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Chapter 4.3 Managing our people


We implemented a range of strategies and initiatives in 2019–20 to continue to develop our workforce capability in line with current and emerging Government priorities, and to foster an inclusive culture that reflects the diversity of the Australian community.

We adapted quickly to support our people through the response to COVID-19. Key actions undertaken included:

  • ensuring all departmental workplaces were compliant with physical distancing requirements
  • establishing a new contact centre for Services Australia within the Enid Lyons Building at Tuggeranong, Canberra
  • redeploying staff as part of the whole of APS response to COVID-19
  • acquiring IT equipment to support remote working and designing targeted advice for managers to support employee health and wellbeing
  • facilitating home-based work arrangements, including ongoing support for employees who were health vulnerable or who live with someone who was health vulnerable.

Effectiveness in managing and developing staff

Workforce planning

Our Workforce Strategy 2019–22 (the Workforce Strategy) is a core element of our planning framework. The Workforce Strategy identifies the overarching principles which guide how we manage our current and future workforce capability and culture, and incorporates our workplace behaviours (action orientated, builders of cooperative relationships, curious, and decisive). Each year, the Workforce Strategy is reviewed, and priority initiatives are adjusted. For 2019–20, thirteen priority initiatives were identified under five key themes: capability, leadership, inclusion, adaptability and wellbeing.

The senior executive used regular workforce reporting and analysis, including the 2019 APS Employee Census results, workforce trend analysis, and workforce data (provided through an online Executive Dashboard) as evidence to inform workforce decisions.

Leadership and capability development

In response to physical distancing requirements, our face-to-face learning and development programs were adapted to suit self-paced online learning where possible, resulting in an increase of eLearning programs from 69 to 100 between 1 April and 30 June 2020.

Staff completed a total of 7,942 eLearning courses in 2019–20. Additionally, staff accessed 45,335 high-quality, video tutorials through LinkedIn Learning. Staff have demonstrated a willingness to adapt their learning to different delivery models and we continue to develop flexible learning options to meet current and emerging needs.

We continued to invest in growing capable leaders and provided high-value learning opportunities to our APS staff. In 2019–20, 26 staff participated in a range of highly regarded leadership and management programs including the Jawun APS Secondment Program, the Sir Roland Wilson and Pat Turner Scholarships, and the Australian and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG) Executive Masters of Public Administration Program.

Senior Executive Service (SES) employees attended targeted SES development programs including Indigenous Cultural Awareness Training, Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) SES Leadership Development and, SES Orientation, the ANZSOG Executive Fellows Program, the ANZSOG Executive Masters of Public Administration, and the Australian Institute of Company Directors course. Senior leaders also participated in a 360-degree feedback assessment process where they were assessed against SES leadership capabilities.

We continue to acknowledge and recognise outstanding staff performance and contribution through our annual Secretary’s Excellence Awards and NAIDOC Awards programs.

Workplace diversity

We continue to support a diverse and inclusive workplace. Our Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 2019–2021 outlines how we will foster inclusion across the department to ensure all employees are treated equitably and respectfully.

The Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 2019–2021 guides the development of key diversity and inclusion action plans within the department that build on our existing framework and commitment to diversity and inclusion.

We strive to provide a work environment for all staff to thrive and succeed through the following objectives:

  • inclusive culture that celebrates diversity
  • engage diversity through our people
  • improved capability
  • leadership that drives cultural change.

To support our staff and ensure ongoing engagement with internal and external programs and policies, we have established the following staff diversity committees, each supported by executive diversity champions and a diversity network:

  • Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) Network Committee
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Staff National Committee
  • Disability and Carers Committee
  • Pride Committee (LGBTIQ).

Diversity committees regularly collaborate to ensure inclusion and representation of all staff, including those who experience intersectional diversity.

We also maintain memberships with the following diversity organisations:

  • Australian Network on Disability (Gold membership)
  • Diversity Council of Australia
  • Pride in Diversity.

In 2019–20, our staff participated in International Day of People with Disability, Hearing Awareness Week, NAIDOC Week, National Reconciliation Week, Carers Week, Harmony Day, Wear it Purple Day, Mental Health Week, International Day Against Homophobia, Biphobia, Intersexism and Transphobia, and National Families Week.

Culturally and Linguistically Diverse

The CALD Network and CALD Network Committee has been established as part of our Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 2019–2021 to support staff from CALD backgrounds by representing their interests, perspectives, and concerns. The Committee also provides strategic advice to the department to enable, encourage, and deploy diverse experiences to our work environment.

