Annual Report 2016-17

Management of human resources

Departmental culture

Organisational culture continues as an important priority and a cornerstone to support organisational and people change during a period of transformation across the department.

In 2016-17 the department continued to support staff and business areas to understand and apply the values and behaviours of the ‘We’ culture. New content was developed for the intranet ‘Culture Hub’ providing staff with access to a broader range of information, tools and resources to help staff and managers embed the culture.

Ethics and values

The department remains committed to ensuring all staff understand and comply with the APS Values and Code of Conduct.

During the year the department continued to promote regular messages and information to staff on workplace behaviour and ethical decision making. In addition to clear staff policies and guidelines the department has a broad range of training programs and resources to support workplace behaviour. For example, staff have access to interactive ethics and respect guides which provide guidance on putting ethics and values into practice and maintaining the integrity of relationships at work.

In addition, managers and staff have access to a Workplace Bullying Prevention Kit which offers practical tools and resources to help minimise the risk of bullying in the workplace and highlight steps staff can take that can address concerns. Staff are also supported by a network of over 400 Harassment Contact Officers who are trained to provide information and support to staff with concerns about workplace behaviours including bullying, harassment, or discrimination. The contact officers receive a fortnightly allowance for undertaking this role.

Standards of behaviour

The department applies high behaviour standards to its own staff and consistently reminds them of their responsibilities. Possible breaches of the APS Code of Conduct are taken seriously and action is taken when breaches occur. Investigations are conducted in line with departmental procedures which ensure that staff are treated fairly. If a breach of the APS Code of Conduct is found sanctions may be imposed. In 2016-17 there were 304 findings of a breach of the code.

Performance management

The department’s performance management process is designed to foster a culture of high performance by providing all staff with a clear link between their work effort and departmental priorities.

All eligible staff develop and negotiate an individual performance agreement with their manager. The agreements:

  • give staff a clear understanding of their role and the performance and behavioural standards expected of them
  • align individual and team work effort to departmental priorities
  • help staff identify their learning and career development needs.

In 2016-17, 96.4 per cent of staff had individual performance agreements negotiated. There were 3.1 per cent of staff without agreements due to long-term leave or because they had not completed more than eight weeks of duties within the performance cycle.


During 2016-17 the department advertised approximately 190 vacancy notices in the Australian Public Service employment gazette, generating approximately 7,760 candidate applications.

The department is committed to increasing the representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff through Affirmative Measures­­-Indigenous recruitment. In 2016-17 the department placed approximately 30 Affirmative Measures-Indigenous vacancy notice advertisements in the Australian Public Service employment gazette.

Recruitment processes were undertaken for a variety of roles including customer service, social work, compliance and debt management, corporate and entry level programs ranging from APS2 to EL2 classification levels.

The department needs a flexible workforce to ensure the efficient delivery of services, especially in periods of high demand. To meet these needs the department recruits non-ongoing and/or intermittent and irregular employees to supplement its ongoing workforce.

Appentices, cadets, and graduates

An important part of the department’s strategic workforce planning involves recruiting and retaining people at all levels, with the potential to meet the challenges of delivering future business outcomes. This includes apprentices, cadets and graduate programs.

All programs and pathways have a strong focus on diversity, with a particular focus on attracting and retaining Indigenous people and people with disability.

Under the Entry Level Framework the department has continued the allied health university student placement program, summer/winter vacation placement, and work experience placements for high school students.

Indigenous Apprenticeship Program

The Indigenous Apprenticeship Program (IAP) includes the attainment of a Certificate or Diploma level study and formal workplace components to provide on-the-job training to supplement formal study. Participants graduate when they successfully complete both components of the program.

Since the pilot of the IAP in 2015, the number of partner agencies involved has increased each year. Initially seven agencies partnered in the IAP for the 2015 intake. This grew to 10 agencies for the 2016 intake. It is expected that the IAP 2017 intake will place participants across 15 partner agencies. The IAP has proven successful in attracting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to a career with the department and across the broader Australian Public Service.

In 2016-17, 235 apprentices commenced through the department’s whole-of-government Indigenous Apprenticeships Program. The department employed 151 apprentices and 84 apprentices were employed by other government agencies.

ICT Apprenticeship Program

In 2016-17, 11 apprentices started in the ICT Apprenticeship Program and 10 cadets began working in the department under the ICT Cadetship program. The DTA manages both programs.

PM&C’S Indigenous Cadetship Program

Also working in the department is one cadet from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) Indigenous Cadetship Program. This program has university study and workplace components.

