Postal service must timely process election mail – Long Island Business News

The U.S. Postal Service must live up to its responsibilities to timely process election mail by treating it as a priority, a New York judge ordered on Monday, adding that the agency’s workers should be permitted to make extra deliveries and work overtime near the November presidential election.

The written decision by U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero came after several individuals, including candidates for public office, sued. They said President Donald Trump, the postal service and its new postmaster general were endangering election mail.

Marrero gave both sides until noon Friday to settle the case in a manner consistent with his findings.

If they fail, Marrero said he’ll impose an order that ensures postal workers can make late and extra trips as well as work overtime in late October and early November.

“The right to vote is too vital a value in our democracy to be left in a state of suspense in the minds of voters weeks before a presidential election, raising doubts as to whether their votes will ultimately be counted,” Marrero said. He ruled after conducting a hearing on Wednesday.

Last week, U.S. District Judge Stanley Bastian in Yakima, Washington, said he was issuing a nationwide preliminary injunction sought by 14 states that sued the Trump administration and the U.S. Postal Service, challenging the agency’s so-called “leave behind” policy.

The policy let trucks leave postal facilities on time regardless of whether there was more mail to load. States also sought to force the Postal Service to treat election mail as first-class mail.

The controversy regarding mail delivery arose as many more voters prepared to vote by mail this November because of the coronavirus pandemic. Multiple lawsuits have been filed.

Amid a growing controversy, Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, a major donor to Trump and the GOP, suspended some changes that threatened to slow election mail, including the removal of iconic blue mailboxes in many cities and the decommissioning of mail processing machines. But he refused to reinstall the machines.

Marrero said Trump and DeJoy have made statements that give “rise to management and operational confusion, to directives that tend to generate uncertainty as to who is in charge of policies that ultimately could affect the reliability of absentee ballots, thus potentially discouraging voting by mail.”

“Conflicting, vague, and ambivalent managerial signals could also sow substantial doubt about whether the USPS is up to the task, whether it possesses the institutional will power and commitment to its historical mission, and so to handle the exceptional burden associated with a profoundly critical task in our democratic system, that of collecting and delivering election mail a few weeks from now,” Marrero said.

Messages seeking comment were left with spokespeople for the Postal Service.

A message for comment was also left with the U.S. Justice Department.

Source link

Lee Teng-hui’s Memorial Service Provides Catalyst for Diplomatic Outreach to Taiwan – The Diplomat

China Power | Diplomacy | East Asia

In addition to a U.S. under secretary of state, a former Japanese prime minister was also in attendance.

When former Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui died on July 30, he left behind a legacy as the man who helped democratize his country. He was also remembered as a strident champion of Taiwanese identity as the first native-born Taiwanese to hold the office of president.

Speaking at his memorial service on Saturday, current President Tsai Ing-wen praised Lee for his “pragmatic diplomacy,” as well as for laying “the foundation for democratization and Taiwanization.”

“We have a responsibility to continue his endeavors, allowing the will of the people to reshape Taiwan, further defining Taiwan’s identity and deepening and bolstering democracy and freedom,” she added.

It was fitting, then, that Lee’s memorial service helped secure some rare diplomatic engagement for Taiwan as current and former politicians from partner countries paid their respects.

Most notably, Lee’s memorial service – held on September 19 at Aletheia University in Taipei – was attended by Keith Krach, U.S. under secretary of state for economic growth. Krach is the highest-ranking diplomat to visit Taiwan since the United States severed diplomatic ties in 1979. “The United States honors President Lee’s legacy by continuing our strong bonds with Taiwan and its vibrant democracy through shared political and economic values,” the State Department said in a statement announcing Krach’s trip.

Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.

While attending Lee’s memorial service was the main rationale for the trip, Krach also had dinner with Tsai and held talks with Taiwan’s minister of economic affairs, Wang Mei-hua. Afterward, Wang said the United States and Taiwan would be opening a senior level Economic and Commercial Dialogue “as soon as possible.” Tsai’s administration is engaged in a major push for trade talks with the United States, including a preemptive decision to remove restrictions on U.S. pork and beef imports, long a stumbling block to any trade agreement. Notably, however, Wang said that Krach would lead the U.S. side of the dialogue — rather than an official from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, which handles free trade negotiations.

Krach was not the only foreign dignitary in Taipei for Lee’s memorial service. It was also attended by former Japanese Prime Minister Mori Yoshiro. Mori made headlines by saying that Suga Yoshihide, Japan’s prime minister as of last week, had expressed interest in talking to Tsai in a phone call. If such a call took place, it would have marked a major departure from Japan’s previously cautious approach to relations with Taiwan – no Japanese prime minister has spoken to Taiwan’s president since the two severed diplomatic relations in 1972.

