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Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade - Annual Report 2000-2001
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Corporate management and accountability

Management of human resources

Working smarter

The link between ‘working smarter’ and the department’s Workplace Diversity Program was recognised at the annual APS Workplace Diversity Awards held in November 2000, with the department receiving a commendation for our Working Smarter Principles in the Open category.

Working smarter encourages all staff to manage their time and workloads more efficiently and effectively. The commitment to working smarter is anchored in the Certified Agreement, which came into force in July 2000. In June 2000, the Secretary also introduced ten working smarter principles, which form a key component in upwards and downwards performance appraisal for all staff.

As part of deepening and broadening the culture of working smarter, the Secretary commissioned a survey of all staff in August 2001. The survey will evaluate the impact of working smarter on the department’s culture and productivity, as well as seek ideas on ways we can take working smarter forward and apply it to more aspects of the department’s work.

Workplace diversity

In accordance with the Workplace Diversity Program 1998–2001, the department recognises and uses the diversity of our employees, and fosters a working environment free from harassment and discrimination. Anticipating a new program being introduced in 2002, we revised some aspects of the program during the reporting period. We paid particular attention to the APS Values and Code of Conduct, indigenous recruitment and work/life balance issues. Our policy on eliminating harassment and discrimination was also revised and a new policy issued.

To raise awareness of the program, workplace diversity awareness sessions were held in Darwin, Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne and Hobart, and at the Australian High Commission in Port Moresby. We surveyed posts to identify the level of their awareness of the program and the strategies they were using to meet its objectives. Initial evidence suggests that general awareness of workplace diversity at posts is fair to good. During the next reporting period an emphasis will be placed on strengthening the application of the Workplace Diversity Program at posts. The strategies used to achieve this will be included in the new program in 2002.

The department’s continued commitment to workplace diversity was demonstrated through activities organised in Canberra and at a number of overseas posts to celebrate National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) Week, and International Women’s Week. These events have become an annual fixture on the department’s schedule and an important component of the Workplace Diversity Program.

Workforce planning, staff turnover and retention

When the Secretary launched a major resource rebasing exercise in 1998–99, he foreshadowed some staff reductions over the first two years of the Certified Agreement 2000–03 to help fund the pay rises it delivered.

The department will achieve its target of reducing staff by 150 full-time equivalents in Australia-based positions by the end of 2001–02. This will occur through natural attrition and a limited number of voluntary redundancies. The main reductions will be in the corporate management and support areas.

This process of strategic downsizing ensures the department is staffed to meet emerging priorities while taking into account the efficiencies of new technologies. This means, for example, that, while overall staff numbers came down during the year, staff resources on international trade issues were bolstered through the establishment of a new Trade Law Branch and a special team to negotiate a Free Trade Agreement with Singapore.

The department continued to improve its capacity to monitor staffing levels, both in Australia and at overseas posts. The increased functionality of the Human Resource Management Information System (HRMIS), PeopleSoft HR, combined with greater access to the system by line areas, has enabled managers to make better staffing decisions in response to changing priorities, and to better manage peaks and troughs in workloads.

We continued to place strong emphasis on fairness and transparency in the department’s recruitment and selection processes. Incorporation of the APS Values and the merit principle into the Public Service Act 1999 has served as a useful reminder to selection committees about their responsibilities and has been helpful in promoting good recruitment practices. The flexibility provided by the Act in employment matters also allowed us to take advantage of the Independent Selection Advisory Committee (ISAC) system and related non-reviewable provisions for selection outcomes. Using the ISAC system, we ran one APS 4 and two APS 6 ‘promotion-to-level’ selection processes in the past year. The ISAC system helped avoid lengthy delays in finalising the results of those processes, leading to the more effective deployment of successful applicants to meet the department’s staffing requirements at those levels.

To address a need to recruit and retain staff with accounting skills and qualifications, we conducted a recruitment process in early–mid 2001 to fill a small number of Corporate and Financial Management Trainee positions. The new trainees will begin in the department in early 2002, initially taking part in a two-year training program.

As a further measure to develop and retain staff with strong skills and abilities in the corporate and functional areas of the department’s operations, we developed two selection criteria that can be applied in relevant non-SES generic selection processes. These give added emphasis to corporate/functional skills and abilities, allowing staff with such skills to be more competitive for advancement. They also served as an incentive for employees interested in specialising in the increasingly important and demanding corporate areas by establishing a clear and rewarding career path. Despite these measures, we estimate that we will have a shortfall in suitably qualified and experienced Senior Administrative Officers to meet our overseas staffing needs in the next few years. This remained an area of concern. The Administrative Officer Development Program initiative also seeks to address this shortage (see ‘Training and development’ below).