Indigenous mentoring—helping new staff to settle in

The number of Indigenous staff in the department continues to grow. Indigenous mentoring is a great way of helping new employees understand what it’s like to work in the public service and how to settle in to their roles.

Michael from the Indigenous Mentoring Program, is one of 205 Indigenous staff trained as a mentor.

‘Having worked for the department for 28 years, and with 10 years’ experience as an Indigenous mentor, I understand how to make it easier for Indigenous staff to adjust to their new workplace,’ he said.

‘It’s about being mindful and listening. We guide people through issues like managing community or cultural conflict of interest, responding to change, and dealing with feelings of isolation.

‘Mentors can also help new staff to manage community or cultural conflict of interest issues.

‘There’s plenty of support available and we show new starters and their managers how to find it.’

Earlier this year, 30 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff met to complete a statement of attainment in mentoring.

Sandra from Alice Springs said: 'It was a privilege to get to know staff from across the country. I really enjoyed the training and learnt a lot from everyone involved. It has given me a better understanding of how to be a good mentor.'

National Graduate Program

The National Graduate Program offers university graduates professional development opportunities, accredited learning, and specialised events and activities. The program offers two pathways—generalist and professional. The professional pathway attracts people with allied health, communications, finance, human resources, ICT and legal qualifications. The department’s 2017 intake for the National Graduate Program included 57 generalist pathway and 32 professional pathway participants.

Recognising excellence

The department’s Awards and Honours Program recognises and rewards performance excellence. The main national award program is for exceptional service delivery, successful innovation, inspirational leadership, and business excellence of individuals and teams. The department also participates in external awards programs.

Internal awards

The department’s Australia Day Achievement Awards, as part of the National Australia Day Council program, recognise staff who have made a significant contribution to helping people in the local community.

As part of the department’s celebration of National Aboriginal and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) Week, each year the department presents awards for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employee Achievement, Individual Achievement in Indigenous Servicing, and Team Achievement in Indigenous Servicing. The Secretary announced category winners and highly commended recipients of the NAIDOC Awards at a ceremony held in Canberra on 5 July 2016. Five individuals and two teams received awards for their exceptional achievements.

The Pinnacle Achievement Awards is the department’s primary annual award program. It includes categories and criteria aligned to the department’s strategic direction, culture and leadership priorities. The Secretary announced category winners and highly commended recipients at an awards ceremony held in Canberra on 13 September 2016. One individual and eight teams received awards for their exceptional contribution and performance.

Significant Achievement Awards are sponsored by the Senior Executive Service and recognise achievements by individuals and teams within their business lines.

The ‘In the Moment’ program encourages immediate and informal recognition at a local level.

Service Recognition Program

In 2016-17 the Service Recognition Program acknowledged 6,940 staff for their increased level of experience, capability and insight developed through continuous employment in the APS. The program is an important part of the staff engagement strategy to build a culture that values staff service contributions. Service recognition certificates and service pins are given to staff who reach 10, 20, 25, 30, 40 and 50 years of continuous service in the APS.

Injury management, work health and safety

The department’s work health and safety policy, guidelines and procedures aim to identify, adopt and develop best practice in health and safety management to reduce the social and financial cost of occupational injury and illness, and improve business outcomes.

The approach is founded on the department’s Work Health and Safety Strategy 2013-22: supporting healthy, safe and productive workplaces. The strategy is closely aligned with the Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2012-22 and includes targets for reducing serious injury incidence by 30 per cent. The strategy is supported by the department’s health and safety consultation arrangements and integration of workplace health and safety priorities into business and risk management planning.

The department’s work health and safety priority areas continue to address:

  • body stressing injury prevention, including sedentary work
  • recipient aggression
  • psychological health, including bullying and harassment
  • offsite safety, including remote travel.

The targets for the strategy are to achieve:

  • no workplace fatalities
  • effective compliance with the Work Health and Safety Act 2011
  • a consistent ‘effective’ rating on Safety Assurance Program assessments which involves reviewing safety management at a sample of workplaces annually
  • a reduction in the incidence rate of workers’ compensation claims resulting in one or more weeks off work and claims for musculoskeletal disorders of at least 15 per cent by 2016. This reduction has been exceeded with serious claim incidence rates reduced by 33 per cent (against 2012 levels).

