixed up by inter-government agreement. The issue is being argued for transfers of state public servants, too. It seems likely that the outcome will be that tranferees will be able to take credits with them, rather than being paid out, despite the administrative inconvenience for the new manager.
After transfer to the Commonwealth service, Day Oners and the Thereafters will accrue recreation, long-service and sick pay at the Commonwealth rate. At present they are the same, but they may vary up or down later.
ACT public-sector employees will be in a better position than outsiders and state public-sector employees in one significant area. They will be allowed to apply for all Gazette jobs. Gazette jobs are usually reserved for internal appointment within the Commonwealth Public Service.
A question to be resolved is whether Day Oners and/or the Thereafters can get what are called Section 50 transfers. These are transfers into a job at the same level in different section or department. These are done with the agreement of the new manager and are not subject to appeal.
The tricky point for the Commonwealth is that ACT employees could take a Commonwealth position and exclude Commonwealth employees from it.
The outstanding issues have been before the Industrial Relations Commission which has called for more talks between the Federal Government and the 14 unions involved.
The ACT Government position generally is these issues are largely a matter for the Commonwealth and its present employees. As far as the ACT is concerned it is ready to set up a shiny new service.
The head of public-sector management in the ACT, Linda Webb, says the mobility issue is different in the ACT from other states.
“”We are in the same town and it is desirable to have a seamless move for individuals so they do not have to make big career changes and sot hat paperwork is done behind the scenes,” she says.
“”It is also desirable for both services to get the benefits of a wider range of skills and for individuals to get the opportunity to do a wider range of tasks.”
The numbers in the town show the advantages of freer exchange. One third of public-sector employment in the ACT, is by the ACT Government (22000). Two-thirds is Federal Government employment (about 40,000). Together they are just under half of the ACT’s workforce of 130,000.