A Senate inquiry into the impact of labour-hire employment across the federal public sector has released a scathing report, laying bare the damage done to workforce capability and service delivery, due to Coalition Government policies of job cuts, staffing caps and outsourcing.
The Finance and Public Administration References Committee took a deep dive into the key issues facing the Australian Public Service (APS) and drew heavily on the evidence of academics, independent experts and the direct testimony of CPSU members.
“This Senate report details the extensive damage the Morrison Government has done to the APS through sustained funding and job cuts, outsourcing and growing use of contractors, and restrictive bargaining policies,” CPSU National Secretary Melissa Donnelly said.
Titled APS Inc: undermining public sector capability and performance, the report was presented to Parliament by committee chair and Labor Senator for New South Wales, Tim Ayres.
“This report surveys the damage left by eight years of this toxic vision of the country, the logical outcome of privatisation ideology, hostility to the independence of the Public Service and hostility to public servants themselves.”
“It describes the most absurd excesses of APS Incorporated – the billions wasted, the services gutted, the institutions that have been undermined.”
The testimony of CPSU members represented crucial evidence for the inquiry, relaying the on-the-ground impact of outsourcing from workers in organisations including the Department of Veterans Affairs (DVA), Services Australia, the National Disability Insurance Agency and the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission.
Senator Ayres made special mention of the situation at DVA when presenting the report, highlighting the impact of tightened Average Staffing Level (ASL) cap restrictions on ever increasing workloads as the veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan returned home from 2015 onwards.
“The Department of Veterans’ Affairs became the largest user of labour hire contracts in the Australian Public Service. At its height, in 2019-20, 41.6 per cent of the department’s workforce was external, including over 50 per cent of its frontline claims-processing staff.
“That year, the department signed contracts with 46 separate labour hire providers, totalling over $84 million. That outsourcing has coincided with a blowout in waiting times for processing liability claims… it has been a disaster. Veterans are dying waiting for their claims to be processed,” Senator Ayres said.
The report stated that ‘evidence received by the committee indicated that the use of labour contracting in the APS was not cost-effective, particularly in light of the margins charged by labour hire providers.’
“The Coalition has long claimed that labour hire is more efficient than APS employment, but this report puts an end to that fiction,” Ms Donnelly said.
“These contracts are more expensive and less efficient; in fact they end up costing the taxpayer up to 50 per cent more than work performed in house, an issue that the Auditor General is currently investigating.”
The committee’s 36 recommendations call on the Morrison Government to:
Despite the damning finings, Senator Ayres maintained that the report “finds some sources of hope.”
“It finds that APS staff are diligent and mobilised by their vision of public service. It finds that labour hire workers are skilled and capable, although their contingency and uncertainty has left them afraid and impoverished, in many cases, for year after year after year.
“The report outlines a comprehensive plan to build on those sources of hope to redirect public resources into public institutions and to create thousands of good jobs. But, to build that future, APS Inc. must be dismantled,” Senator Ayres said.