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Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade :: 2001-2002 Annual Report
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Contents Guide Overviews Performance Corporate

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Section 3: Corporate Management and Accountability

Page Contents

Management of human resources

Workforce planning, staff turnover and staff retention
Despite the overall reduction in ongoing staff numbers, the flexibility and targeted nature of staff deployment was enhanced to reflect more appropriately the department's emerging priorities. The number of staff working in key areas of the department, most notably on trade policy, increased. A number of new positions in Australia and overseas were created during the year, including senior legal and trade policy positions.

In responding to the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks and the MV Tampa incident, the department demonstrated its capacity to deploy staff quickly and efficiently. The prompt establishment of appropriately resourced crisis centres was crucial in the aftermath of these events. Around 350 staff worked in both crisis centres over ensuing weeks. We also developed medium and longer-term resource responses, including additional staffing for the Consulate-General in New York and for our Anti-Terrorism Task Force.

During the year, we also

  • improved our capacity to forecast staffing numbers and thus the quality and timeliness of information provided to the Secretary and Senior Executive, which has enabled better long-term decision-making and forecasting

  • initiated and implemented changes to the staff placements process, including by harnessing new technologies, which has minimised staffing gaps and delivered more efficient staffing outcomes

  • continued to enhance the integrity and transparency of the overseas posting process.

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Remuneration of senior executives
Consistent with Government workplace relations policy, all SES employees are employed under Australian Workplace Agreements which, for all ongoing SES staff, expire on 30 June 2003.

In June 2002, all SES employees were offered variations to their agreements, consistent with the 4.5 per cent pay increase and revised performance management arrangements offered to non-SES staff (see box 'Variation to the Certified Agreement' on page 209). The pay increase for SES employees took effect from 1 July 2002. See Note 15 to the financial statements on page 257 for details of executive remuneration.

Recruitment
The department's recruitment and selection processes remain firmly embedded in the merit principle and APS values contained in the Public Service Act 1999. We continue to meet our staffing needs through annual 'promotion-to-level' bulk selection processes at each broadband and SES level. We run specialist selection processes as required to fill gaps in specific skills areas, such as finance and information technology.

We are pleased that interest in the department at the graduate level remains high. As in previous years, around 2500 graduates applied (in April 2002) for approximately 25 positions for our 2003 intake. Enhancements to our online graduate recruitment system allowed us to streamline further the recruitment process and to provide strong support to potential applicants.

We aim to recruit four more corporate and financial management trainees to start in early 2003.

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Workplace diversity
The department continued its program of activities to promote a high level of awareness among employees of the principles of workplace diversity. Workplace diversity, including cultural awareness, is a core element of employee training and development. The department maintained an active network of workplace diversity contact officers in all policy and administrative units, passport offices and overseas posts.

Mr Downer launched our Indigenous Cadetship Program during NAIDOC Week in July 2001. The program aims to increase the impact Indigenous Australians have on Australian foreign and trade policy as staff members (also see below under 'Trainee programs').

The department promoted internationally NAIDOC Week 2001, International Women's Week 2002, and National Reconciliation Week 2002.

We participated in APS-wide activities to promote workplace diversity, indigenous employment and enhanced employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

Our performance on the Commonwealth Disability Strategy is contained in Appendix 5.

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Training and development
The department continued to offer a comprehensive suite of over 60 training courses in professional development, administration and finance, IT, security and the APS operating environment, catering for career development and pre-posting training requirements. During 2001-02, new workshops were introduced in policy development, risk management, strategic planning and strategic use of the media.

The ANAO report Management of learning and development in the APS showed we were well placed in terms of our learning and development programs. The report highlighted our integrated planning model, which aligns human resource management and learning and development outcomes with key elements of our corporate plan and online training and development database. Following the report, the ANAO invited our participation in a reference group charged with preparing a better practice guide on learning and development for the APS.

PeopleSoft electronic training database system
The introduction of the PeopleSoft Employee Self-Service system training module further integrated the department's human resources management information system, providing both a comprehensive training database for reporting and training policy development, as well as incorporating linkages with other PeopleSoft modules, such as performance management (see page 209). The electronic system enables staff to select appropriate courses online from the training workshop catalogue, enrol electronically and provide training evaluations from their desktops.

Trainee programs
The department conducted four trainee programs during the year. Twenty-five graduate trainees joined the department in February 2002 and began a two-year in-house training program, which includes three intensive training blocks, four work placements in different areas of the department, and supplementary academic training in economics and international law. Graduate trainees are expected to proceed on an overseas posting after the two-year training period.

In February 2002, four corporate and financial management trainees joined us. Over a two-year period they will undertake four work placements within corporate areas of the department and complete a CPA qualification. This rolling two-year recruitment and training program has gone some way towards eliminating shortfalls in accounting skills and qualifications within the department. It will make significant inroads into a previously identified shortfall in the number of suitably qualified senior administrative officers to help manage our overseas resources. A further intake is planned for 2003.

