Annual Report 2007-2008
 

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Management of human resources

The department deployed staff quickly and flexibly to meet changing policy priorities. The Government’s announcement of savings measures required some reorientation of staffing resources.

To implement these savings measures, the department withdrew a number of positions in Canberra and from overseas posts. Twenty-five Australia-based overseas positions were withdrawn—most of which will take effect in 2008-09—and 18 positions were withdrawn in Canberra. These reductions were accommodated through natural attrition and slowed recruitment. No staff were made redundant.

On several occasions, the department deployed additional staff to the embassy in Harare in response to the worsening conditions in Zimbabwe. Additional staff were deployed to Lebanon in April 2008 to assist Australians in the volatile security environment, and a significant support team was sent to Turkey to help manage Anzac Day in Gallipoli. We redirected resources to facilitate Australia’s ratification of the Kyoto Protocol in December 2007 and managed the machinery of government change that involved the transfer of eight positions and related resources to the new Department of Climate Change.

Resources devoted to trade issues were managed flexibly to provide effective support for Australia’s hosting of APEC in September 2007 and coverage of our interests in the Doha Round and bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations. The department staffed an India and Indonesia FTA feasibility study and arranged for the temporary transfer of three employees to Lima for the duration of APEC Peru 2008. In response to the Government’s review of export policies and programs, we established a secretariat staffed by four departmental officers as well as non-departmental staff. The department and Austrade are jointly funding the review. We set up a unit to manage Australia’s involvement in the Shanghai World Expo in 2010.

In response to the Prime Minister’s Port Moresby Declaration, which commits Australia to enhancing cooperation with the island nations of the Pacific, the department created a Pacific Partnerships Task Force in March 2008.

Workforce planning, staff mobility and retention

The department slowed the pace of recruitment as part of Budget-driven savings measures. Staffing needs will continue to be met through regular bulk selection processes at each broadband and SES level, although we expect the number of recruits and promotees to be lower than in recent years. We will continue to recruit specialists to provide specific skills in areas including trade policy, accounting, law, personal assistants and information technology.

We continued to enjoy good retention rates. In 2007–08, 149 ongoing staff separated from the department. This figure is higher than separation rates over recent years.

Human resource management information system

The department completed a major upgrade of its PeopleSoft human resource information system. Streamlining business processes and achieving productivity improvements in human resource management and payroll processing were key objectives of the new system. The upgrade involved extensive redevelopment of the department’s administration of staffing processes in Australia and overseas. Rollout of the new system is planned for July 2008.

Currawong Childcare Centre

As part of its commitment to helping staff achieve a reasonable work–life balance, the department provides on-site childcare in the R G Casey Building. The Currawong Childcare Centre, established in 1997, is a non-profit centre which provides 90 long day care places for babies to preschoolers.

Recruitment

The department completed 38 recruitment processes resulting in over 123 staff being recruited or offered employment for this period. Our recruitment and selection processes are based on merit and the APS values set out in the Public Service Act 1999.

The department’s graduate recruitment program continued to attract high numbers of well-qualified staff. We received 1835 applications for the 2009 Graduate Trainee intake and 121 for the 2009 Corporate and Financial Management Trainee intake. Twenty-nine graduate trainees and eight corporate and financial management trainees started work in the department in 2008. Graduates were qualified in a variety of disciplines including arts, economics, law, accounting, public policy and social science, reflecting the department’s need for a broad range of skills and experience. They also brought a range of language skills including Arabic, French, Indonesian, Japanese, Spanish and Mandarin.

Workplace diversity

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The Secretary, Mr Michael LíEstrange AO, with members of the departmentís Indigenous Employees Network to mark the National Aboriginal Islander Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) week on 9 July 2007.
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The department’s Workplace Diversity Program promotes a culture of professional behaviour. It encourages relationships based on respect, equity, personal courtesy and inclusion while working to eliminate bullying, harassment and discrimination. The program emphasises the importance of all employees, including locally engaged staff, achieving an appropriate balance of work, family and cultural responsibilities that are inclusive, safe, secure and rewarding.

