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ICT roles feel the cold under APS job freeze

by Sam Murphy •
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A significant number of ICT-related jobs have been caught by the Australian Public Sector (APS) job freeze, according to Intermedium research.

The Coalition Government announced the job freeze on 31 October 2013 and required that any recruitment processes underway at that date were to cease immediately, with the exception of those where an offer had been made to the candidate.

To gauge the impact of this on agency ICT functions, Intermedium identified the ICT jobs advertised in the APS Employment Gazette (the Gazette) from the beginning of September 2013.

Based on the assumption that recruitment processes are not generally completed within eight weeks, we identified 116 ICT-related jobs advertised in this period which are unlikely to have reached the end of the recruitment process at the time of the job freeze. Of those, 39 are executive level positions. The APS states that executive level roles form “the senior leadership group” and “directly supports agency heads in achieving the goals of the agency”.

According to a press release from the APS Commission, “External advertising of APS vacancies and non-ongoing (temporary) employment will be limited to critical vacancies only, most particularly in specialist roles, where a suitable employee cannot be found within the APS.”

The APS states that “the Commissioner will issue a revised Commissioner’s Direction authorising the advertising of APS vacancies for filling by existing APS employees, by transfer or promotion”.

Interim arrangements have, however, been published and state that when it is imperative that a role be filled “priority is to be given first to displaced APS employees, then to other existing APS staff”.

Departments must now operate under a rigorous employment process if they are to employ externally at all. A flow chart issued by the Australian Public Sector Commission shows that any departments wishing to advertise a position to anybody outside of the APS must obtain the Commissioner’s approval. This would appear to include any contractors, including ICT contractors.

The effects of the freeze are already starting to be seen. Only seven new jobs were listed in the last weekly Gazette on 7 November 2013, compared to 100 the week before. Of those seven, four were ICT related and all of these were advertised by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) for positions within its ICT Corporate Systems Team.

Of the jobs advertised in the Gazette, The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) looks likely to have to cancel the most jobs. In the 8 weeks since the beginning of September, it has advertised 22 ICT-related jobs including software developers, IT applications developers and an IT project officer. It will need to await the clarification of the revised Commissioner’s Direction before it can determine if it can proceed by filling the jobs on internal promotion or transfer.

The ATO has over 600 systems supporting its operations with a number of IT projects in the pipeline for 2013-14 which are likely to be affected in some way by staffing shortages. In the 2013-14 Budget the ATO was allocated $30.2 million in capital expenditure (CapEx) over 2013-15 for enhancing Standard Business Reporting, the Australian Business Register and Australian Business Number administration. The agency’s 2012-13 Annual Report details that it will develop an app for small businesses in the coming year, test an after-hours call service and introduce voice authentication for taxpayer identification. 

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) has advertised 14 ICT-related jobs since September 2013, eight of those being executive roles. ICT projects continue to be a priority at DIBP over the next year. Its 2012-13 Annual Report indicates that it plans to extend its online visa lodgement capability to all countries and develop an automatic capability for sharing biometric data between Canada, Britain, America and New Zealand. It is already trialling a border risk identification system (BRIS) that uses real time analytics and scans all in-coming travellers.

While the Coalition maintains that it expects to shrink the APS by 12,000 over the next two years through natural attrition, agencies appear to be taking other measures to ensure that the desired headcount reduction is achieved. The Department of Environment has announced voluntary redundancies for 150 of its staff and will also conduct an internal strategic review of its operations to “inform its future priorities and organisational arrangements”. A component of this is likely to be technology change as the terms of conditions state “eliminating internal duplication and overlap in functions” and “reducing burdens in internal processes”. The Department has only advertised for one ICT-related position since September.

In addition, the Canberra Times has reported that the Department of Agriculture is seeking voluntary redundancies from 220 of its staff, while PSNews reports that the Attorney General’s Department is offering senior and executive level staff redundancy packages.

Despite claims from the Government that “the APS will also continue to support targeted recruitment programmes for Graduate and Indigenous employees”, AusAid has confirmed to the ABC that it has cut its graduate program.

The CSIRO will also cut at least 500 to 600 of its non-ongoing positions as part of the freeze. This is a direct result of the Government’s stipulation that “no new non-ongoing arrangements are to commence, or existing non-ongoing arrangements to be extended”.

Across the public sector there are 14,273 temporary employees, according to the latest Public Sector Commission Statistics. This is a number that is likely to be slashed significantly.

The Federal Government’s Commission of Audit, which is expected to hand down an interim report in January 2014 and a final report in March 2014, will make suggestions about how the Government can find efficiencies, and this is likely to include recommendations to further shrink the APS. 

View the ATO profile on GovFacts >>>

View Department of Immigration and Border Protection (formerly DIAC) profile in GovFacts >>>

Related Articles:

Coalition’s Commission of Audit: major ICT impacts expected

Outsourcing trend among smaller agencies likely to accelerate

ICT solutions likely replacement for outgoing staff

For more information, please contact the Editor (02) 9955 9896.

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