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Context and policy

Context

The actions reviewed by agencies as primary reviews cover a diverse range of employment matters. Some common examples are:

  • the management of an employee's performance, health or behaviour
  • allegations of bullying and harassment
  • decisions on leave and other entitlements
  • access to training and other development opportunities
  • decisions to suspend an employee from duty while under investigation for suspected misconduct
  • the way a particular change is managed in the workplace and its effect on an employee.

Agencies received 391 applications for reviews of actions in 2009-101 with 43 percent of agencies reporting receiving at least one application for primary review. The largest agencies – the Department of Defence, the Australian Taxation Office and Centrelink -accounted for 58 percent of applications.

The Merit Protection Commissioner received 196 applications for review in 2009-10, of which 112 (57 percent) were applications for secondary review of matters already considered within the agency.

Some of the matters considered under the review of actions scheme can also be pursued under other employment processes. For example, allegations of bullying and harassment may also be made as a whistleblowing report under section 16 of the Act. Concerns about conditions of employment such as salary, allowances and leave may be raised both in the review of actions context and through the dispute resolution provisions in enterprise agreements.

[See: Legislative framework]

The overwhelming majority of employee complaints and disputes are resolved informally through discussion with the affected employee(s) or through a management-imposed resolution.

Nevertheless, what employees observe about the handling of complaints and disputes influences their perceptions of the fairness and integrity of their workplace and the culture of the organisation they for which they work. These perceptions contribute to overall levels of employee engagement and disengagement. Employee engagement refers to how much an employee supports the purpose and values of their employer and demonstrates that commitment through their behaviour and attitudes at work. Levels of employee engagement drive direct business costs such as employee turnover and contribute to productivity through increased discretionary effort by employees.

Policy intent of the review of actions scheme

The scheme is a part of the APS employment framework and derives from the Australian Public Service (APS) Values in section 10 of the Public Service Act 1999 (the Act).

The Values describe the workplace that all agencies should be aspiring to, namely a workplace:

  • that is fair, flexible, safe and rewarding
  • where employment decisions are based on merit
  • that is free from discrimination and recognises and utilises the diversity of the Australian community
  • that has the highest ethical standards
  • that promotes equity in employment
  • that establishes workplace relations that value communication, consultation, cooperation and input from employees
  • that is focused on achieving results and managing performance
  • that has leadership of the highest quality and
  • that has a fair system of review.

The review of actions scheme can assist in improving the quality of the working environment by encouraging the fair resolution of employees' concerns.

Public Service Regulation 5.1 expresses the policy intent of the review of actions scheme. It requires APS agencies to have in place arrangements that encourage productive and harmonious working environments where:

  • employees concerns are dealt with quickly, impartially and fairly
  • review processes are consistent with alternative dispute resolution methods.

Regulation 5.27, which addresses the way agencies will conduct reviews, places few constraints on agencies. If an action is reviewable, an agency head must review it but may conduct the review in any manner he or she sees fit. If the review concerns matters about which the facts are in dispute then some sort of inquiry will be required to establish those facts before the review can be completed. However a review may simply involve listening to and considering the employee's concerns, or reviewing a decision on the basis of available documents and relevant argument.

Most agencies formally consider an employee's complaint and provide a decision in response to an application for review although many also offer less formal interventions as the first step in the review process. Whatever method is used, the focus of the review should be an attempt to resolve the employee's concerns, consistent with Regulation 5.27. Continue to next topic: Taking a strategic approach ›

For an outline of the legislative framework [See Legislative Framework


Footnotes

1. Unpublished data from the employer survey for the State of the Service report 2009 (SOSR), Australian Public Service Commission, available at www.apsc.gov.au/stateoftheservice