Chapter 1


Publicly-funded jobs

The public sector is a major employer in Australia and is traditionally associated with stable, high-quality jobs. Along with a significant number of direct jobs, governments fund many more indirect jobs, through their procurement of goods and services in the economy.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reported that there were 2 041 200 public sector employees at the end of June 2020, earning total cash wages and salaries of around $174 139 million per annum. This included:
246,000 employees in Commonwealth government;
1,609,100 in state government; and
186,000 in local government.1
The three largest sectors in which these people were employed were:
public administration and safety (637 400);
education and training (634 000); and
health care and social assistance (543 300).2
In addition, government spending across the economy funds significantly more jobs. Governments procure goods and services through contracts with private sector firms around the nation, supporting countless Australian jobs—from cleaning and gardening services, to military and construction contracts, and the purchase of office equipment and supplies.
Quantifying the number of private sector jobs created through government spending would be extremely challenging and is not the task of this inquiry. However, procurement statistics may provide a sense of the quantum.
In 2019–20, at the Commonwealth government level alone, there were 81 174 contracts published on AusTender,3 with a combined value of $53.9 billion.4
The majority of Commonwealth government contracts (58 per cent by number and 64 per cent by value) are for services rather than goods, and the five highest-value categories of Commonwealth procurement, as reported in 2020, were:
Commercial and Military and Private Vehicles and their Accessories and Components, at 24.1 per cent of total contract value;
Management and Business Professionals and Administrative Services, at 18.7 per cent;
Engineering and Research and Technology Based Services, at 8.5 per cent;
Building and Construction and Maintenance Services, at 8.2 per cent; and
Information Technology Broadcasting and Telecommunications, at 7.6 per cent.5
This interim report looks at insecurity in publicly-funded jobs and is focussed primarily on those jobs where the Australian Government—also referred to as the Commonwealth—is the funder, or primary funder.

Progress of the inquiry to-date

Appointed by resolution of the Senate on 10 December 2020, the Senate Select Committee on Job Security (the committee) was established to inquire into and report on the impact of insecure or precarious employment on the economy, wages, social cohesion and workplace rights and conditions in Australia.6
At the time of writing, the committee had held 18 public hearings—hearing a broad range of diverse evidence from workers and employers, unions, experts, sector organisations and industry bodies—and published 201 submissions. The committee also held six incamera hearings, during which it heard evidence from workers on a confidential basis to protect their identities.
The committee notes that it is a possible contempt for any person to inflict a 'penalty or injury upon' another person for giving evidence as part of Parliamentary proceedings, including a Parliamentary inquiry.7 Where Senate committees are made aware of any concrete threats, or actions taken against witnesses, such actions are treated with the utmost seriousness, and investigated.
Notwithstanding the protections offered by Parliamentary Privilege, it was the committee's preference to avoid placing workers in a situation where they felt their livelihoods may be at risk. As such, some of the worker testimony in this report was received in-camera, and has been quoted anonymously, with the permission of those workers.
The committee has also collected a significant amount of data and information from government agencies, private companies and notfor-profit service providers in the form of answers to questions on notice. All of the public information is published on the committee's website.8
On 24 June 2021, the committee tabled its first interim report, On-demand platform work in Australia, which looked into employment arrangements in the gig economy and the adequacy of existing legislative and policy approaches, and proposed a number of reforms.9
The committee agreed to seek an extension of time to report until the last sitting day in February 2022 to allow time for further consideration of evidence and report drafting. On 25 August 2021, at the request of the committee's Chair, Senator Anne Urquhart moved general business notice of motion no. 1223, seeking the extension: the motion was not carried.10
The committee is currently due to present its final report by 30 November 2021.11

Extension of time to report

At the time of writing, the committee has two additional hearings scheduled. These hearings will enable the committee to hear from workers, employers and other stakeholders in a few key sectors where job security is under threat—but the committee needs more time.
The pandemic is shedding light on the true nature and extent of insecure and precarious work in Australia. COVID-19 is altering the employment landscape—its impacts are playing out in real time, and its effects are still being understood.
Playing a vital role in this process of discovery, the committee's inquiry is also giving voice to the concerns of Australians affected by insecure work at this critical time. It has never been more important for the Parliament to hear these stories and give these matters due consideration.
The committee is seeking to extend the inquiry until the last sitting day in February next year. This modest extension of time would allow the committee to hear from some important remaining witnesses, as well as providing critical additional time to consider and report on the substantial body of evidence the committee has collected.