Two signature events in the department’s workplace diversity calendar were NAIDOC Week in July 2007 and International Women’s Day in March 2008. The theme for NAIDOC Week 2007 was 50 years: Looking Forward, Looking Blak. The department commemorated NAIDOC Week with a flag-raising ceremony and the launch of its Reconciliation Action Plan. A representative of the department’s Indigenous Employees Network delivered the keynote address.

The department celebrated International Women’s Day on 8 March 2008 by organising activities in Canberra and at posts. These included recognising and promoting the contributions women make to society by hosting forums on the topic of women in leadership roles.

We continued our participation in APS-wide initiatives to promote workplace diversity, Indigenous employment and enhanced employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

Reconciliation Action Plan

The department launched its Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) in July 2007. The RAP reflects our Indigenous Recruitment and Career Development Strategy 2007–2010.

Through the RAP, we also implement the APS Employment and Capability Strategy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employees and, by doing so, enhance our Workplace Diversity Plan.

The department maintains informal and formal consultative mechanisms through the Indigenous Employees Network and the Indigenous Taskforce. These play an important role in establishing relationships and dialogue within the department on a range of key Indigenous issues. The Indigenous Task Force assists with the recruitment, career development and retention of Indigenous employees and promotes awareness of Indigenous Australia within the department.

Commonwealth disability strategy

At June 2008, 26 of the department’s employees identified as having a disability.

Throughout the year, the department met its responsibilities under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992 and the Workplace Relations Act 2006.

In August 2007, we launched our Action Plan for Employing People with Disabilities, consistent with the Management Advisory Committee report on Employment of People with a Disability in the APS.

The department is committed to equity in employment and the elimination of harassment and discrimination of employees with a disability. Our 2006–09 Collective Agreement and human resource policies set out mechanisms to achieve Commonwealth Disability Strategy objectives.

The department supports a workplace culture that fosters the employment and retention of employees with a disability. During the year, it assisted people with disabilities to submit job applications and attend interviews. Recruitment material is available in a range of formats, including audio and large font. Where appropriate, we adjusted the workplace to meet the needs of people with disabilities.

The department’s Workplace Diversity Unit and its network of Workplace Diversity contact officers worked cooperatively to promote continuing awareness of the needs and contributions of employees with disabilities. These needs were also reflected in the department’s training and development programs, including by providing information on policies and programs addressing disability issues.

There were no formal grievances during the year relating to disability under the Workplace Diversity Program. We provided mechanisms to receive feedback and grievances from internal and external sources.

Training and development

Several major advances in the delivery and management of training during 2007–08 strengthened the department’s ability to equip employees for high performance. They were:

Staff have access to over 110 courses and workshops, including 15 offered for the first time in 2007–08. In addition, the Australian Passport Office and the Diplomatic Security, Information Management and Services Division deliver extensive and specialised training to enhance the technical skills of staff who work in these areas.

Under the Staff Training and Development Initiative, the department provided valuable on-the-job experience for 17 junior staff to participate in and contribute to international conferences and negotiations.

The average number of training days per employee during 2007–08 was nine days, well above the amount of five days per year required under the department’s training and development strategy.

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Helen Dai
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PERSONAL PROFILE:

Helen Dai

Helen Dai commenced as a Corporate and Financial Management Trainee (CFMT) in February 2008. During a rotation in the Finance area, Helen was given carriage of a project to develop solutions to improve the department’s system of making payments to vendors (companies supplying goods and services to the department). Helen helped create a series of new control processes which have enhanced the department’s management of its extensive vendor databases.

As a CFMT, Helen’s training in financial, consular policy and corporate management roles over the next two years will help her develop the skills required to administer Australia’s overseas posts. CFMT graduates also undertake study for the Certified Practicing Accountant (CPA) qualification as part of the program.

It’s very satisfying to be able to see the effects of process improvements and receive positive feedback.

