Australian Public Service grew rapidly during COVID-19 lockdown, though most new jobs were temporary
The Australian Public Service (APS) gained 5,770 staff in the first half of this year
Most of the new employees are on temporary contracts
The jobs boom follows years of staff cuts as government agencies relied instead on labour-hire firms
The federal bureaucracy added almost 6,000 staff to its workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic as it scrambled to support Australia's ailing economy.
The Federal Government's main service agencies — the Tax Office and Services Australia, which oversees Centrelink and Medicare — employed most of the new recruits hired in the first half of this year.
These two agencies were left critically short-staffed when the coronavirus crisis unfolded, having collectively shed about 2,500 jobs in the latter half of 2019.
But the rapid expansion of the APS during the pandemic was the biggest jobs boom in the bureaucracy in 14 years, and followed steep cuts to the workforce since Julia Gillard was prime minister.
As well as the 5,770 extra public servants employed between January and June, the Government has likely hired thousands more via labour-hire firms and businesses contracts, though it does not report on that employment.
However, most of the new APS employees were hired on temporary contracts.
About one in eight public servants are now "non-ongoing" employees — the highest rate ever reported.
Community and Public Sector Union national secretary Melissa Donnelly said she was pleased the APS workforce was expanding to cope with its extra workload.
"The issue is it's concentrated in non-ongoing employment, so it doesn't deal with the staffing capacity and long-term problems created by both budget and staffing cuts," she said.
"And it doesn't go far enough at all … to address the cuts we have seen since 2013.
"The public service still has … 12,000 fewer employees than it did then."
Not only did the Tax Office and Services Australia launch a massive hiring campaign this year, they also benefited from an unprecedented "surge" within the APS to help unroll the Government's JobKeeper and JobSeeker payments.
More than 5,000 public servants were seconded from other departments to help the service agencies as they struggled to cope with the pandemic's effects.
Big-spending budget may protect APS jobs for now
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has said he would spend big in this year's federal budget.
He indicated the Government would continue to try to prop up the economy until the jobless rate was "comfortably under 6 per cent" — a sign the APS is likely to be kept busy and spared from cuts for now.
Ms Donnelly said public servants were waiting "with bated breath" for Tuesday's budget announcements, and hoped the Government would realise that past cuts to the APS workforce had been counter-productive.
"We all remember those disastrous and distressing scenes of hundreds, thousands, of people lining up outside Centrelink offices," she said.
"The immediate and dire need of the community was really apparent.
"This is a long-term recession, this is a long-term social and economic problem that we're now dealing with."
"A focus on non-ongoing employment is not the way forward."
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Originally published: https://www.abc.net.au