Recommendation 1

The committee recommends that the Senate adopt the following resolution:
That the time for the presentation of the final report of the Select Committee on Job Security be extended to the last sitting day in February 2022.

The second interim report

During the course of the inquiry, the committee has heard concerning evidence relating to precarious and insecure work in a number of publiclyfunded employment sectors.
In particular, testimony from workers in aged care and higher education prompted the committee to look more deeply into these troubled sectors, bringing together experts, unions, industry and business representatives, and sector peak bodies, to look at possible solutions to the problem of widespread insecure work.
Evidence and analysis on insecure and precarious work in aged care and disability care forms Part 1 of this report; and Part 2 focusses on insecure work in higher education.
The committee also sought evidence from a number of Australian Public Service (APS) agencies to better understand how they structure their workforces. The committee looked at both directly-employed workers, and the use of casual and contract labour, including: changes over time, effects on workers, and impacts on service delivery.
Finally, the committee looked into the role of Commonwealth procurement in promoting job security, including through a case study into the workforce practices associated with the delivery of the National Broadband Network (NBN).
The committee's work on the APS, Commonwealth procurement, and the NBN make up Part 3 of this interim report.
These sector studies provided a powerful way for the committee to explore issues of insecurity in publicly-funded employment.
Throughout this report, the committee has sought to consider the role that regulation, government policy and program design can play in driving better workforce management practices, and promoting secure work in publiclyfunded jobs.

Structure of the report

This first chapter defines 'publicly-funded jobs', summarises the progress of the inquiry to-date, outlines the second interim report, and presents the committee's views and recommendations on the broader role of governments in investing in secure work.
Part 1, on insecure work in the aged and disability care sectors, includes five chapters:
Job security in the aged care sector—presents data and discussion on the sector and its workforce arrangements;
Impacts of employment arrangements in aged care—on service providers, care workers, their families and communities, and on aged care recipients;
COVID-19 and insecure work in aged care—looks into the outbreaks during Melbourne's second wave, the impact of working across multiple sites, and the issue of vaccination;
Insecure work in the disability care sector—a brief introduction to the issue of insecure work in disability care under the National Disability Insurance Scheme; and
Aged care and disability care: Proposals for reform—discusses proposals for lifting wages and increasing 'working time security' for aged care workers, and increasing job security in the disability care sector.
Part 2, on insecure work in higher education, includes four chapters:
Job security in higher education—presents data and discussion on the sector, its workforce arrangements, pay and earnings;
Impacts of employment arrangements in higher education—considers pros and cons of current workforce practices for universities, academics and teaching staff, their families and communities, and students;
COVID-19 and insecure work in higher education—outlines the dramatic impacts of COVID-19 on the sector, on universities, and on various categories of workers; and
Higher education: Proposals for reform—discusses the current problems in the sector, then considers proposals for increasing job security and reducing casual and precarious employment in the sector.
Part 3, on job security in the APS and Commonwealth procurement, includes five chapters:
Job security in the Australian Public Service—presents data and discussion on the sector, its workforce arrangements, and the changes over time;
Impacts of employment arrangements in the APS—on workers, their families and communities, and service quality;
Job security and Commonwealth procurement—looks at the role of Commonwealth procurement in promoting secure, high-quality work across the economy;
Case study: National Broadband Network workforce—a review of the workforce practices associated with the NBN, a major Commonwealth procurement; and
APS and procurement: Proposals for reform—considers proposals for increasing job security in directly-employed government jobs, as well as through Commonwealth procurement.


The committee would like to acknowledge all submitters and witnesses who gave evidence at public hearings, including many via video or teleconference during COVID lockdowns. We particularly acknowledge the workers who shared their stories with the committee, sometimes under difficult circumstances.