The department continued to enjoy high retention rates and a healthy level of interest in vacancies advertised. Over 2,500 graduates applied for approximately 30 positions in April 2001 for the department’s 2002 intake. The department’s new online application system enabled the smooth processing of those applications (see output 1.3 on page 117).

Locally engaged staff management review

The department began to implement a range of reforms resulting from a comprehensive review of locally engaged staff (LES) management practices. These initiatives reflected wider public sector personnel management reforms and budgetary pressures faced by both the department and other Commonwealth agencies employing staff at Australia’s overseas missions. We re-affirmed our strong commitment to respect the local labour laws and to adhere to good employer practice.

The key initiatives include:

  • introduction of performance-based management;
  • abolition of the global LES job classification structure in favour of structures appropriate to each country and mission;
  • streamlined arrangements for managing LES salaries;
  • greater use of fixed-term contract employment where appropriate; and
  • devolution of responsibility for low-cost/low-legal-risk conditions of service for LES to Heads of Mission/Post.

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Training and development

By integrating our training and development strategy into our overall human resource plan, we created a more coordinated approach to management of staff training and development. Staff at all levels in Australia and overseas have participated in relevant training and development initiatives, including a broad range of internal and external training seminars, on-the-job training, distance learning and e-learning. Specific in-house training courses were designed for Heads of Mission/Post.

Traineeships

The department continued to develop and refine a new two-year in-house training program for Graduate Trainees. Training modules were designed on business liaison/export market development and public diplomacy and the program’s pilot series of foreign, trade and management policy case studies was restructured to focus more tightly on the core work of the department.

Seven officers participated in the Administrative Officer Development Program. Participants undertake a two-year structured program of training and placement in corporate areas of the department. This enabled them to acquire the necessary range of administrative and financial management skills for posting in a junior administrative capacity.

Locally engaged staff training

Consistency in the delivery of departmental training programs at overseas posts was achieved by the provision of an Integrated Professional Skills Program handbook. The handbook contained a range of training module outlines relevant to our operational requirements. Posts used it extensively to develop in-house training, to brief local consultants and to organise regional training. Through the purchase of web-based modules, staff at posts were also able to access a broader range of management and leadership training.

Twenty locally engaged staff developed their leadership and management skills and knowledge by attending a Leadership and Development Program in Canberra. The program, which is held annually, targets local staff who have demonstrated the ability or potential to undertake management and/or leadership roles, and can reasonably be expected to make a valuable contribution in the workplace.

Two self-paced writing handbooks were distributed to help locally engaged staff improve their writing skills. One handbook teaches skills in writing department-specific correspondence; the other aims to improve basic English writing skills. Both books were made available to posts in hard copy, on CD-ROM and online via our intranet.

Twenty-seven staff at overseas posts improved their knowledge in international studies and research skills by undertaking distance learning through the Deakin University Graduate or Associate Diplomas in Foreign Affairs and Trade.

Language training

In September 2000, the department embarked on a review of its language training programs and policies, which had last been examined in 1993. Staff comment was sought on a range of proposed changes and enhancements. A decision on a revised package of policies and programs is expected by early 2001–02.

Professional Development Award Scheme

The Certified Agreement 2000–03 underlines the department’s commitment to training and development as an investment in its people. Our training and development strategy, produced in consultation with staff, provides employees with opportunities to undertake study and training pertinent to corporate goals.

Integral to the strategy was the introduction during 2000–01 of a new Professional Development Award Scheme for a small number of high performing employees at the Broadband Level 4 and above. The aim of the scheme is to allow a limited number of successful applicants to undertake external secondments, post-graduate or specialised study or research, or other developmental activities that are both professionally beneficial to the staff member involved and of direct relevance and interest to the department.

The five awards granted in 2000–01 were:

  • participation in the Public Service and Merit Protection Committee senior executive development program;
  • visiting fellowship to research and publish on the law and practice of Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS);
  • completion of an MBA;
  • attendance at the Executive Course of the Asia Pacific Centre for Security Studies; and
  • secondment to the Australian Defence College.

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Certified Agreement 2000–03 Click to view related information - opens in new window

A major achievement was the implementation of the department’s second Certified Agreement, which came into effect on 1 July 2000. The Agreement promotes a culture of responsiveness and high performance closely linked to remuneration. It also introduced additional employee-friendly provisions, and more appropriate staffing structures. As with the first Agreement, the department’s performance management system remains central. It is different from that provided under the first Agreement—the changes are described in more detail below—but the main features of the first system remain.