 

Trainee programs

Twenty-nine Graduate Trainees joined the department in 2008, compared to 39 in 2007. The Graduate Trainees complete a two-year in-house training program. This includes four work placements in a variety of areas throughout the department and professional skills training that can include short academic courses in international relations, international law and economics. The training program equips the Graduate Trainees with skills necessary for their first postings to policy positions overseas. The department aims to advise Graduate Trainees of their posting within their first two years in the department.

Eight Corporate and Financial Management Trainees joined the department in February 2008, one more than in 2007. They are recruited with a minimum of a university minor in accountancy and trained to be corporate policy specialists. In their two-year training program, they undertake workplace rotations in eight areas, including financial management, audit, consular policy and post management issues. They also undertake professional skills training and study towards qualifying as a Certified Practicing Accountant or similar qualification. Following their training, the trainees are posted overseas in an administrative capacity approximately two years after joining the department.

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Abi Luders
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PERSONAL PROFILE:

Abi Luders

Abi Luders began in the department in 2003 as a personal assistant, working to senior officers in South-East Asia Division. In late 2004, she started her two-year posting to Solomon Islands as part of the Australian contribution to the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI). Abi was responsible for the effective administration of the RAMSI DFAT office, located just outside the capital, Honiara—an experience which was both challenging and stimulating given the sometimes difficult operating environment. On one occasion, a deterioration in the security situation following the 2006 elections meant Abi was unable to return home. Instead, she bunkered down with other DFAT staff in the office for several days, borrowing clothes from colleagues in the Australian Federal Police and bedding from the ADF contingent—with the added challenge of keeping the office running smoothly.

Upon her return, Abi commenced as a trainee under the department’s Administrative Development Program, undertaking rotations across the department to develop her core administrative and corporate skills.

Abi is currently undertaking training for an overseas posting to Tokyo, where from late 2008 she will be working in a consular role.

 

 

In 2007–08, the department assisted seven cadets with their tertiary studies through the Indigenous Cadetship Program. Two of the cadets completed the program and commenced work in the department, with five undertaking work placements in Canberra between November 2007 and February 2008 while completing their studies. Indigenous Cadetship Program graduates undertake professional training and four work placements over a two-year period before being assigned to long-term placements.

The department’s Administrative Development Program provides a two-year, in-house training and placement program for departmental employees at the BB1–3 (APS2–EL1) levels. The program helps strengthen the pool of skilled staff to fill administrative positions in Canberra and overseas. In 2007–08, 13 employees participated in the program, compared to 8 in the previous year. Four staff commenced postings following their completion of the program.

Studies assistance

The department offers a Studybank scheme providing leave and financial assistance to staff to complete academic courses in areas relevant to the department’s work. In 2007–08, 57 staff accessed Studybank. This included staff undertaking postgraduate studies in international law, public policy, accounting and financial management, and business administration.

Language training

The department is committed to training staff in priority languages that reflect Australia’s foreign and trade policy interests. In 2007–08, 75 employees undertook long-term language training in Australia and overseas. A further 72 employees undertook short-term ‘survival’ pre-posting language training. Total expenditure on language training was $2.6 million.

The department used a range of measures to encourage employees to maintain existing high-level language proficiencies. It held five one-week, intensive in-house immersion courses in Arabic, Indonesian, Japanese, Mandarin and Thai with participants from the department and other agencies. For the first time, we held an Arabic immersion course. Participants responded positively to this initiative.

The department conducts well-attended weekly lunchtime language discussion classes in priority languages. Staff are encouraged to maintain skills in priority languages through a graduated system of allowances paid to employees who maintain a tested proficiency.

Performance management

The performance management system is an important component of the department’s human resources strategy. The system encourages high achievement, improves and manages individual performance, and develops and trains staff to meet their career development needs and the needs of the department. Use of the performance management system by supervisors and staff is obligatory. Training on the provision of feedback is also compulsory for all supervisors. In 2007–08, we held six of these training sessions.

Locally engaged staff management

Locally engaged staff (LES) make a significant contribution to the effective performance of our overseas posts.