Twelve staff participated in the Administrative Development Program in 2001-02. The two-year program aims to provide participants with the experience and range of skills for posting in a junior administrative capacity, and to provide an experienced pool of future senior administrative officers at overseas posts.

In 2001-02, our Indigenous Cadetship Program helped three cadets during their studies and gave them practical working experience between semesters. On graduation, cadets are offered an initial position with the department and are eligible to apply for our other traineeship programs.

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Review of language training programs

New policies and the allocation of an additional $1.4 million a year to the language training program (which made a total of $3.57 million in 2001-02) will achieve more focused outcomes for our language training investment. The new policies provide:

  • a new classification of languages that more accurately reflects Australia's foreign and trade priorities

  • increased 'in-country' language training, particularly for tier one and tier two languages

  • a full reassessment of language-designated positions to ensure that resources are allocated where they are most needed in accordance with our language priorities

  • significant increases in language proficiency allowances, including for 'out-of-country' language proficiency retention

  • upgraded 'survival' language training for all staff, including provisions for spouses.

New tier language classifications:

Tier one:
Indonesian, Japanese and Mandarin

Tier two:
Arabic, French, Korean, Spanish, Thai

Tier three:
Bislama, Burmese, Cantonese, Farsi, German, Greek, Italian, Khmer, Lao, Malay, Melanesian Pidgin, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Tok Pisin, Vietnamese

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Language training
In November 2001, the department completed a comprehensive review of its language training programs. Further to the review, long-term language training was concentrated exclusively on language designated positions, which were significantly reduced in number and more closely aligned with Australia's foreign and trade policy objectives. The proportion of language training days for students of tier one and tier two languages spent 'in-country' was increased to enable staff to benefit from immersion in target languages.

To help previously trained employees retain high-level language skills, we introduced a series of immersion courses in high priority (tier one) languages. These courses were conducted in Japanese and Mandarin in 2001-02. Further courses in these languages, and in Indonesian, will be conducted each year.

Regional management conferences
To help satisfy the training and development needs of our overseas missions, we instituted a regular 18-24 month cycle of regional management conferences. These provide an opportunity for leadership and management training, financial, property, consular, passports and other training, and an opportunity for staff overseas to discuss regional management issues with senior departmental managers. Conferences were held in May 2002 for all North and South American posts in Los Angeles and Buenos Aires respectively.

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Studies assistance
The department continued to operate a comprehensive Studybank scheme offering study leave and financial assistance to employees to undertake undergraduate and post-graduate study in areas of benefit to us. In 2001-02, 158 employees, including locally employed overseas staff, received assistance to pursue external studies under the Studybank scheme and our distance learning partnership with Deakin University.

The Professional Development Awards Scheme provided further opportunities for senior staff to undertake external study, research or developmental work of benefit to the department. Four employees were funded under the scheme in 2001-02 covering study or research programs or work placements. The areas of study included international law, strategic and defence studies, security studies, and a placement with a legal practice.

Implementing the locally engaged staff management review
The department implemented a range of reforms resulting from the review of LES management practices overseas. Reforms included: new locally engaged staff job classifications and salary structures at all posts; development of post specific conditions of service, which brought employment of locally engaged staff fully into line with local labour law; rigorous performance management; use of fixed-term contracts where allowable in local law; and further devolution of management functions to posts.

This signals the end of the first phase of implementing the policy outcomes of the review. Our continued commitment to achieving a more highly qualified and better paid locally engaged staff workforce will see further streamlining and productivity improvements introduced in 2002-03.

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Variation to the Certified Agreement 2000-2003 Click to view related information - opens in new window

On 30 April 2002, the Secretary offered staff a 4.5 per cent pay increase, commencing in July 2002, in recognition of productivity gains achieved during the first two years of the Certified Agreement. At the same time, he proposed that the performance management system be streamlined to address some staff concerns about aspects of the moderation process and to overcome anomalies in the reward structure.

On 4 June 2002, following comprehensive consultations, including through the department's Workplace Relations Committee, staff voted overwhelmingly in favour of the proposal to vary the Certified Agreement. Of the 1239 votes cast, 898, or 72 per cent, were in favour of the pay increase and proposed modifications to the performance management system (see below).

On 20 June 2002, the Australian Industrial Relations Commission issued an order approving the variation to the Certified Agreement in accordance with s.170MD of the Workplace Relations Act 1996. The order remains in force until 30 June 2003.

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Performance management
We continued to promote a strong performance culture and to maintain a direct link between remuneration and performance. Performance appraisal is also closely linked to promotion, posting and placements decisions, and to identification of training needs.

