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Management of human resources

The department continued to deploy staff to respond promptly to new demands within a challenging and changing operating environment. In line with emerging priorities we created a number of new policy positions in Australia and overseas. We restructured our International Security Division to enhance our ability to meet the increased demands placed on the department in the wake of regional security developments, notably terrorism. The Government's new position of Ambassador for Counter-Terrorism is located in the department.

The department moved quickly to place staff as required to meet new crises. We responded rapidly to meet requirements emerging from the Bali bombings tragedy, including 24-hour staffing of crisis management centres and the deployment of additional staff to Bali and Jakarta. Our allocation of personnel to run task forces dealing with SARS and the Iraq crisis along with the timely deployment of staff to Australia's new mission in Baghdad demonstrated our flexibility.

As part of our medium and longer-term measures, the department developed new training programs to better prepare staff for work in the crisis centre and further developed contingency plans to deal with adverse regional and global developments.

During the year, we:

See Appendix 2 for staffing statistics.

Remuneration of senior executives

In May 2003 all SES employees were offered new three-year Australian Workplace Agreements to replace agreements expiring on 30 June 2003. The new agreements provided for an 11.5 per cent pay increase over three years, consistent with the pay increase offered to non-SES employees under the Certified Agreement 2003–2006. The pay increase for SES employees took effect on 3 July 2003. See Note 15 to the financial statements on page 260 and Table 24 in Appendix 2 for details of executive remuneration.

Recruitment

Recruitment and selection processes in the department are firmly based on the principles contained in the Public Service Act 1999 and the APS Values and Code of Conduct. We meet our staffing needs through annual 'promotion-to-level' bulk selection processes at each broadband and SES level, and as required, we undertake specialist selection processes to fill gaps in specific skills areas such as accountants, economists and lawyers.

Our efforts to attract a diverse group of talented graduates to the department continue to be successful. In March and April 2003, we visited 33 metropolitan and regional universities in every state and territory, to hold interactive information sessions with students. We received almost 2500 applications for a maximum of 34 positions in the department's intake of generalist and corporate graduate trainees commencing in 2004. In order to remain a competitive employer of high-quality graduates, we conduct regular reviews of our recruitment process to identify scope for streamlining and improvements.

A new Contractor Management Unit was created to improve management of staff employed under contract, achieving greater awareness of appropriate procurement practices.

Workplace diversity

Photo - See caption below for description
The launch of the CD Listen up! Music of Black Australia was part of the celebration of NAIDOC week in July 2002. Left to right: Tracey Haines, departmental staff member, Mr Lloyd Malalung Garrawirtja, musician, Mr Michael Hohnen, Skinnyfish Music, Pamela Fayle, then Acting Secretary, Mr George Rrurambu, singer and cultural performer and Mr Seaman Dan, Torres Strait Islander singer.
Enlarge image :: Photo gallery

Workplace diversity is a core element of the department's policies and programs. The workplace diversity program provides the means for all employees, including locally engaged staff overseas, to achieve an appropriate balance between work, family and cultural responsibilities in workplaces that are inclusive, safe and secure.

Our program of activities promoted a high level of awareness among employees of the principles of workplace diversity, including in our employee training and development programs. We have an active network of workplace diversity contact officers in all policy and administrative units, passport offices and overseas posts.

We continued our Indigenous Cadetship Program in 2002–03. The program aims to increase the impact Indigenous Australians have on Australian foreign and trade policy as staff members (see also 'Trainee programs' below).

The department promoted, including internationally, NAIDOC Week 2002, International Women's Week 2003, Harmony Day (21 March) and National Reconciliation Week 2003.

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

Our performance in implementing the Commonwealth Disability Strategy is reported in Appendix 4.

Training and development

The department continued to offer a comprehensive suite of over 70 training workshops in professional development, leadership and management, administration and finance, IT, consular issues and security. Our training program responded to departmental imperatives to convey key corporate messages, particularly the importance of strong advocacy skills, high ethical standards and a keen attention to security needs. These messages were reinforced in all relevant training workshops.

Work units also provided development opportunities wherever possible for staff. During 2002–03 new workshops were introduced in leadership and management for executive level 2 staff, meeting skills, appearing before parliamentary committees, working in the emergency call unit, crisis centre management, overseas property management and overseas property information. The risk management workshop was adjusted to include a segment on business continuity awareness.

The department was invited by the ANAO and Australian Public Service Commission to participate in a reference group charged with preparing the better practice guide Building capacity: A framework for managing learning and development in the APS. Our inclusion was recognition of the high standing in which our training program is held. We had all seven of the guide's learning and development principles already in place.

Our comprehensive system of workshop evaluation is at the forefront of APS practice. All workshops must be evaluated by participants. Training managers act on consolidated evaluations for all workshops. Training is not considered to be completed until an electronic evaluation has been completed by the workshop participant.

