Federal job cuts of 12,000 swallowed by projections of 14,500 retrenchments

By Julian Bajkowski

The Abbott government’s election promise of shedding 12,000 federal public service jobs voluntarily has started to publicly unravel after estimates of at least another 14,500 forced redundancies prompted by Labor’s loathed efficiency dividend opened a trapdoor under the Coalition’s plans.

As Canberra’s public sector workers brace for one of the bleakest Christmas’ in more than 15 years, expectations are growing that the Coalition will be forced to handball a rethink on its downsizing program to the Commission of Audit to come up with answers on how to shed jobs.

The rethink comes after it was reported that official advice on the impact and size of the previous Labor’s government’s efficiency dividend had been provided to the new government.

The big problem for the Coalition now is that if the efficiency dividend cuts of 14,500 staff remain in place, it will be forced to break its twin promises of not instigating mass redundancies nor going over and above the target of 12,000 voluntary departures.

The likelihood of keeping both reductions in place is effectively unworkable because it would remove a whopping 26,500 jobs from the Australian Public Service, a scenario that could heavily impact the functioning of the bureaucracy and decimate Canberra’s economy.

Both The Canberra Times and The Australian Financial Review have reported that the government is poised for a rethink on its target numbers.

Maintaining forced redundancies caused by the efficiency dividend is shaping up to be expensive because the government will be required to find the money to pay out the entitlements of public servants.

Funding retrenchments – as well as superannuation payments where applicable for retiring public servants – would also have the effect of reducing the pool of money available to the government.

A compounding problem for the government is that as long as the efficiency dividend sackings are maintained, there is simply no logical financial incentive for public servants to move out of their roles.

The Department of Health has already set up a so-called Business Services Centre as a holding pool for staff whose roles have essentially been axed, a move that has done little for morale.

But a bigger problem for both senior departmental staff and ministers is that a rush for the exits by talented and readily re-employable staff chasing payouts could saddle the bureaucracy with the least efficient and productive staff that have been largely shielded from performance management because of complex inefficiency procedures that require external validation.

Government News has been told that the inefficiency procedures, combined with cutbacks, amount to trashing good people while preserving dead wood.

One option available to the government would be to negotiate new public service-wide performance management procedures when the APS enterprise agreements are recast at the end of the financial year.

The enhanced productivity option is likely to be more popular with career minded and motivated staff who would then have a greater chance of career progression if the turnover of positions was increased.

Coalition sources have indicated that workable suggestions to enhance public service productivity, especially from within APS ranks, are always welcome.

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