In early March 2020, in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ACCC and AER activated our Business Continuity Plan and established an internal Pandemic Response Team (PRT) to urgently consider and endorse actions under the plan.
The initial actions of the PRT included:
repatriating (or offering to repatriate) all employees currently overseas, including those on long-term secondments
establishing isolation protocols for employees returning from high-risk countries (later extended to all international locations)
implementing social distancing measures in all offices
introducing hand sanitiser stations, hand washing instructions and desk wipes in all offices
enhancing office cleaning arrangements
suspending all domestic work-related travel
suspending all on-site visits, including face-to-face examinations (conducting these via video conferencing instead)
suspending all attendance at external events
successfully trialling remote hearings with the Federal Court
supporting employees to work from home where possible.
Enabling remote working
By mid-March, in line with government recommendations and restrictions, the ACCC transitioned the majority of its employees to working from home.
The agency fast-tracked a number of ICT and security initiatives to better enable remote working, including procuring more bandwidth and deploying new collaboration software and video conference systems. By early April close to all ACCC and AER employees (more than 97 per cent) were working from home with full access to all systems.
The combination of improved ICT capability and existing flexible working policies allowed the ACCC to adapt quickly and maintain agency capability despite the challenging new environment for our people.
While ACCC and AER offices were closed to the public, they remained accessible to employees who did not have a safe working environment at home or needed to access the office for other appropriate reasons. We provided guidance on protective measures to those employees who did access the office at this time.
To assist our people in this challenging environment, we provided:
regular communications regarding the virus itself and how to stop the spread
reassurance from leaders that employee welfare was paramount
wellbeing articles, tools and webinars run by psychologists
a series of sessions for managers and employees on developing strategies to deal with uncertainty
access to additional online learning
regular surveys to check on employee welfare and workloads as well as the level of communication and support.
We also engaged in regular consultation with other government agencies, the Community and Public Sector Union and the ACCC’s Employee Council and Health and Safety Committee.
Reopening our Offices
The ACCC and AER have regularly reassessed our policies as we receive further state and federal government advice.
On 8 June 2020 we decided to reopen our Perth and Darwin offices to our employees. This meant that they would no longer need to seek permission to attend the office. These offices were reopened with a limited maximum capacity to ensure social distancing. A range of other safeguards were in place, including monitoring attendance numbers and increased cleaning. To date, demand from employees wishing to return to these offices has not exceeded the new limited capacity to ensure social distancing.
As at 30 June 2020 all agency offices were closed to the public. We will continue monitoring the situation and make changes as appropriate.
The ACCC and AER National Innovation Project, which commenced in 2018, seeks to enhance the culture and structure of the agency to support a sustained commitment and capability to innovate into the future. In 2019–20 the ACCC and AER continued to implement initiatives under the project. For example, we reviewed and updated induction processes and innovation-related performance indicators; applied for and had a team accepted into the Nesta ‘States of Change’ program (postponed to later in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic); and held an internal ‘innovation jam’ to mark Public Sector Innovation Month. That session generated dozens of ideas for agency improvements, many of which have already been progressed.
A key achievement in 2019–20 was the establishment of an internal innovation forum to oversee the project. The forum, made up of senior managers from across the organisation, meets monthly to provide leadership support and create an authorising environment to enable innovation. More recently the project has turned its focus to embedding innovation into governance, working to identify the most efficient and effective strategy to manage new ideas.
Our approach to innovation is multi-layered and designed to generate inventive thought at all levels of business. The latest Australian Public Service (APS) Census results (2019) indicate that we are taking steps in the right direction. Improvements against the organisation’s innovation index score, belief in individualised responsibility to innovate and support for continuous improvement reflect the emergence of a culture of innovation. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered renewed appetite and activity to find innovative ways of working and connecting people across a completely decentralised operating structure.
During 2019–20 our talent priorities focused on overhauling our learning and development, reviewing our graduate program and enhancing performance feedback and career conversations.
Learning and development overhaul
The central learning and development program was reinvigorated to support broader modernisation and innovation initiatives and to build essential skills ranging from leadership to data.
