More public service staff kept in state of limbo

Show comments

The latest figures point to a growing underclass in the Australian public service, with the number of bureaucrats in insecure jobs rising markedly even in the face of sporadic cuts to their ranks.

Non-ongoing staff now number more than 13,500, which is a 3 per cent increase in the year to December, according to figures just released by the Australian Public Service Commission.

Many non-ongoing staff are women and most are classified APS 1 or 2, the lowest pay grades apart from trainees and graduates.

Do you know more? Send your confidential tips to


Observers say low pay classifications add further pressure to people who cannot financially plan for the future. They already could be sacked with little notice.

It continues a long-term trend that has seen insecure job numbers rise by 60 per cent in the Australian Public Service in the past nine years.

The Australian Public Service Commission's statistics show 1400 non-ongoing staff lost their jobs between June 2012 and June 2013 and another 1000 cast aside in 2007 had not been enough to stop the long-term proliferation.

Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Nadine Flood said many people had been serving in entry level roles for years.

''These aren't [temporary] Christmas time jobs they're filling,'' Ms Flood said. ''These are insecure contracts being rolled over year after year.''

The total number of permanent staff fell by 1.3 per cent in the year to December to 150,119 - putting it at the same level as the public service in 2009.

Ms Flood also said there was the threat of a female workforce concentrated in lower-paid roles.

Women make up about 60 per cent of the Commonwealth public service but figures show they are under-represented in executive ranks relative to their numbers in the APS workforce.

They also occupied more than half of the non-ongoing jobs.

The spokeswoman for the government's Workplace Gender Equality Agency, Clare Buttner, said the blockage in the talent appeared to begin at the EL1 level.

''It is concerning because it suggests women are hitting a glass ceiling and the APS may not be making the best use of female talent,'' she said.

Figures suggest promotions are much easier for men and women to obtain once they secure permanent roles.

Australian National University academic and former public service commissioner Andrew Podger said ''classification creep'' among permanent staff was more concerning than increases in non-ongoing numbers.

Trainees, graduates, APS 1 and 2 staff accounted for 5000 of the 150,000-strong workforce at the end of last year.

Professor Podger said they accounted for half the permanent APS workforce in 1980.

''Technological change explains a great deal of this and contracting explains a little as well, but one cannot help feeling that we are paying higher level staff way too much for the time they spend these days on low-level activities,'' Professor Podger said.

''The figures also suggest a risk that lower level staff are much more likely to be denied permanency in the APS than others.'' He speculated that increased numbers of non-ongoing staff were probably needed to save money, get certain jobs done and encourage disadvantaged people into permanent jobs.

An Australian Public Service Commission spokeswoman said 91.7 per cent of Commonwealth public servants were permanent while 8.3 per cent were non-ongoing.

''This non-ongoing figure as a percentage of total APS employment represents a decrease of 2.1 percentage points since June 30, 1999,'' she said. ''Each year sees large shifts in the use of non-ongoing employment in individual agencies, suggesting agencies are using non-ongoing employment to respond to and manage peaks in workforce demand and the need for specialised skills for specific periods.''