Promotion review performance
The promotion review function was affected by the introduction of the interim recruitment arrangements in November 2013. The interim recruitment arrangements give priority to excess or potentially excess APS employees when filling roles.
The interim recruitment arrangements, together with agency actions to reduce their workforce, significantly affected the number of promotion opportunities in the APS and applications for promotion review in 2014. There was only one promotion review committee (PRC) constituted and finalised after November 2013 and one on hand at the end of the reporting period. However, there was significant activity in the first six months of the financial year. Table M5 in the appendix sets out the promotion review caseload for 2013–14.
Work undertaken over previous years to streamline processes has ensured that promotion reviews are conducted quickly so as not to delay agency staff selection processes significantly.
The number of promotion review cases received (43) and the number of cases reviewed (34) were similar to 2012–13 (44 and 30, respectively). Figure M3 shows how the PRC casework has fluctuated over the last seven years. Despite an increase in 2009–10 and 2010–11, the overall trend has been a decline in applications and the number of PRCs convened.
Figure M3: Trends in promotion review caseload, 2007–08 to 2013–14
During the year, applications for review were received in relation to promotion decisions made in nine agencies. The four agencies with five or more applications for review are identified in Table M6 in the appendix. Five other agencies with one application for review are not separately identified.
PRCs varied only two (0.9%) of the 233 promotions reviewed. This is the lowest rate of variation in recent years, with the exception of 2012–13 where the variation rate was 0.6%.
While the number of decisions set aside is low, promotion reviews provide a quality-assurance mechanism that merit is being applied to promotion decisions as required by the APS Employment Principles. Merit is a fundamental principle underpinning the employment framework and is essential to good-quality outcomes and productivity. Promotion reviews provide checks on agency decision-making at these levels and protect against patronage and nepotism. PRC convenors advise that, while agencies may not always follow best practice, the decisions are usually sound. I encourage PRCs to provide feedback on staff selection policies and procedures through the agency representative on the committee.
In 2013–14, the largest number of promotion review applications considered by a single PRC was 88 in the then Department of Immigration and Citizenship. Three other PRCs involved 10 or more parties and a further two had eight parties. This compares with only four PRCs in 2012–13 with more than four parties. The remaining reviews (82%) had four or fewer parties. The average number of parties for each finalised promotion review process was 6.8 and the average number of promotions considered by each PRC was 6.9 (compared to 5.3 and 5.8 in 2012–13).
The ATO accounted for 30% of the finalised promotion review processes (10), with the number of applicants in each case ranging from one to eight.
Over the last three years the promotion review function has exceeded its performance targets for timeliness. All PRCs were completed within the target timeframe of either eight or 12 weeks, with one exception. In this case, the Acting Merit Protection Commissioner established a new PRC to correct an error made by the first PRC. This was necessary to ensure that the parties were afforded procedural fairness after a complaint was made that a party had not had an opportunity to comment on an adverse comment submitted by another party.
The remaining case on hand at 30 June 2014 was also on track to be completed within the target timeframe of eight weeks.
Box M6: Code of Conduct case—lack of respect and courtesy and dishonesty
An employee who was a team leader was found to have breached a number of elements of the Code of Conduct for requesting topless photographs from a junior member of his team and for lying to his manager about his behaviour. The employee was reduced in classification.
The employee argued that the behaviour was private behaviour between consenting adults. It had not offended the junior member of his team, who had found it funny and had willingly complied with the requests. The employee apologised for lying to his manager, arguing that it was done before he was aware that he was under investigation and that he lied to protect the reputation of his junior colleague.
The Merit Protection Commissioner found that the conduct had occurred in the course of employment as the majority of requests for photographs occurred in the workplace and the photographs were viewed in the workplace.
The Merit Protection Commissioner also found that the behaviour was a breach of the requirement in section 13(3) of the Code of Conduct to treat others with respect and courtesy. The Merit Protection Commissioner noted that the standards in the Code of Conduct were objective, not subjective standards. Even though the junior team member was not offended by the requests, the Merit Protection Commissioner was of the opinion that a reasonable observer would conclude that such behaviour was lacking in respect and courtesy. This is because the behaviour failed to demonstrate professional esteem and regard for the junior colleague and was behaviour that in many contexts, including a professional workplace, would be considered impolite.
When considering sanction, the Merit Protection Commissioner noted that there was evidence that the employee tolerated and indeed participated in unprofessional behaviour with his team more generally, including sexual innuendo. The Merit Protection Commissioner considered that the employee's requests for photographs were characteristic behaviour.
The employee argued that had he known that he was under investigation he would have been truthful. The Merit Protection Commissioner noted that the employee had an obligation at all times to be truthful to his employer about matters relating to his employment, not just in the circumstances of a formal investigation.
The Merit Protection Commissioner viewed the behaviours as very serious and considered that they potentially warranted termination of employment, except for the existence of significant mitigating factors relating to the employee's personal circumstances and that he had no previous findings of misconduct. The Merit Protection Commissioner therefore confirmed the sanction of a reduction in classification.