Tsai later clarified that there were no immediate plans for such a phone call.

Suga’s predecessor, long-time Japanese Prime Minister Abe Shinzo, provided written remarks honoring Lee that were read at the service by Japan’s top representative in Taiwan, Chief Representative Izumi Hiroyasu. Both Abe’s written remarks and Mori’s speech at the service noted Lee’s contributions to furthering Japan-Taiwan friendship, including by bolstering universal values like democracy and human rights in Taiwan.

The Dalai Lama also gave video remarks at the service, calling Lee a “great friend,” adding that he hoped Lee (a devout Christian) would be reborn in Taiwan to “carry his spirit [on] continuously.”

“I admire his commitment about democracy, freedom and preservation of Chinese culture in Taiwan,” the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader said.

The spate of diplomatic contact with Taiwan did not go unnoticed in Beijing. On the day of Lee’s memorial service, China sent 19 warplanes, including two bombers, across the median line in the Taiwan Strait, according to Taiwan’s Defense Ministry. A day earlier, 18 Chinese military aircraft had crossed the median line. Beijing often uses military provocations to signal its displeasure with political happenings on Taiwan, which Chinese Communist Party leaders claim as part of the People’s Republic.

Source link

Battle of Britain: Flypast and Westminster Abbey service mark 80th anniversary

Media playback is unsupported on your device

Media captionThree Spitfires and a Hurricane flew over Westminster Abbey in a box formation

Westminster Abbey has held a memorial service marking 80 years since the Battle of Britain, in the venue’s first major event since lockdown.

The battle, fought entirely in the air, was a dramatic turning point in World War Two.

The abbey has held a service of thanksgiving on Battle of Britain Sunday every year since 1944.

A flypast took place after the service, with a Hurricane and three Spitfires flying over central London.

This year’s memorial service had significantly lower attendance and social distancing in place.

Fewer than 100 guests attended the service, which usually attracts about 2,000 people.

Image copyright

Image copyright
PA Media

They included Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who gave a reading at the service, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer and Marshal of the Royal Air Force Lord Stirrup, representing the Prince of Wales.

Chief of the Air Staff, Air Chief Marshal Mike Wigston, also gave a reading.

Guests wore masks – but those giving readings were allowed to remove them before doing so.

Each chair was placed two metres apart to allow social distancing, with protective plastic screens separating the north and south transepts of the abbey.

Image copyright
PA Media

Image caption

The prime minister removed his mask before giving a reading

In his address, Chaplain in Chief the Venerable Air Vice Marshal John Ellis, honoured NHS staff and key workers in the “fight against an invisible army”, drawing comparisons between the Battle of Britain and the coronavirus pandemic.

He said: “Once again there have been sacrifices made, often quiet, often humble, unnoticed by many.

“Although starkly different events, each of them has two things that are so important for our humanity – service and value. We have seen the selfless giving to a greater cause.”

A statement from the organisers said the service on Sunday morning was “reduced in stature but not in spirit”.

The last major service to take place at the venue was the Commonwealth Day service held on 9 March, two weeks before the UK went into lockdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The service, which remembered the 1,497 pilots and aircrew who died, was led by the Dean of Westminster Abbey, Dr David Hoyle.

Image copyright

Although the battle took place between July and October in 1940, 15 September is Battle of Britain Day – the date of a decisive victory by the RAF.

The RAF defended the skies over southern England, as Hitler’s Luftwaffe flew daily attacks ahead of a planned invasion.

Some 1,120 Luftwaffe aircraft were sent to attack London, but were repelled by 630 RAF fighters – and two days later Hitler postponed his plans to invade Britain.

Commemorations have been limited this year due to coronavirus restrictions, but a variety of tributes took place across the UK, including special exhibitions from the Imperial War Museum.

Source link

Fears for buildings after Canberra service station fuel leak contaminates soil and groundwater

A fuel leak at a petrol station in Canberra’s west has leached into surrounding soil and contaminated groundwater, leaving nearby homeowners and businesses worried their properties will have to be demolished.

A letter sent out to nearby residents said assessments had found there was “evidence that soil, groundwater and soil vapour [had been] contaminated”.

The Caltex service station in Kippax first discovered the leak in mid-February, at which point it decommissioned the tank.

Assessments are underway to determine the extent of the damage, with engineering firm WSP Australia brought in to conduct environmental investigations at the site.

“Investigations to date indicate that the ambient air (the atmosphere) is not contaminated by petroleum hydrocarbons and is not flammable.”

Investigations have confirmed the service station does not pose a health risk and continues to operate, while tap water remains unaffected by the fuel leak and completely safe to drink.