The department’s work health and safety outcomes in 2016-17 continue to show good progress against targets. The department’s achievements included:

  • reducing by 59.5 per cent the number of workers’ compensation submitted claims in 2016-17 (compared to 2011-12 levels), including a 69 per cent reduction in the number of body stress injury claims
  • continuing to promote body stress injury prevention and minimising prolonged sitting with the ‘Take a stand for better health, get up, get moving’ campaign, and more sit-to-stand workstation equipment
  • improving the proportion of business areas assessed to achieve ‘effective’ ratings in the Safety Assurance Program
  • assessing new furniture and equipment used in the department through the building design process
  • requiring all face-to-face staff and managers to attend training every four years to prevent and respond to recipient aggression
  • implementing new Recipient Aggression Emergency Response Procedures to ensure an effective and coordinated response to aggressive recipient behaviour and provide clearer instructions to staff
  • implementing tailored management approaches to govern contact with people who have demonstrated aggression against staff or other recipients
  • launching the department’s first Psychological Health Strategy to create mentally healthy workplaces, supported by an action plan
  • reviewing the risk management for offsite work and outservicing and developing safe operating procedures.

During the year the department introduced a number of initiatives to enable early return to work and reduce the likelihood of matters progressing to a claim for workers’ compensation. These included:

  • implementing a new injury management performance and quality framework (IMPact) for departmental rehabilitation case managers to further improve rehabilitation practice and outcomes. The department’s IMPact initiative was recognised at the 2016 Comcare Work Health and Safety Awards, winning the Recovery at and Return to Work award category
  • working with the ATO and other government departments/agencies to implement a new rehabilitation and medical providers panel to improve rehabilitation and return to work performance
  • participating in the Comcare Claims Management Pilot with departmental delegates and Allianz (contracted by Comcare) to manage all claims lodged after 4 February 2014.

Accepted claims for 2016-17 by mechanism of injury (per cent of total claim numbers)

Work Health and Safety Act 2011-Reporting

Comcare inspections

In 2016-17 Comcare undertook five workplace inspections. There were no contraventions of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 reported. No notices were issued under the Act.

Incidents notified to Comcare

A total of 32 incidents were notified to Comcare in 2016-17 for dangerous incidents and serious injury or illness, reflecting the impact of an ongoing focus on injury prevention and work, health and safety. Promotion of an accurate reporting culture is important across the department.

Table: Incidents notified to Comcare
Type of incident Number
Death 0
Serious injury or illness 11
Dangerous incidents 21
Total 32

Enterprise Agreements

The Department of Human Services Agreement 2011-2014 covers all non Senior Executive Service (SES) staff except Medical Officers.

Medical Officers are covered by the Department of Human Services Medical Officers Agreement 2013-2014. These Agreements continue to apply.

In 2016-17 bargaining for a new Enterprise Agreement continued.

The department is committed to meeting the requirements of the Australian Government Workplace Bargaining Policy 2015.

Throughout bargaining the department has kept all staff fully informed and the department has continued to bargain in good faith.

The department held 17 enterprise bargaining meetings with union and employee bargaining representatives between July 2016 and June 2017. One unsuccessful ballot was held in November 2016. During this period the department also managed 16 rounds of protected industrial action. This action had minimal effect on service delivery.

In September 2017 a new Enterprise Agreement was supported by staff. The department will work with the Fair Work Commission to have the new Agreement certified as soon as possible.

Individual flexibility arrangements

Individual flexibility arrangements are used to provide additional conditions of service in exceptional circumstances that are not in the enterprise agreements. As an example, the department has used individual flexibility arrangements to attract and retain staff in remote and isolated localities.

In 2016-17 the department had 63 individual flexibility arrangements.

Workforce availability

The unscheduled absence result for 2016-17 was 17.5 days per full-time equivalent (FTE).

The department has implemented a comprehensive range of measures to improve workforce availability, including effective staff engagement, people management and health and safety measures. The department has identified a strong correlation between engagement and the proportion of staff with less than 10 days absence in a 12-month period. The proportion of employees with less than 10 days absence is 46.7 per cent at 30 June 2017.

Under the Attendance Strategy 2013-17: supporting a healthy and engaged workforce, the department continues to:

  • build leadership capability including through the Positive Attendance for Managers course which was completed by 803 employees in 2016-17. Between 1 January 2013, when it commenced and 30 June 2017, 4,635 employees have completed the course
  • improve attendance reporting to enable managers to analyse, monitor and target responses to emerging issues
  • implement regular reporting by major business areas on action being taken to implement the attendance strategy
  • provide practical guidance for business areas and managers, including the release of the Better Practice Guide for Managing Attendance which focuses on what action managers can take to better engage staff about attendance issues.
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Page last updated: 11 July 2018