Greens MP Jamie Parker defended the rights of public sector workers, opposing the Liberal government's Public Sector Employment and Management Amendment Bill.
Watch Mr Parker's speech here and read the transcript below:
Mr JAMIE PARKER (Balmain) [11.46 a.m.]: The Public Sector Employment and Management Amendment Bill 2012 amends the Public Sector Employment and Management Act 2002 to make changes to the so-called unattached list, to exclude the Industrial Relations Commission from having jurisdiction over those on the list, and to require the Public Service Commissioner to develop and issue guidelines to public sector agencies detailing the required elements of performance management systems. A new section 56 is inserted, which adds additional powers regarding "excess officers" in a department. Under existing law the department head must satisfy himself or herself that the number of officers exceeds the number necessary for the "effective, efficient and economical management" of the department. The department head is required to take all practicable steps to secure the transfer of excess officers to ongoing public sector positions.
This is intended to address the current situation whereby employees often end up in contract or temporary roles when these are available. If a worker takes temporary work in another agency, under new section 56 (2) that worker will still be considered an excess employee. Section 57, which regulates excessive salaries of officers of departments, will have a new section 57 (1) (b), which inserts the requirement for the transfer to be to an "ongoing public sector position". The requirements for the Public Service Commissioner to develop performance management system guidelines for public sector staff are contained in the new section 101A. This further requires the heads of public sector agencies to develop and implement performance management systems for employees. New section 103A means that excess employees will be excluded from the jurisdiction of the Industrial Relations Commission as this related to the provisions of the Industrial Relations Act governing unfair contracts.
I am sure that all members will agree that we want an efficient and effective public service. The introduction of this legislation is part of a policy announced by the O'Farrell Government in June 2011, which sought to end the former Government's no forced redundancies policy, to shorten the period for retaining excess employees from 12 months to three months, to reduce severance payments for public servants who reject an initial offer for voluntary redundancy and to offer a one-off incentive payment of $10,000 for current excess employees to accept a new voluntary redundancy offers. In June 2011 390 public servants were on the "unattached list". The previous legislation ending the no forced redundancies policy came into force on 1 August 2011. The New South Wales Commission of Audit investigation undertaken by Dr Kerry Schott—former head of Sydney Water—led to the following recommendation:
The Government should agree to the development of mechanisms to decouple positions from a narrow classification and appoint employees where appropriate to a substantive remuneration band level, to provide greater flexibility in staff deployment within an agency or cluster.
There is some merit in this approach, but I note that the Public Service Association strongly opposes these changes, arguing that those on the unattached list are generally still working full time but their position has been abolished. As part of the 2011 changes, workers on this list were offered an incentive redundancy payment and severance payments for unattached workers who rejected the initial voluntary redundancy offer were reduced. While the intent of much of this bill is admirable, The Greens believe that it should be amended and therefore we do not support it. The mismanagement of staffing arrangements by the former Government, including the no new positions policy, have contributed to the growth of the unattached list while agencies have become increasingly reliant on contractors.
We have seen media reports of the impact of the no new positions policy and the explosion in the use of contractors and temporary staff. That is at the heart of this issue. It has reduced the flexibility of the public service and resulted in an increase in the number of people on the unattached list. A primary factor when staff are considered excess is whether the number of staff employed is necessary for the economical management of the department. In an environment in which the Government has limited public sector pay increases to 2.5 per cent—which is below inflation—unless cost savings are proven it is possible that agencies will be forced to achieve cost savings through increasing redundancies.
New section 56 means a department head must take all practicable steps to secure the transfer of excess officers to ongoing—and I emphasise "ongoing"—public sector positions. The amendments are made in light of the decision in Public Service Association and Professional Officers' Association Amalgamated Union of New South Wales v Director of Public Employment  NSWIRComm 152. In that case the interpretation of "useful work" explicitly included work done on an ongoing basis as well as temporary, casual or contract positions. That goes to the heart of the issue. As at 14 March 2012, of the 344 jobs advertised on the www.jobs.nsw website, 131 were identified as temporary, casual or contract positions. Of course, that does not include the vast number of unofficial positions in the public service filled by temporary agency employees. I suspect, and I am sure many members will agree, that that number exceeds both of the figures on the www.jobs.nsw website.
In his agreement in principle speech, the Premier indicated that excess employees would be asked to choose between a voluntary redundancy package and a three-month retention period in which to pursue redeployment. Front-line staff will not be subject to this policy, and I acknowledged the points made by the member for Baulkham Hills. The three-month retention period in which to pursue redeployment sounds reasonable until one considers the length of time it takes to obtain a public service position. It can involve waiting many months between applications and interviews, and interviews and commencement of employment. Under this legislation, if the employee cannot find a new job in that limited and prescriptive period, he or she will be terminated under new section 56.
The exclusion from the jurisdiction of the Industrial Relations Commission means that those excess employees will not be able to challenge being considered as such and that will impact on their entitlements as they relate to redundancy payments and termination. The Government argues that these amendments will avoid lengthy and ongoing court proceedings under the Industrial Relations Act, which prevents agencies from implementing reasonable changes to their excess employee policies. That the Government seeks to have considerations excluded from the Act suggests that it is aware of the potential unfairness involved in the application and the success of any legal challenge. While The Greens acknowledge that this matter should be addressed, the approach taken in this bill—which we believe was generated as a result of the no new employees policy of the former Government—is not satisfactory.