In response to staff input to Agreement negotiations, the department agreed to change our broadband structure, which underpins the performance management system, by moving from a three-tier to a four-tier structure at the non-SES levels. Under the first Agreement, one broadband grouped APS1–APS4 employees and another grouped the APS5–EL1 ranges. The change allowed for a new hard barrier between the APS3 and APS4 levels, and grouped the APS4 and APS5 levels together. The Executive Level 2 range remained in a separate broadband. The four-tier structure better reflects the qualitative difference between work-level standards of APS2–3 employees on the one hand, and APS4–5 level employees on the other. All deployments within the department, both overseas and in Australia, continued on the basis of broadband level rather than APS classification level, allowing staff and managers greater choice in considering placements.

Information on salary ranges available for employees by classification structure is at Appendix 3.

The second Certified Agreement, which runs for three years, gave additional force to the Secretary’s ‘working smarter’ strategies. For example, it sets out with greater clarity those entitlements enabling staff to maintain reasonable work hours and to take appropriate breaks from work so they can respond effectively to unforeseen challenges. The emphasis on working smarter in the Agreement complemented other family-friendly or employee-friendly innovations such as the extension of full maternity and parental leave to adoptive parents, a half-pay maternity leave option, and a new emergency child-care provision. Further information on the ‘working smarter’ strategy is on page 201.

Performance management

The department’s second Certified Agreement contained a revised performance management system which retains the key features of its predecessor while introducing some significant improvements. The fundamental link between performance and remuneration remained, but the rating scale was simplified and the reward structure made more generous.

Extensive briefings on the revised system were conducted in Canberra, and posts and State and Passport offices were provided with an online training package explaining the changed guidelines. Staff unfamiliarity with the new ratings nomenclature and appraisal process gave rise to some minor teething problems in the system’s first year of operation. Overall, however, the system produced fairer outcomes at the departmental level, with high ratings being shared more equally across broadbands. Our strengthened upwards appraisal system also worked well; supervisors were more conscious of the impact on their own ratings of staff views on, for example, their implementation of the Working Smarter Principles.

A performance culture is now firmly entrenched in the department: annual appraisal ratings are linked not only to salary increments, but also to decisions on promotion, posting and placements.

Information on performance payments is at Appendix 3.

Non-salary benefits under the Certified Agreement and Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs)

The Certified Agreement 2000–03 gave employees access to performance-based bonus payments or salary advancements (see Appendix 3). It also allowed for a package of conditions for staff serving overseas. This package includes payment of an overseas living allowance; special provisions for hardship locations; assistance with education and health care; and reunion visits with dependants. A range of other allowances are available to eligible employees, notably a language proficiency allowance.

Under the Agreement, staff have access to flexible working conditions such as flextime and time-off-in-lieu provisions, and to an extra two days recreation leave each year in exchange for a slightly longer standard working day. We also introduced new provisions for staff with carer responsibilities, including half-pay maternity leave, maternity leave for adoptive parents, and an emergency child care provision.

Under Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs), some entitlements for SES were cashed out and rolled into salary. Non-salary benefits covered in the SES AWAs include access to performance pay on the same terms as non-SES employees, an entitlement to a vehicle and provision of a mobile phone. For non-SES, non-salary benefits provided through AWAs, excluding salary ‘top-ups’, have generally been limited to providing an allowance in lieu of excess duty payments.

Staff welfare

The department remains committed to fulfilling its responsibilities for the health, welfare and safety of all employees in Australia and overseas. Under the Certified Agreement 2000–03, we continued to resource the services provided by the Medical Unit, the Occupational Health and Safety Officer, Staff Counsellor and Family/Community Liaison Officer network.

The Foreign Service Medical Unit was involved in preparing 165 officers and dependants for overseas postings. In addition, 230 officers proceeding on short-term missions consulted the medical unit for advice prior to departure. The Principal Medical Adviser assisted in the medical evacuation of 52 people from overseas posts during the year.

The department employed six Australian-based doctors to run our clinics in Vientiane, Rangoon, Phnom Penh, Jakarta, Dili and Port Moresby, for which last-mentioned we assumed management from the Australian Army in January 2001. We also supported a LES Nurse-run clinic in Shanghai.