Employment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

We value, acknowledge, and respect diversity and actively use life experiences, skills, and knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as a source of advice on policy, service delivery, and capability development.

As at 30 June 2020, six per cent of our employees (143 staff) identified as being Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.

Our Reconciliation Action Plan 2017–2020 and our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Workforce Strategy guide our commitment to the recruitment, retention, and career development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff across all policy and program areas.

We continue to participate in entry-level recruitment programs to provide employment pathways for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This includes 10 participants in the Indigenous Apprenticeships Program, coordinated by Services Australia and our department-specific Indigenous Internship Program.

Support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff and their supervisors is provided through our Indigenous Liaison Officer, who coordinates initiatives from our Reconciliation Action Plan 2017-2020 and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Workforce Strategy.

Our Indigenous Champion, a role performed at the deputy secretary level, provides senior leadership support to implement our Indigenous employment strategies. Our champion also works with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Staff National Committee to provide strategic advice on workforce initiatives for Indigenous employees.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Staff National Committee represents the interests, perspectives, and concerns of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Staff through, advocacy and engagement and by providing advice on issues that impact staff. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Staff National Committee provides input into our Reconciliation Action Plan 2017–2020 and our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Workforce Strategy.

Employment of people with disability

Increasing employment outcomes for people with disability continues to be a priority. In total, 6.8 per cent of our staff identified as a person with disability as at 30 June 2020 (160 staff).

Our Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 2019–2021 guides our approach to recruiting, developing, and retaining people with disability.

We provide entry-level employment pathways for people with disability through participation in the Australian Network on Disability’s Stepping Into Internship Program in which we had four interns. We also apply APS RecruitAbility to all our recruitment processes.

In July 2019, we recruited six data analyst trainees through our Autism@Work program in partnership with Dandelion.

Having the right supports in place to help people with disability enter the workforce and develop their careers is a key element of our mission to improve the wellbeing of individuals and families in Australian communities. We provide support and guidance to employees with disability and their managers through:

  • dedicated Disability and Inclusion Advisers
  • centralised funding to provide reasonable adjustment for employees with disability
  • specialised training for managers of staff with disability, including those with intellectual disability.

Our Disability and Carers Committee represents the interests, perspectives, and concerns of staff with disability and those that are carers. The Disability and Carers Network is open to anyone interested in disability issues and provides input and recommendations to the Disability and Carers Committee.

Our Disability Champion, a role performed at the deputy secretary level, drives workforce initiatives for employees with disability. Our Disability Champion is a member of the APS Disability Champions Network and the Australian Network on Disability.

Support for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer staff

In the 2019 APS Employee Census, 5.7 per cent (118) of respondents identified as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and/or queer (LGBTIQ). We have an established Pride Committee and Network, as well as champions to support LGBTIQ staff and their allies at work.

We participate in the Australian Workplace Equality Index, a national benchmark for LGBTIQ workplace inclusion. In 2019–20, we achieved Silver employer status.

Our Pride Committee works to ensure all employees are valued for their differences, all policy and programs created by the department are inclusive of LGBTIQ people in Australia, and we strive to lead the APS in LGBTIQ social policy. While the Pride Committee and departmental documentation may refer specifically to LGBTIQ, the Pride Committee represents all people of diverse sexualities and gender even if they are not specifically identified in the LGBTIQ acronym.

The Pride Network is open to all staff, including allies of LGBTIQ staff. The Pride Network receives regular information about issues relevant to gender and sexual orientation. Membership of the Pride Network is confidential and open to both Allies and LGBTIQ staff.

Figure 4.3.1 Diversity in our people

This illustration identifies the diversity of our people.Disability Employment Levels DSS 6.8 per cent APS 4 per cent.Female SES DSS 56.5 percent APS 47.2 per cent.Indigenous Employment Levels DSS 6 per cent APS 3.5 per cent.Employment ages over 55 DSS 18.3 per cent APS 19.5 per cent.
Department of Social Services figures as at 30 June 2020. APS figures as at 31 December 2019 (sourced from the Australian Public Service Employment Database).

Graduate development program

Our Graduate Development Program participants undertake a 10-month program that offers comprehensive internal and external training, networking opportunities, and broad opportunities for career development.

In 2020, we recruited a cohort of 74 graduates. The program exposes participants to social policy development and programs that improve the wellbeing of people and families in Australia. Graduates are provided with opportunities to formulate and support government initiatives and influence the social policy agenda.