Changes to the performance management system-introduced for the 2001-02 performance cycle in accordance with the variations to the Certified Agreement accepted by staff in June 2002-allowed us to overcome some concerns raised by staff and to remove anomalies in the existing reward structure. We also introduced a new five-tier rating scale to allow us better to reward high performance. A simplified moderation process also helped to streamline administration of the system.

We further streamlined administration of the performance management system by introducing a performance management module in the human resource management information system, PeopleSoft HR.

All Canberra staff and the majority of staff at posts were able to enter performance appraisal comments and ratings electronically through the system. Alternative arrangements were made for those employees at post who did not have access to PeopleSoft. A review towards the end of 2002 of both the new performance management system and the PeopleSoft module will allow us to fix any problems that come to light and to bed down both systems for the 2002-03 end-of-cycle appraisal process.

For the first time this year, LES participated in the upwards appraisal of Australia-based supervisors overseas. As well, post-specific performance management systems were introduced for all LES as part of the LES review agenda.

Information on performance payments is contained in Appendix 3 (Staffing Overview).

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Non-salary benefits under the Certified Agreement and Australian Workplace Agreements
The Certified Agreement 2000-03 gave employees access to performance-based bonus payments or salary advances (see Appendix 3). It also allowed for a package of conditions for staff serving overseas (see box below on the new overseas conditions of service package implemented on 1 July 2002). A range of other allowances are available to eligible employees, notably a language proficiency allowance.

Under the Certified 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.

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Overseas conditions of service review

Consistent with the provisions of the Certified Agreement 2000-2003, a comprehensive review of overseas conditions of service was undertaken early in 2001. In undertaking the review, our priority was to streamline the system, while at the same time improving its transparency for employees and ensuring any changes were financially neutral.

The Secretary issued a consultation paper in July 2001. After consultation with staff, an outcomes paper was issued in December 2001. We set an implementation date of 1 July 2002 for the introduction of the new package.

The new system, which is benchmarked against private sector norms, replaces the former complex Overseas Living Allowance/Difficult Post Allowance provisions. The key elements of the system are:

  • Cost of Living Allowance: Based on reliable private sector data, this allowance compensates staff for the additional cost of living overseas.

  • Cost of Posting Allowance: Calculated at 16 per cent of gross salary for singles and 24 per cent of gross salary for accompanied employees, this allowance compensates staff for a wide range of financial impacts resulting from an overseas posting.

  • Hardship Allowance: Delivered in accordance with reliable private sector data, this allowance compensates for any significant adverse effects on lifestyle or welfare of staff and families that are assessed as being grossly inferior to those in Australia.

  • Dependant Allowance: This allowance comprises both an amount to compensate for the range of disruptions associated with relocating and living overseas with children, plus an amount for the additional costs involved in raising children at specific overseas locations. There is no diminution in the total amount spent on Child/Reunion Allowance (set at 75 per cent of the value of Child Allowance).

  • Transfer Allowance has been simplified and Outlay Advance has been adjusted to provide staff with greater flexibility.

We will review the new system after approximately 18 months of operation.

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Staff welfare
We provided a program of medical support services to staff and their dependants. A total of 256 staff and their dependants were briefed and medically cleared before their overseas postings, as were more than 250 staff proceeding on short-term missions, including those deployed to Bougainville. We answered more than 2600 enquiries and managed 43 medical evacuations from overseas posts.

We run seven clinics attached to posts overseas. Major issues dealt with during the year included contracts for medical assessment services, deep vein thrombosis associated with flying, Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) in Europe, potential anthrax exposures and potential radiation exposure associated with nuclear incidents.

Counselling services, including by the Staff Counsellor, helped to maintain organisational morale and wellbeing. Clinical activity was particularly high overseas. Psychological support services were offered to families evacuated from Islamabad and New Delhi. We offered ongoing support to officers and families in Ramallah and Tel Aviv throughout a period of sustained political tension.

Specialist training services were offered to honorary consuls and Australian consular staff to improve the delivery of services to distressed Australians overseas. The department also contributed psychological testing services to the selection process for graduate trainees, Bougainville peace monitors and East Timor election observers.

Following the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks, we implemented emergency psychological support arrangements to ensure that staff, families and LES had access to professional trauma debriefing services. These services were later extended to the wider Australian and New Zealand communities in New York.

Counselling was offered at the Consulate-General in New York, at memorial services and also in employee residences. Australian families of victims who were flown to New York by the Australian Government and who attended memorial services were also supported through the grieving process. Counselling services were available for four weeks and provided again four months later to re-assess employee wellbeing and to deal with residual trauma issues.

Trauma debriefing services were offered to Passports Australia staff in Canberra after an anthrax hoax quarantined the department's headquarters, the R G Casey Building.

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