'Nation building'—investing in secure jobs for the future

This interim report was prepared over the months in 2021 that saw a number of states and territories in Australia go into—then begin to emerge from—lockdowns associated with COVID-19.
As jurisdictions take cautious steps out of lockdown, with minds firmly on rebuilding damaged economies and struggling industry sectors, there is a clear opportunity for governments to put job security at the heart of their strategies.
Numerous inquiry participants—from the Jesuit Social Services to the United Workers Union (UWU)—urged the committee to consider the critical role that governments can and should play in driving a recovery that promotes secure work and targets disadvantage.12
The UWU submitted that—as major employers and economic actors in the Australian economy—governments are uniquely-placed to leverage their significant investments towards improving 'the quality of jobs', 'promoting full employment', and incentivising and rewarding businesses that 'show a true commitment to secure jobs'.13
As Australia gradually emerges from the shadow of COVID-19, the Commonwealth Government will have 'an important and historic opportunity to tackle insecure work and deliver good jobs for our communities'. The Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) contended that 'fairness' should be at the core of the Commonwealth's plans for a thriving post-COVID economy.14
As well as utilising 'fiscal and economic mechanisms to create new, secure jobs for workers in Australia', the Commonwealth Government can ensure secure jobs through its own employment practices, and can 'model best practice employment standards'.15
According to the VTHC, with spending of almost $54 billion on procurement in 2020–21, the Commonwealth, arguably:
… has the power to transform Australia as we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis by not only delivering the infrastructure, goods and services that Australians need, but doing so in a way that also ensures workers and their communities have jobs they can count on. Australians across all industries and sectors need assurances that where public money is spent, there is public benefit.16
An example of the nation building opportunities inherent in publicly-funded jobs is the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). According to the government's estimates, the disability care workforce needed to increase from around 100 000 workers in 2019, to 190 000 workers by 2024. That would make the NDIS 'one of the largest job creation opportunities in Australian history'.17
The 'scale' of job creation as part of the NDIS is expected to far exceed a number of earlier nation-building projects, including:
the NBN, which required around 25 000 full-time equivalent (FTE) personnel from 2017–2025;
the Building the Education Revolution (BER) School Building Program, which required around 22 971 FTE between 2009 and 2010;
the Snowy Hydro Scheme, which required around 22 500 FTE from
1950–1970; and
the China Free Trade Agreement, which requires around 5400 FTE from 2014–2035.18
Participants highlighted the Commonwealth's opportunity to use investments like the NDIS to promote secure, reasonably-paid and rewarding jobs for the future, and said the NDIS must not be allowed to lead to a proliferation of insecure working arrangements, a race to the bottom on pay, and an erosion of conditions.19
This report looks at a number of key sectors where jobs that are publiclyfunded are disappointingly insecure and precarious. The committee carefully considers how the Commonwealth Government could better promote secure employment and address the deeply-held concerns of workers in these sectors.
When the Commonwealth government is the lead employer in a sector—either directly, as in the APS, or indirectly, as in aged care and disability care—it is 'in the box seat' to address job insecurity in that sector. As Professor Sara Charlesworth from RMIT University said; 'You can't say that for retail and you can't say that for hospitality'.20
The committee makes recommendations specific to each sector throughout the report. Below are two overarching recommendations that capture the committee's approach to the principal subject of this interim report—the role and responsibility of governments, as employers and investors, in promoting secure employment.

Recommendation 2

The committee recommends that the Australian Government undertakes an audit of the job security of all workers engaged directly by the Australian Government, or who are working in jobs funded by the Australian Government. This audit should collect data on the type of employment arrangements, and on perceptions of job security held by people engaged in these roles.

Recommendation 3

The committee recommends that the Australian Government introduces a policy stating that an objective of all public funding for employment, or the provision of goods and services, is to protect and promote secure employment.
The policy should require that all such recipients of Australian Government funding preference the direct, permanent employment of staff, rather than indirect arrangements including outsourced service providers or labour hire firms or temporary arrangements including casual or fixed-term employment, wherever practical.
The policy should recognise there is a legitimate role for contracting and subcontracting arrangements in the Australian Government's supply chain, but that workers engaged under these arrangements are entitled to pay and conditions no less than an employee would receive for the same job.
The policy should apply to funding provided to the Australian Public Service, Government Business Enterprises, and private organisations including but not limited to aged and disability care providers, universities, construction firms and service providers engaged to deliver public infrastructure projects such as the National Broadband Network.
The policy should require the Australian Government's procurement framework to prioritise firms that favour a permanent, directly-engaged workforce, and to consider the economic and social benefits of tenders.
The policy should also require the Australian Government to ensure that the funding for projects, goods and services is sufficient to enable the organisation to hire its workforce in permanent, secure employment on rates at least compliant with the relevant Award and a living wage.

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