Australian Public Service (APS) employment continues to be a focus of the Federal budget.

In the 2012-2013 Federal Budget, total APS job cuts were forecasted to be more than 17,000 over the three-year forward estimates period. This has already resulted in a reduction of around 2,608 APS employees in the six months between July and December last year1.

The 2013-2014 Federal Budget has forecasted further savings of up to $600 million coming from savings from a reduction in APS employee numbers and APS efficiencies:

The Government will also achieve savings of up to around $600 million over four years to 2016-17 from public service efficiency reforms that focus on a range of efficiencies, including property management, paid parking, procurement and management structures of the Australian Public Service [emphasis added]2.

The Government has indicated that APS employee reductions will target senior staff at the 1 and 2 executive levels and the Senior Executive Service (SES) levels3.

Eight critical strategies for managing change in the workplace

The impact of the Budget on public servant numbers will mean that there will continue to be significant workplace change in the APS. Periods of workplace change and uncertainty can have a significant impact on workplace legal risks.

We have highlighted eight critical strategies for managing change in APS workplaces as a result of restructuring and reducing staff numbers.

  1. Ensure compliance with enterprise agreement requirements, including in relation to consultation and redundancy and redeployment procedures. A failure to comply may result in a dispute at the Fair Work Commission under agreement dispute resolution clauses, or a claim for breach under section 50 of the Fair Work Act, which is a civil remedy provision dealt with by the courts.
  2. Ensure that if there are redundancies, they are genuine redundancies for the purposes of the Fair Work Act’s unfair dismissal provisions where the APS employee is agreement covered.
  3. Ensure compliance with SES terms and conditions of employment contained in contracts of employment, industrial agreements and provisions of the Public Service Act (including sections 37 and 38 dealing with incentives to retire and Commissioner’s certificate required for termination of SES employment).
  4. Minimise the risk that selection processes, for those employees affected by change give rise to adverse action or discrimination claims, by ensuring that reasons for changes that impact on employees are clearly articulated – and legitimate.
  5. Review and refresh policies and procedures dealing with workplace bullying and grievances making it clear that workplace bullying does not include reasonable management action undertaken in a reasonable way. This should be supported by assistance to managers and supervisors in undertaking appropriate performance and misconduct management. An increase in workplace bullying and stress complaints can occur if employees feel under pressure in their roles as a result of change and uncertainty.
  6. To minimise risks of employee stress, that can arise from uncertainty, in the workplace any process dealing with workplace change should incorporate a transparent and considered consultation process that engages employees and the relevant unions. Consultation including one-on-one discussion with potentially impacted employees is strongly recommended to minimise the risks of claims or grievances being made.
  7. Consider employees who may have particular employment circumstances or needs, who may feel the stressors of uncertain employment more than other employees, such as employees on parental leave and employees with workers’ compensation claims or long term illness/injuries. Be ready to answer questions that these employees may have and be proactive in providing information.
  8. If an employee has performance or conduct issues, it is better to address these front on rather than using redundancies to remove the problem from the workplace. A failure to deal appropriately with a performance or conduct issue can easily become a systemic issue in an Agency – it is important that management is seen to be dealing with these issues so that other employees can see the expected standards of performance and behaviour and managers understand what is required of them in managing team members.

By applying our eight critical strategies for managing change in the APS, Agencies can take steps to appropriately manage legal risks that can arise as a result of uncertainty and change.