A Leadership Development Committee was instituted to guide and support new programs such as the Commissioner and SES 360 development program, a Frontline Managers Program and the Future Leaders Program for experienced Executive Level 2 (EL 2) employees.
Online learning through LinkedIn Learning was rapidly implemented to provide continuing development opportunities during the COVID-19 isolation period.
Graduate program review
The graduate program was evaluated by an independent third party, who found that the program is highly respected by internal respondents and successful in developing skilled talent for the agency. Recommendations were accepted and incorporated to improve graduate rotation and placement processes, supervisor training and pastoral care support and to broaden the eligibility criteria to facilitate more diverse cohorts.
Performance feedback and career conversations
Phase three of our Performance Feedback Development Program was introduced, supporting employees and leaders to facilitate career conversations and align measurable goals and expectations to the ACCC Corporate Plan. A new policy and guidelines were developed to support phase three.
Creating a workplace culture of psychological safety was the underlying premise of the ACCC and AER wellbeing approach. A key aspect of this was creating an effective relationship between manager and employee, demonstrating care in the workplace.
We continued to deliver employee awareness sessions on resilience, mental health and mindfulness. These sessions were complemented by mental health awareness training for managers.
Our investment and commitment supported employees along the entire spectrum of mental health, from actively promoting mental health and wellbeing to providing early intervention, treatment and return to work activities. We continued to adopt an early intervention approach to case management. The agency worked with employees experiencing discomfort or injury and exploring early medical, counselling or remedial support.
Peer support network refresh
The agency’s Workplace Contact Officers network was rebranded Peer Support Advisers. The rebranding signalled more clearly that the role is to provide peer support and information coordination to employees experiencing wellbeing issues to help them make informed decisions and deal with their concerns. We have also expanded the network due to increases in employee numbers and people working flexibly. The network will have coverage across offices and classification levels.
Flexibility and work from home policy
We reviewed our people policies, including our working flexibly and home-based work policies, to ensure their continued relevance. The ‘if not, why not’ position was enhanced in both policies to assist with removing real and perceived barriers to working flexibly. The home-based work policy now incorporates guidance on working in a safe manner from home. A Working Flexibly Reference Group was also formed to promote working flexibly and to establish strategies for breaking down barriers and traditional thinking about how we work. All these initiatives have contributed to our response to the COVID-19 pandemic and supporting our people to work from home.
Diversity and inclusion
New diversity and inclusion strategy
New Senior Champions were appointed for our gender, LGBTIQ+, cultural and linguistically diverse and Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) working groups. Diversity and inclusion initiatives focused on actions to reduce pay gaps, celebrating and sharing stories of diversity groups at national events, putting in place policies and guidelines to support employees, and education through online learning programs.
New Reconciliation Action Plan
Our 2019–22 RAP Innovate focuses on developing and strengthening relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, engaging employees and stakeholders in reconciliation, and developing and piloting innovative strategies to empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to achieve reconciliation.
Pay gap - measuring inclusion
We used the Workplace Gender Equality Agency standard to measure our gender pay gap and extended the methodology to other diversity groups. Pay gap is a measure of inclusion. Identifying pay gaps in the agency enables us to increase awareness of inclusion barriers and work with employees and senior management to develop strategies to close the gaps.
Since 1994 Commonwealth non-corporate entities have reported on their performance as policy adviser, purchaser, employer, regulator and provider under the Commonwealth Disability Strategy. In 2007–08 reporting on the employer role was transferred to the Australian Public Service Commission’s State of the service report and the APS statistical bulletin. These reports are available at www.apsc.gov.au. From 2010–11 entities have no longer been required to report on these functions.
The Commonwealth Disability Strategy has been overtaken by the National Disability Strategy 2010–2020, which sets out a 10-year national policy framework to improve the lives of people with disability, promote participation and create a more inclusive society. A high-level two-yearly report will track progress against each of the six outcome areas of the strategy and present a picture of how people with disability are faring. The first of these reports was published in 2014, and can be found at www.dss.gov.au.
Our staffing profile
Note: POH = public office holder
Table 4.6: Turnover according to separation type 2019-20