The former Weatherill Labor Government initially ended a longstanding ‘no forced redundancies’ policy after the 2014 election, in a move described by the Public Service Association at the time as “a significant change and one that we didn’t support it in principle [but] could see was inevitable”.
However, the policy change was effectively never implemented, with provisions included in subsequent enterprise bargaining agreements to extend the public sector “departure lounge” – keeping “excess employees” in paid limbo as they receive training or await redeployment.
It’s understood there has not been a single forced redundancy since 2014 despite the policy change.
However, the current Enterprise Bargaining Agreement for salaried public servants expires in February, with Treasurer Rob Lucas telling InDaily he would consider pushing to address existing redundancy provisions.
“We’ve not made a Government-wide decision on that yet [but] it’s something the Government will need to consider,” he said.
“We’ve not come to a landing on it… that’s the more substantial debate that will need to be had.”
Lucas, however, has previously been a strong critic of the lingering “departure lounge”, telling News Corp in 2016 that government employers were “living in a bizarro world” if they thought a forced redundancy scheme that hadn’t made anyone redundant was working effectively, and calling for the “virtually unworkable” scheme to be immediately reviewed.
PSA General Secretary Nev Kitchin said the union “strongly maintains that forced redundancies are completely unnecessary”.
He said there were other mechanisms available to government, including natural attrition – particularly with an ageing workforce – and reducing the “current high levels of labour hire”, that made forced redundancies “completely unjustified”.
“The ‘no forced redundancy’ policy ended in 2014 when both the Liberal and Labor parties stated they would no longer honour their long-standing commitments.” Kitchin told InDaily in a statement.
“Since that time the PSA has been able to successfully negotiate a scheme which sees ongoing employees in the public sector retrained and redeployed to other work as the needs of the service change.”
He said PSA members “place a high priority on job security”.
“We have negotiated arrangements into our enterprise agreements for dealing with situations where there are staffing reductions through restructures or changes in the provision of public services,” he said.
“The focus of these arrangements is on finding alternative public sector employment for affected employees… people need to be employed in the public service in order to provide the services the community quite rightly expects.”
But Lucas emphasised that “the public sector act makes it quite clear that if you’re surplus to requirement, there’s no job for you”.
The legislation states that “a public sector agency may terminate the employment of an employee [if] the employee is excess to the requirements of the agency”.
Last month’s annual report by Auditor-General Andrew Richardson flagged ongoing issues with meeting targeted voluntary separation package benchmarks, warning a “less than budgeted take‐up [of the scheme] increases the risk that FTE and employee expense reductions may not be sufficient to achieve the budgeted reduction in employee expenses”.
Job security is also at issue in an ongoing industrial dispute between the government and the nurses’ union, with secretary Elizabeth Dabars telling InDaily the Government had flagged removing ‘no forced redundancy’ provisions from the SA Health human resources manual, and was also “rejecting the inclusion of ‘no forced redundancies’” in the nurses’ enterprise bargaining agreement.
“As far as we’re concerned they’re not prepared to allow it into the EBA,” she said.
However, Lucas disputed this, saying: “My understanding of what’s occurring [with the nurses’ EB] is we’re not heading down the forced redundancies path”.
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