Our Employee Assistance Program continued to promote staff morale by offering counselling services to departmental employees and their families in Australia and overseas. We incorporated specialist psychological services into the selection process for Bougainville peace monitors, the International Peace Monitoring Team in Honiara and our graduate trainees. We also offered critical incident support services to employees and families in Vientiane following a bomb explosion, and in Honiara in the wake of severe civil unrest. We ensured clinical services were provided to employees and families in Suva following the Speight hostage drama and, in a global initiative, specialist training services were delivered to Honorary Consuls and Australian consular staff to improve the delivery of consular services to distressed Australians overseas.

Details of the department’s occupational health and safety performance are at Appendix 4.

Streamlining human resources management

Expansion of the Human Resource Information Management System’s (HRMIS) functions led to further efficiencies and continuing resource savings in various departmental processes, including the management of staff movements, recruitment, staff training and development and language skills.

We explored the extension of services available through the Employee Self-Service (ESS) system and planned developments to enable Australia-based staff overseas to have the same access to our human resource information management system as those in Australia. Recent development work has proven the feasibility of extending ESS functionality to posts utilising ‘thin client’ technology. It is expected ESS will be made available to posts once the bandwidth requirements have been fully identified.

Commonwealth Disability Strategy

The department reviewed its performance against the reporting framework for the Commonwealth Disability Strategy, identifying its core roles as those of ‘policy adviser’, ‘provider’ and ‘employer’.

The international focus of the department’s ‘policy adviser’ role (formulation of Australia’s foreign and trade policies) means it is difficult to measure the direct impact of such policies on the needs of people with disabilities. However, public pronouncements of new, revised or proposed policy or program initiatives can be made available in accessible formats on request.

As a ‘provider’ of consular and passport services to the public, the department has in place mechanisms to ensure that the needs of people with disabilities are met. These include, for example, access to online consular services which meet the accessibility standards set by the National Office for the Information Economy for people with disabilities or technical constraints. The department also has in place mechanisms for complaints and grievances from the public, for example, via our website; through the provision of toll-free phone numbers (in the case of passports); feedback from client surveys automatically issued with passports; and through ministerial and departmental correspondence. Client service charters do not currently make specific reference to the needs of the disabled and these will be reviewed to ensure consistency with the Commonwealth Disability Strategy.

As a best practice ‘employer’, the department has taken steps to ensure that its obligations as an employer are fulfilled. The Certified Agreement 2000–03 precludes discrimination on the basis of physical or mental disability. The department’s Workplace Diversity Program also precludes discrimination consistent with the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. The Workplace Diversity Program also incorporates complaints and/or grievances mechanisms and processes, including through the Workplace Diversity Contact Officer Network and the department’s Workplace Relations Committee. Guidelines provided to staff selection committees inform them of the requirement to avoid discrimination on the grounds of disability. Recruitment documentation makes provision for potential applicants to identify any special needs, and notes the existence of a phone line for hearing-impaired applicants. The department applies the principle of ‘reasonable adjustment’ to the extent practicable, for example, through the use of interpreters, the provision of voice-activated software and office furniture and equipment that meets the individual’s needs. Training and development programs facilitate the needs of individuals with disabilities on a case-by-case basis.

Consistent with the Commonwealth Disability Strategy reporting framework and in consultation with the Office of Disability, we are giving further consideration to ways in which the department might implement the Strategy more fully.

Overseas postings

The department conducts two large posting selection rounds each year, in March and September. Vacancies that occur outside these rounds are considered on an ad hoc basis. An Advisory Committee comprising a cross-section of departmental employees decides postings, which constitute internal transfers occurring at the discretion of the Secretary or the Secretary’s delegate.

Staff are eligible to apply for overseas positions advertised within their broadband. However, the committee may rule out applicants who have returned from a previous posting less than two years prior to the starting date for a particular position. In addition, employees recruited through bulk promotion/recruitment rounds, or promoted in specialist promotion/recruitment exercises, are normally expected to serve two years in Canberra before becoming eligible for transfer overseas.

While merit is a primary consideration in reaching postings decisions, it is not the sole consideration. The committee’s overriding concern is to strike a balance between operational needs, the development needs of individual applicants and personal preferences. Factors taken into account include:

  • staffing requirements in Canberra and elsewhere in the department;
  • the suitability of a particular employee for the position in question;
  • the desire to ensure that, to the greatest extent possible, suitable employees are given equal access to, and opportunities for, postings;
  • the need to avoid discrimination and to promote workplace diversity;
  • the balance between difficult and less difficult posts in an employee’s posting experience; and
  • personal considerations of applicants (for example, schooling needs, medical conditions and/or the career interests of spouses).

The Best Practice Review undertaken in 2000 found that our posting processes were more transparent and equitable than those of comparable foreign services. In 2000–01, 159 officers successfully applied for postings.

 

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