Our training database allows for accurate reporting of the number of days spent on training and development activities by staff throughout the department (see Table 27 in Appendix 2).

Trainee programs

Twenty-five graduate trainees joined the department in February 2003 and began two years of in-house training, comprising four workplace rotations across the department's key areas, three formal training blocks and academic short courses as required in international politics, economics and international law. Graduate trainees can expect to be posted at the conclusion of the training program.

A further four corporate and financial management trainees joined the department in February 2003. Over a two-year period they take on four work placements within the corporate and financial areas and complete a Certified Practising Accountant, or equivalent, qualification. This is the second such intake to join us and continues our plan to fill previously identified gaps in our corporate and administrative resources.

Seven staff participated in the administrative officer development program in 2002–03. 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 2002–03, our Indigenous cadetship program helped six cadets during their studies and gave them practical working experience in the department between semesters. On graduation, cadets are offered an initial position with the department and are eligible to apply for our other traineeship programs.

Language training

The comprehensive review of the department's language training programs announced in November 2001 is now fully implemented and has improved outcomes measurably. The new approach means that virtually all staff posted to a language-designated position arrive at post with tested language proficiency. Proficiency levels are standardised and language training is sharply focused, resulting in staff reaching a higher standard of proficiency in a shorter time. Our language training investment aligns closely with Australia's foreign and trade priorities.

We conducted four intensive one-week, in-house immersion courses in Japanese, Mandarin, Indonesian, and Korean to help previously trained employees retain high-level language skills. There was significant take-up by staff of increased language proficiency allowances for out-of-country language proficiency retention. Introductory courses in Spanish and Indonesian for staff without a second language continued for a second year.

Studies assistance

The department's comprehensive Studybank scheme offered study leave and financial assistance to 86 employees, including locally employed staff overseas, to undertake undergraduate and post-graduate courses of study in areas of benefit to the department.

The Professional Development Awards Scheme provided the opportunity for senior staff to undertake external study, research or developmental work of benefit to the department. Three employees were funded under the scheme in 2002–03: one to undertake a masters' degree in management, one to complete a six-month research project on World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement activity, and the third to study for a masters' degree in strategic policy and defence policy.

Regional management conferences

The department held a regional management conference in London in September and October 2002 for staff in Europe and Africa. Such conferences are attended by senior staff from Canberra and consular and administrative staff overseas, including key locally engaged staff. They provide a forum for key corporate messages on finance, passports, consular, property, training and post management issues to be delivered first-hand. Relevant training is incorporated into the program. A conference scheduled for Hong Kong in March 2003 for North Asian posts was postponed until early in 2003–04 because of concerns following the outbreak of the SARS virus.

Training response to consular crises

The department developed and delivered two training courses during 2002-03 to improve our responsiveness in the event of a major consular crisis.

The Emergency Call Unit training workshop trains staff at all levels for work in our emergency call unit during a major crisis. The workshop can be delivered at short notice. Training includes an introduction to the department’s crisis architecture and unit responsibilities, familiarisation with the equipment and software staff will use in a consular crisis, effective listening skills, and information on privacy responsibilities. During 2002–03, 138 staff were trained to work in the emergency call unit on an ‘if required’ basis.

The department developed a crisis centre management workshop for Broadband 3 to SES Band 1 employees who volunteer to staff the centre if required. The workshop introduces participants to the Government’s crisis response architecture and the responsibilities of the various arms of the department’s consular response. It outlines the responsibilities of each member of the crisis centre management team. Forty-four staff were trained in crisis centre management during 2002–03.

Locally engaged staff management: momentum for reform maintained

In the first half of 2002–03, the remaining small number of posts finalised the process to make their salary and conditions packages for locally engaged staff (LES) fully compliant with local labour law, thereby completing the significant process of major reform began in 2000–01. The momentum for reform has continued, with many posts revisiting their salary and conditions packages to reduce the administrative burden and to ensure the optimum salary their budget will allow to recruit and retain the best employees in the local market.

By mid-year all posts had introduced a rigorous performance management system tied to performance-based bonuses or the equivalent, with some posts completing the second year of the new-look performance arrangements by 30 June 2003. This has been a major tool for posts to improve work practices within the LES workforce and to promote productivity gains. The department has supported this process, including through the publication in December 2002 of a better practice guide on LES management issues, and through supporting further redundancies where required.

Performance management and performance pay

We continued to promote a strong performance culture and to maintain a direct relationship between performance and remuneration. Performance appraisal is also closely linked to promotion, posting, and placements decisions, and to the identification of training needs. Performance agreements between staff members and their supervisors combined with formal mid-year reviews remain central to the integrity of the system.

