Public sector employment freeze proves a jobs boon for private recruiters

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Private recruitment firms are reaping tens of millions of dollars from the federal government's public service cuts, supplying thousands of temporary bureaucrats, despite the hiring freeze.

The public service's workplace authority admits it is powerless to stop the bonanza with the rules of the freeze leaving departmental bosses free to dip into their budgets and pay the private sector for contract labour to fill growing gaps in the workforce.

An analysis of hundreds of government contracts signed since the Abbott government came to office show that recruitment companies have boosted the number of deals won to supply temps to federal departments. Seventeen recruitment firms have snared more than $25 million in contracts since September, mostly for ''temporary personnel services'' but also to supply specialist workers including computer programmers and for ''human resources'' consultancy services.

The trend is not confined to big departments, who traditionally rely heavily on temporary workers supplied by the private sector.

Geoscience Australia, which only has about 740 permanent workers on its books, signed contracts worth $1.4 million with recruitment firms just last month and this month.

The freeze was imposed in October as part of the Coalition government's public sector cost-cutting agenda but hiring activity has continued in the bureaucracy despite the government's intentions.


The Canberra Times revealed less than four weeks after the freeze began that departments were still hiring consultants and contractors, some of them charging thousands of dollars for each day's work.

Last month it emerged that eight agencies had asked for exemptions to allow them to hire temporary workers. A spokeswoman for the Public Service Commission, which enforces the freezes and doles out exceptions, conceded that departmental bosses were free under the rules to use their budgets to pay hire companies to boost dwindling workforces.

''In the case of labour hire arrangements, agency heads are responsible if they choose to use them, having regard to the budgetary situation of their agency and government policy objectives,'' the commission spokeswoman said.

''Agency budgets remain the responsibility of each individual agency head and outside the scope of the Australian Public Service Commission.''

A spokesman for Geoscience Australia said most of the private contracts signed by the agency recently were about keeping its temps at work rather than hiring new ones.

''The majority of temporary staff contracts (14 of 17) listed in the recent AusTender posting are contract extensions for staff already working on projects,'' he said.

''For operational purposes we needed to extend these contracts to ensure delivery of programs scheduled for completion in the 2013-14 financial year. These contracts will finish by the end of June 2014, and future contract positions will be considered as part of the 2014-15 program planning process.''

He said most of the contract workers had skills that Geoscience could not supply in-house.

The spokesman said the rest of the contracts, worth about $250,000, were for short-term jobs hiring IT specialists and a business analyst ''to produce specific outcomes for existing programs''.

''Overall, Geoscience Australia has reduced the amount of contract staff over a number of years; and those numbers are expected to continue to decrease in the 2014-2015 financial year,'' he said.

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