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Leg Co votes down job security improvement provisions in SSA

LAST week the Legislative Council voted 9/5 to reject a Bill that had been unanimously supported by the House of Assembly to return the redeployment period within the State Service Act 2000 to 12 months.

 

The Bill was supported by Craig Farrell, Rob Valentine, Mike Gaffney, Leonie Hiscutt and Vanessa Goodwin.  Those voting against the Bill included Ivan Dean, Greg Hall, Tony Mulder, Tanya Rattray, Ruth Forrest, and Rosemary Armitage.

 

There were some very interesting contributions to the debate.  In his contribution the Member for Western Tiers Greg Hall claimed Tasmania’s public sector workers were living in some unreal utopia:

 

It is almost like there are two Tasmanias. One Tasmania is inhabited in many cases by well-paid public servants, living in Hobart on very good workplace entitlements. They pretty well have job security for life, regardless of the value they provide and whether their employer, taxpayers, can afford them and no matter how bad the economic circumstances are, you could argue. They may not have a job to do, but still get paid at a high salary for 12 months, even if they are doing tasks well below their pay grade because their original services are no longer required.

 

In the other Tasmania, or what some people might call the real Tasmania, many people only have a job because someone is prepared to mortgage their home assets and risk it to establish a business to create wealth. If the business cannot make a profit, people lose their jobs. The business owner loses their business and their house, for example. In the other Tasmania, if certain jobs undertaken by employees are no longer available because of changed economic circumstances, the employees now longer have a job. Unfortunately, for various reasons we have seen plenty of that happen, particularly in the private sector in the north and the north-west of the state over the last few months. In the other Tasmania, if a business has to downsize because it has lost business due to an economic downturn, it could not afford to pay an employee for 12 months to do nothing. It seems to me there is an enormous disparity and disconnect between the beneficiaries of the bill and the people in the other Tasmania, as I put it.

 

The Member for Windermere Ivan Dean took a very personal approach to the debate by comparing the circumstances that would apply to him if the electors of Windermere dumped him at the next election with the entitlements of a permanent public sector worker whose current role is no longer required.  Unfortunately he missed the point somewhat as he seems to think the debate was about a severance payment rather than the period the employer would spend looking for alternate duties while the employee continued to work. He said:

 

When I stand again, if I do not get back into this place, will I be given a six month pay packet, 12 month’s pay packet? I do not think so.

 

The Member for Launceston Rosemary Armitage seemed very worried that if the redeployment period was returned to 12 months this would have an impact on private sector employers.  She said:

 

I was speaking to an employer this morning that employs 17 staff, who said when I mentioned this bill, ‘So what’s going to happen next? What happens always happens. It starts with government, then we in private enterprise are expected to keep up and do the same

 

Given that the redeployment period in the State Service Act was 12 months from the 2000 until 2011 without a major breakout in redundancy arrangements for the private sector it seems highly unlikely that returning it to 12 months now if going to have an impact.

 

Without doubt the most entertaining contribution came from the Member for Rumney Tony Mulder.  Mr Mulder claimed that as public sector workers were so well paid they had effectively traded off their job security, he implied that while nurses or teachers or case workers in the social areas were run off their feet the rest of the public sector was a bit of a bludge and he claimed he knew clerical workers who had been doing basically the same function for 40 or 50 years but were now paid 5 Bands higher because of their increments and reclassifications.

 

To ensure you get the full flavour of his contribution it is included below in full.

 

 

Mr President, what a load of political nonsense! Eighteen months ago this was a desperately needed measure to bring the budget in control. Following Estimates committees and through questions in this House we discovered that in 18 months this desperately needed measure they were too afraid to use even once.

 

Now, on the eve of the election, seeking to cosy up to our union friends, they are going to snap it back to the old system which we did not use either. There is this stuff about ‘the more public servants we have, the more money they spend out there’. Can I just wind it back a little bit? Why does the government not employ everyone on a great big nice fat salary, because then everyone would have a job and everyone would be spending out in the economy? Except there would be no-one out there making anything to buy.

 

I have worked in the public sector and have been in a service delivery agency. I have enjoyed the benefits of tenure, and I make no bones about it that that was one of the attractors. It was an attractor to a job at a time when the salary within the public service was lower than the average on the outside. Yes, the member for Windermere was there before the war too.

 

That was the trade-off in those days. You had lifetime tenure. This superannuation scheme that we all talk about was actually a condition. It was an attractive superannuation condition because it was one of those bonuses. If you hung around the firm a long time getting less money than your private enterprise counterparts then you were rewarded at the end of the day with a good superannuation scheme.

 

In the last 10 or 12 years much of that has changed. The public servants are now earning more than their external counterparts. Have they traded off that tenure? No way. Now we end up with what amounts to a protected species. I for one moved to a stage late in my career when the opportunity presented itself and gave away tenure in exchange for increased remuneration. That was the trade-off that I made. It is the same trade off the member for Windermere made except he never thought they would call the shots but they did. Have I summed it up or not? He traded tenure and lost it. When you get this sort of legislation that pretends this is 1950 and that these underpaid people have tenure and you have changed it all around.

 

I believe we should be taking tenure off there. What enterprise could possibly exist with 12 months or six months let alone 12 months notice when they are going bad or when the job does not need to be done. My experience in the public service is there are not two Tasmanians but two public services. There are public servants who are run off their feet, usually in service delivery agencies. No one would suggest that there are heaps of nurses or teachers or case workers in the social areas who have a low case load.

 

Much of the clerical work in the bureaucracy has been revolutionised by technology and they have never had a pay off. At a time when private enterprise realised that it could substitute the physical labour and photocopiers and clerks and people running around doing manual labour and the word processor came along, the private sector slimmed down. What did the public sector do? We grew up and we now have to have a department for managing the contract for the photocopier. We did. Asset Management Services, if you recall member for Windermere, used to look after the few cars and the buildings and it doubled in size when we decided to do Corporate Central Station’s ordering.

 

Then you would have some sweetheart deal which if you went around to the K-Mart you would find the same model for half of what the government was paying for it because you would rob the local person, managed with his initiative, and in control of his own budget. You centralised everything and it costs you more.

 

These are the sorts of efficiencies that the public sector has never grappled with. I know of people who are basically doing the same job that they did 40 or 50 years ago in a clerical function, but are now about five pace scales up the tree because they are getting annual increments, and reclassifications come along, and no one ever goes backwards. It is things like that. That is what the public have in mind when they see the bureaucracy.

 

They do not think of the service deliverers as bureaucrats, they think of the paper shufflers as the bureaucrats and that is a particular case. A modern public service should have contracts which are for junior people, and tenure for its senior people, so that you cannot say I want to hear the right advice or you do not have a job. If you gave tenure at the top end you could get apolitical and frank and fearless advice. The trouble with that is that it will leave you in a position where you would then have to explain why you did not follow it, and that is the problem.

 

The member for Windermere can tell you how many times you submitted a white paper or a briefing or an opinion or a position paper to be quietly told that the minister will never wear that, now go and write this. As the member for Pembroke may have also done at one particular stage, much to the chagrin of those who ended up suffering as a result. This is a silly little grubby piece of cosying up to the union movement so that the public service will not join the masses of the rest of Tasmanians. They deserve this incompetent lot.

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