APS "work cultures" in the spotlight

The Abbott government has ordered a sweeping review of Australia's workplace laws which will examine the rights, entitlements and "long-held work cultures" of 160,000 federal public servants.

Employment Minister Eric Abetz.
Employment Minister Eric Abetz.  Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

The issues papers for the inquiry into Australia's workplace relations framework puts key public service conditions, some of which have been in place for decades, squarely on the table.

Five issues papers that set out the key areas of the Productivity Commission's inquiry, the broadest review of IR laws of its kind in a generation, were published on Thursday.

The section of the document on public sector employment asks for submissions on ways to bring public service conditions more in line with those of workers in the private sector.

Protection under administrative law against unfair dismissal or other unjust punishments, available to public servants but not other workers, will come under scrutiny.


The existence of the office of the Australian Public Service's Merit Protection Commissioner, to which government officials can appeal employment decisions, is also up for discussion.

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The Productivity Commission's issues paper canvasses the National Commission of Audit, which called for the institution to be scrapped altogether altogether and for legislative amendments requiring public servants to be "highly productive".

"Administrative law (for example, merits review) covers some key public sector employment issues, adding another layer of regulatory requirements and scope for appeal," according to the Issue Paper.

Issues of "management control" in Australia's public sector workplaces will also be examined by the inquiry as will their workplace cultures.

 "Management control in the public sector is less clear-cut than in the private sector, for example, in relation to the dismissal of staff," the document states.

"Reforms to the workplace relations system applying to the private sector may need to be accompanied by complementary measures (for example in administrative law, codes of conduct or long-held work cultures) to realise the benefits for the public sector."

The comission notes that any changes of the Fair Work Act that come out of its inquiry might need specific provisions relating to public sector employees to make sure the full effects of reform were felt in federal, state and local government workplaces.

"The impacts of changes to the generic WR system may vary depending on whether workplaces are private or public," the issues paper says.

"Reforms might need to take account of the fact that outputs and productivity improvements are less easily measured and consequently less transparent in the public sector.

"Accordingly, arrangements in the workplace relations system aimed at improving productivity in the private sector might not always be easily transferable to the public sector.

Employment Minister Eric Abetz said he wanted all interested parties to make submissions to the Productivity Commission's inquiry.

"This is a once in a generation review of the workplace relations system and I encourage all interested parties to take this important opportunity to participate, whether they are unions, employer groups, employers, individual employees or the unemployed," Senator Abetz said today.


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