In 2020, members of the graduate cohort were seconded to Services Australia as part of the response to COVID-19 enabling them to experience direct service delivery to Australians.

Workplace arrangements

Enterprise agreement

The Department of Social Services Enterprise Agreement 2018 to 2021 commenced on 21 January 2019 and covers non-SES employees. The agreement has a nominal expiry date of 21 January 2022.

Individual Flexibility Arrangements for non-Senior Executive Services (SES) employees

In accordance with the Fair Work Act 2009, Individual Flexibility Arrangements can be used to provide varied terms and conditions for non-SES employees. We also use Individual Flexibility Arrangements to attract and retain staff, to recognise highly valued skills and critical roles.

As at 30 June 2020, we had 21 Individual Flexibility Arrangements in place.

Performance pay

Performance payments were not made to departmental employees in 2019–20.

Secretary remuneration

The Secretary is remunerated under the Remuneration Tribunal (Departmental Secretaries – Classification Structure and Terms and Conditions) Determination 2020, which is made under Division 4 of Part II of the Remuneration Tribunal Act 1973.

Senior Executive Service remuneration

The Secretary reviews SES remuneration annually, after completion of the annual performance cycle. When determining salary progression outcomes for an individual SES employee’s performance, the Secretary considers factors including organisational performance, relevant remuneration data, and the size and complexity of the role.

As at 30 June 2020, 70 SES employees were remunerated through a section 24(1) determination. This includes SES employees on temporary transfer, secondment, or leave.

Common law contracts

The department does not use common law contracts to employ staff.

Non-salary benefits to employees

The Department of Social Services Enterprise Agreement 2018 to 2021 offers a range of non-salary benefits to our people, including leave, flexible working arrangements, access to salary packaging, and remote locality assistance.

Work health and safety

We acknowledge and are committed to fulfilling our responsibilities under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, the Work Health and Safety Regulations 2011 and the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act 1988.

Our strong focus on work health and safety and early intervention has resulted in sustainable reductions in workers’ compensation claims.

Our achievements include:

  • sustaining a low number of workers’ compensation claims submitted in 2019–20
  • maintaining a low number of accepted workers’ compensation claims in 2019–20
  • no psychological injury claims accepted in 2019–20
  • maintaining a decrease in our Comcare workers’ compensation premium rate for a fifth consecutive year from 2.1 per cent of payroll in 2015–16 to 0.47 per cent for 2020–21.

We will continue to focus on encouraging early identification, reporting, and response to workplace hazards and injuries to further improve work health and safety and return to work performance.

Other initiatives implemented in 2019–20 to ensure the health, safety, and welfare of our workers include:

  • working with our managers to support ill or injured employees through our early intervention program, to help them remain at work or return to work safely
  • refreshing our Work Health and Safety Management Arrangements which provide a framework for reducing the risk and incidence of workplace injury, illness, and bullying
  • promoting and encouraging employees to access the services of our Employee Assistance Program to support positive physical and mental health and wellbeing
  • delivering mental health e-learning and promoting additional external mental health resources
  • promoting tailored mental and physical wellbeing messages through the launch of ‘Mental Health and Wellness Mondays’
  • delivering targeted mental health training for managers through Lifeline’s ‘The Working Mind for Managers’ program
  • participating in APS working groups to provide input into the ongoing management of the Comcare Scheme, which provides all scheme employers with an integrated safety, rehabilitation, and compensation system
  • inviting our employees to participate in the annual influenza vaccination program.

As a result of COVID-19, we also:

  • established a dedicated intranet page to provide up-to-date guidance and information for staff
  • increased the frequency of cleaning at all sites, including a focus on high touch point areas such as kitchens, door handles and hand-rails, meeting rooms, tables, and printers
  • implemented physical distancing measures by reconfiguring workstations and placing signage on all meeting/training/conference rooms and offices mandating reduced maximum capacity to achieve both the 1.5m and 4m2 requirements
  • removed excess furniture from meeting rooms, breakout, and common areas
  • displayed digital signage throughout the office to promote how staff can exercise physical distancing and hygiene practices
  • installed hand sanitiser stations at main entry and exit points and distributed hygiene packs throughout work areas
  • provided services through the Employee Assistance Program, provided mental health resources to staff and implemented a dedicated mental health first aid information line for staff.

Notifiable incidents

In 2019–20, there were three notifiable incidents in relation to a serious injury of a person.
No investigations were carried out under part 10 of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.