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PM&C secretary denies department shuts up shop at 4pm

Date

Noel Towell

Ian Watt, right, has described reports of a 4pm deadline in his department as offensive.

Ian Watt, right, has described reports of a 4pm deadline in his department as offensive. Photo: Andrew Meares

The Prime Minister’s public service department won’t call it a day until long after 4pm, the nation’s top bureaucrat has declared.

Secretary of the Prime Minister and Cabinet Ian Watt has addressed his troops, telling them that any suggestion of a 4pm “quitting time” at the elite department is “offensive.”

The Canberra Times revealed on Monday that Mr Watt’s office had a policy of not accepting new work for action after 4pm each working day.

The story came against a backdrop of public service agencies and department pressuring their employees to work longer hours in return for any annual pay rises included in their new enterprise bargaining agreement.

But Dr Watt, whose media advisers refused to answer questions prior to the publication of Monday’s story, responded to the article in an email to his department, which will soon have more than 500 new recruits as a result of budget decisions.

Dr Watt said there was no culture of knocking off early at PM&C and that quitting time was much, much later than 4pm each day.

“As many of you are aware, my office has a practice of attempting, as far as possible, to ensure that all work that must be seen and actioned by me that day or overnight, is submitted by 4.00 pm," Dr Watt wrote. 

“This is necessary so that the material can be recorded, processed and any clarification sought before my office closes (usually between 6.45 pm and 7.15 pm) and I can consider it before the start of business the next day.

 “There are always exceptions and urgent matters are often submitted after 4.00 pm.”

Dr Watt branded the report “mischievous”, “confused” and blatantly incorrect and warned his rapidly growing department that there might be more to come during the upcoming wage talks process.

“The suggestion of a 4.00 pm ‘quitting time’ for anyone in PM&C is blatantly incorrect,” Dr Watt wrote.

“PM&C staff work hard and, like me, put in hours after 4.00 pm, often well after 4.00 pm, every day.

“In the course of our Enterprise Agreement negotiations and in commentary on the Commonwealth Budget, it is possible that there will be further confused or mischievous reporting. “

It was a tough week for the top bureaucrat, who missed out on a $40,000 pay rise, which was due in July after the Federal Remuneration Tribunal announced on Monday that it agreed with the Abbott government that the wages of top public servants should be frozen.

Then Tuesday’s budget brought confirmation that 16500 federal public service jobs were to be cut during the next four years.

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