The letter to nearby residents also said there had been extensive work done to pump out and recover the fuel from beneath the service station.

Residents in nearby apartments said these silver rods were recently placed in the ground as part of the investigation. (ABC News: Selby Stewart)

“Fuel recovery is ongoing, and a significant proportion of lost product has been recovered,” the letter said.

Investigations to determine the full extent and nature of the leak, in consultation with the ACT Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) and an independent environmental auditor are ongoing.

“We have now completed onsite investigations and are expanding works to include off-site areas surrounding the site,” it said.

“Access to your property may be required so that we can determine the extent of the leak and identify if any further remediation activities are required.

“Once the nature and extent of the contamination and any associated risks are determined, a report detailing the outcomes of investigative works will be provided to the EPA.”

‘We don’t know how bad it is’

Dee looks away from the camera so you can only see the back of her head and her dog.
Kippax resident Dee Brown said she was worried the petrol could be hazardous to her health.(ABC News: Selby Stewart)

Resident Dee Brown, who did not want to reveal her face so as to protect her identity, has lived in the unit block across the road from the Caltex petrol station for 12 months.

She is one of more than 10 residents living in the complex.

Ms Brown said the letter was hand-delivered by one of the workers in July, but she had since heard nothing.

“I’m worried about the extent of the leak, we don’t know how bad it is,” Ms Brown said.

“We were told it wasn’t that bad but they’re clearly still here drilling.”

Other residents, who asked for anonymity, said they were concerned the buildings would need to be demolished.

“They tested fumes levels in our building twice and said there wasn’t anything to worry about.”

Nearby business owners said workers were also testing underground.

“They’ve been testing out the back for a while now and we haven’t been told the results,” one worker, who wanted to remain anonymous, said.

“They said they were testing for environmental damage.

“But we’re worried they’ll have to knock this entire complex down if it’s contaminated.”

Large sections of the service station remain blocked off and dozens of oil drums have been lined up alongside the store.

Likelihood of off-site impacts ‘low’: EPA

In a statement, the EPA said Caltex had so far complied with its obligations in response to the fuel leak.

They said the likelihood of any off-site impacts, including contamination, was low.

“It would be inappropriate to provide any further comment at this time as it may impact the ongoing investigation by the EPA,” it said.

Caltex has been contacted for comment.

Source link

Service economy – Cambodians are bingeing on microfinance loans | Asia

BANGLADESH MAY be the homeland of microcredit, but no country is keener on it than Cambodia. According to its central bank, there were some 160,000 branches of microfinance institutions around the country in 2016—one for almost every square kilometre of Cambodian territory. Almost 2.2m of Cambodia’s 10m-odd adults have a microcredit loan outstanding, according to the Cambodian Microfinance Association (CMA), an industry group. The average debt is $3,320—roughly twice the country’s annual GDP per person. Credit is growing by 40% a year.

The microfinance boom has brought many benefits. An obvious one is a decline in the use of loan sharks. Between 2004 and 2017 the share of households borrowing from formal sources jumped from 8% to 30% while the proportion using informal moneylenders dropped from 32% to less than 6%, according to research published last year by the World Bank. The shift saved people money. The interest rates charged by formal lenders are lower and have been falling for more than a decade, even though some microcredit outfits are purely commercial operations.

All this has made it possible for many Cambodians to fund a new business, obtain an education or pay for urgent medical care. The CMA links growing access to credit to falling levels of poverty. The share of Cambodians living below the national poverty line (earning less than $0.93 a day) dropped from almost 48% in 2007 to less than 14% in 2014—although the main reason for the improvement was Cambodia’s rapid economic growth over that period. Academic research suggests microfinance may have helped improve farming methods and boost living standards for the poorest Cambodians.

But the industry’s breakneck growth may not be sustainable. Household debt has swollen as the size of loans has ballooned. According to the World Bank, the average loan grew “more than tenfold” over the past five years. Larger debts have led to longer repayment periods. “[Cambodia] probably should have had a crisis by now,” admits Daniel Rozas, an adviser to the CMA, “but somehow it hasn’t.”

That may be in part thanks to the efforts of the National Bank of Cambodia, the central bank, to tame the industry. It has raised capital requirements and obliged lenders to maintain hotlines so customers can get in touch directly, if needed, with complaints. It has also introduced rules about how loans should be marketed. The CMA has instituted guidelines for its members, too. And Cambodia has a well-functioning credit bureau.

Some regulations, however, may be exacerbating the industry’s excesses. The central bank’s introduction of an interest-rate cap of 18% a year in 2017 seems to have backfired. Because of the cap, the CMA says, microfinance institutions can turn a profit only by lending more than $2,000. The number of loans of $500 or less declined by 48% after the rule’s introduction, the World Bank estimates. Some fees rose, too.