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Locally engaged staff from a range of overseas posts participating in the Locally Engaged Staff Leadership and Development Program in Canberra on 22 October 2007. Photo: Auspic
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During the year, the department published a revised LES Better Practice Guide, which provides comprehensive advice on all aspects of LES employment for use at all our overseas posts. It is an important tool for ensuring that the policy and employment conditions for LES remain current and that overseas posts have an effective guide for managing LES.

The department assisted the ANAO with a performance audit of the employment and management of locally engaged staff. The results of the audit were tabled in Parliament on 5 August 2008.

We maintained our close engagement with other government agencies represented overseas on administrative arrangements relating to employment issues for LES.

Workplace arrangements

With the passage of the Workplace Relations Amendment (Transition to Forward with Fairness) Act 2008, it became a statutory requirement for APS agencies to refrain from entering into new Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs). Previously, the department’s SES staff and a small number of non-SES staff were employed using AWAs. All new SES staff have been employed using determinations made pursuant to section 24(1) of the Public Service Act 1999. In line with the Government’s policy, existing AWAs will continue to operate until they are terminated or replaced. The majority of the department’s existing AWAs will expire in June 2009. Any non-SES staff who have filled positions traditionally attracting AWAs now have their terms and conditions (additional to those provided for by the Collective Agreement), supplemented by section 24(1) determinations.

Remuneration of senior executives

In 2007–08, SES employees on existing AWAs continued to receive a pay rise of 12 per cent over the nominal three-year duration of these AWAs (up to June 2009). New SES staff who have been placed on determinations made pursuant to section 24(1) of the Public Service Act 1999 receive the same pay rise over the course of the next financial year as those SES staff on existing AWAs.

Collective agreement

The department’s fourth employee collective agreement, spanning 2006–2009, has been in effect since 6 July 2006. The agreement included a salary increase of 12 per cent over three years. We expect to begin consultations for a new Collective Agreement early in 2008–09.

Non-salary benefits under the collective agreement and Australian workplace agreements

Departmental staff have access to a range of non-salary benefits as offered by both the Collective Agreement and individual workplace arrangements. These include access to performance-based bonuses and a range of flexible and family-friendly working practices, such as flexitime, time off in lieu, 12 weeks full pay or 24 weeks half-pay maternity leave and emergency child care costs. Allowances for overseas service are a non-salary benefit available to compensate departmental staff posted overseas for the costs associated with a posting and, in some cases, hardship conditions.

Staff welfare

The department supports staff through specialist services provided by the Medical Unit, the Staff Counselling Office and the Family Liaison Officer.

The Medical Unit provided a range of medical services to support the department and in particular those employees and their families posted overseas. It managed in excess of 70 medical evacuations including one requiring a medical escort on a commercial flight. The department continued contingency planning and monitoring for the risk of an avian influenza pandemic.

The Staff Counselling Office provided psychological support services to more than 600 Australia-based staff, their families and locally engaged staff. This included comprehensive follow-up to past critical incidents, including the crisis in Lebanon in July and August 2006 and the air disaster in Yogyakarta in March 2007.

The Staff Counsellors fulfil an important training function. They conducted 48 group training sessions for staff on overseas postings, and 55 training sessions for Australian staff on a range of issues. They assisted in recruitment and postings processes.

The Family Liaison Office worked with the Community Liaison Officer network at the department’s overseas posts to provide assistance to posted employees and their families on issues including spouse recognition and employment, education requirements of children, cultural adjustment and general living conditions at post. The office managed 25 compassionate travel requests and provided logistical assistance to 22 medical evacuations to Australia.

Regular consultations with staff on occupational health and safety (OHS) issues were held throughout the year (see Appendix 3 for more information). The department delivered training modules on OHS, workers’ compensation and rehabilitation, and continued its program of OHS briefings to employees undertaking overseas postings and to new staff as part of orientation training. Staff were consulted on the new Health and Safety Management Arrangements which were endorsed by the department’s Workplace Relations Committee in June.

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