Staff-friendly changes to the performance management system agreed to in the Certified Agreement 2003–2006 included a reintroduction of non-consecutive banking of fully effective ratings; an increased emphasis on ongoing feedback, including exit interviews when an employee or supervisor moves position; and allowing the supervisor to indicate at the time of the appraisal interview whether the staff member will be recommended for a higher rating.

For information on the payment of performance bonuses see Tables 25 and 26 in Appendix 2.

Australian Workplace Agreements

All SES staff and a small number of non-SES staff in specialist positions are employed under Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs). New, stand-alone AWAs were offered to relevant staff in June 2003. The AWAs reflect the conditions of service applying to departmental staff covered by the Certified Agreement 2003–2006 and are valid for three years from 1 July 2003 to 30 June 2006.

Table 24 in Appendix 2 provides details of salary ranges and numbers of employees covered by the certified agreement and AWAs.

Certified Agreement 2003-2006

In November 2002 the Secretary launched a comprehensive consultation process with all staff of the department to develop a new certified agreement. Management’s commitment was to have a new agreement in place by the time the 2000–2003 agreement expired at the end of June 2003. Consultations were held with all staff in Canberra, at state and passports offices and with representatives of staff overseas at selected posts.

A first draft of the proposed agreement was put to all staff in mid-December 2002 with detailed negotiations beginning in February 2003. The negotiation phase of the agreement-making process involved meetings between management and staff and staff association representatives in Canberra.

A final version of a three-year agreement to be effective from 1 July 2003 was agreed in late March 2003. It offered staff an 11.5 per cent pay increase over the three-year life of the agreement in return for improvements in productivity through an increase in hours of work to 7 hours 30 minutes per day along with changes to recreation leave carryover to reduce the financial liability carried by the department.

In April 2003 a strong majority of staff (70 per cent) voted in favour of accepting the agreement. On 27 May 2003 the Australian Industrial Relations Commission formally certified the agreement in accordance with Section 170LK of the Workplace Relations Act 1996.

Non-salary benefits under the certified agreement and Australian Workplace Agreements

The department's certified agreement includes access to performance-based bonus payments or salary advancement for staff. It also provides for a package of conditions of service for staff serving overseas. 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 flex-time and time-off-in-lieu provisions. We have a provision for half-pay maternity leave, emergency child care costs and leave for adoptive parents.

Under AWAs, non-salary benefits include access to performance pay on the same terms as staff covered by the certified agreement, and vehicle and mobile phone entitlements for SES employees.

Staff welfare

We provided a program of medical support services to staff and their dependants. A total of 392 staff and their dependants were medically prepared and cleared before overseas posting, as were more than 280 staff proceeding on short-term missions, including those deployed to Bougainville. We managed more than 2900 enquiries and 38 medical evacuations from overseas posts.

We run six doctor-based clinics and one LES nurse-run clinic attached to posts overseas. Major issues dealt with during the year included medical preparation for potential biological and chemical attacks in the Middle East, and the spread of the SARS virus.

The department continued to support staff and their families on postings and in Canberra. The Family Liaison Officer briefed more than 80 staff and families prior to posting and managed 29 requests for compassionate travel from posts.

The Staff Counsellor's clinical services helped maintain organisational morale and wellbeing. Clinical demand was high overseas. Psychological support services were offered to families evacuated from Middle East posts before the conflict in Iraq, to the Iraq Task Force members and to staff selected for duty in the reopened chancery in Iraq. We conducted psychological testing to assist in staff selection to the Bougainville Peace Monitors Group and, more recently, the Bougainville Transitional Team.

The Staff Counsellor implemented emergency psychological support services to ensure family members, expatriate volunteers and Government personnel had access to professional psychologists or military padres in the wake of the Bali bombings. Services were offered at the Consulate-General in Bali, at family registration centres, in the Bali International Medical Centre and at the memorial service attended by the Prime Minister for killed or missing Australian, New Zealand and Canadian citizens. Counselling was also provided to international schools in Bali with specific advice to teachers on responding to delayed stress reactions in children. Counselling services were available in total for three weeks. The Staff Counsellor revisited Bali five months later to reassess staff wellbeing and deal with residual trauma issues.

The department continued to promote improved work practices and attitudes that sustain healthy and safe work environments. The Secretary issued a new Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Policy Statement in March 2003, and our OHS Agreement is currently being renegotiated.

In June 2002, Comcare Australia completed an investigation into our OHS policies and practices. A report of its findings indicated our main strengths were the management of work processes and the movement of materials, while weaknesses were identified in our risk management and incident notification procedures. The Senior Executive approved a whole-of-department OHS Action Plan responding to the report's recommendations, which was formally endorsed by Comcare in May 2003. For more information on OHS matters, including legislative reporting, see Appendix 3.

 

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Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Annual Report 2002–2003
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