The CMA says defaults are minimal, with only 1% of loans in serious arrears at the beginning of the year. But there are hints that borrowers are getting into difficulty. The typical loan uses land as collateral, according to a forthcoming paper by W. Nathan Green of the National University of Singapore and Maryann Bylander of Lewis & Clark College in America. Lenders seldom take borrowers to court to repossess land; it is not worth the time and expense for a loan of just a few thousand dollars. But many conscientious borrowers appear to sell their land voluntarily to pay up. Government surveys show that the proportion of people who are landless rose from 32% in 2009 to 51% in 2016. Among the many reasons given for selling land, one of the most common was to repay debts. Given that the government does little to monitor the conduct of lenders, and many land sales are informal, it is hard to tell how voluntary such transactions really are.

Whatever the true state of Cambodians’ finances, they are about to get worse. The garment industry, which until recently employed some 740,000 people, has been particularly badly hit by the covid-19 pandemic, as orders from America and Europe have plunged. Perhaps a third of garment factories have stopped work. Research suggests that each worker in the factories supports three other people, so the effects will ripple across the country. Cambodia’s second-biggest industry, tourism, has been hit even harder.

A farmer in Battambang province gives a sense of the problem. He says that between the downturn brought on by the coronavirus and a recent drought, he is struggling to repay a $600 loan that he took out last year to buy poultry. He relies on a daughter sending part of her wages as a garment-worker to keep making payments—money that is now in doubt.

The government is not blind to the problem. In June Hun Sen, the prime minister, promised to spend about $25m a month to help some 600,000 poor families. The National Bank has encouraged lenders to reschedule or defer payments. The CMA says its members have restructured almost 245,000 loans.

But the few remaining critics of the authorities in Cambodia, which Mr Hun Sen has run for 35 years with ever-increasing repressiveness, clearly consider the growth of debt a weak spot for the government. In April activists called for loan payments and interest accrual to be suspended for three months. In May Sam Rainsy, an opposition politician living abroad, said Cambodians struggling to pay debts should not sell their homes or land. Mr Hun Sen’s advice to lenders was blunt: “Confiscate properties of those who follow the opposition’s appeal not to pay back the loans.”

This article appeared in the Asia section of the print edition under the headline “Service economy”

Reuse this contentThe Trust Project

Source link

Surbana Jurong thanks Liew Mun Leong for service after resignation in wake of Parti Liyani case

SINGAPORE: Surbana Jurong on Friday (Sep 11) thanked former chairman Liew Mun Leong for his service, saying that his “immeasurable contributions” to the company will never be forgotten.

The board of directors said in a media statement that it has accepted Mr Liew’s resignation, following his announcement on Thursday that he is retiring from his roles in business and the private sector. The positions were at Surbana Jurong, Changi Airport Group, Temasek Foundation and Temasek International. 

The announcement follows a recent decision by the High Court to acquit his former maid Parti Liyani of charges of stealing from his family.

READ: Liew Mun Leong retires from CAG, other public service and business roles after court’s decision on Parti Liyani case

“Throughout his tenure, Mr Liew demonstrated the exceptional vision, leadership, courage and passion needed for Surbana Jurong to succeed, grow and serve its clients around the world,” the statement read.

“His immeasurable contributions to the Group will not be forgotten. With deepest gratitude, we thank Mr Liew for his service and wish him the very best in the future.”

Mr Liew joined Surbana Jurong as founding chairman in 2015.

“Under his guidance, Surbana Jurong made a series of transformative acquisitions to forge an integrated technical consultancy services platform with a complete value proposition for the built environment,” the company said.

“Mr Liew encouraged Surbana Jurong’s foray into non-traditional consultancy fields including infrastructure fund management, through which the Group has formed valuable partnerships for project investments in the region.”

It added that Mr Liew “paved the way for Surbana Jurong to expand its global presence”, which led to the company increasing its revenue fivefold, more than half of which is derived from business outside Singapore.

He made “great efforts to strengthen the management bench and develop staff​, putting a strong focus on training and continuous learning and making time to personally interview ​potential senior management candidates”, the company said.

“He will always be remembered for the business and leadership lectures he delivered to staff and the Sunday Emails he invested time to write, a vehicle for sharing his wealth of insights and experience,” Surbana Jurong added.

Surbana Jurong CEO Wong Heang Fine said the company’s board, management and global workforce have the “collective resolve” to continue business as usual.

He said: “Everything we have achieved thus far serves as a solid foundation to advance our work as a technical platform for creating a smart, sustainable and resilient built environment. 

“We remain focused on our clients and supporting them in their plans for a post-COVID future.”

READ: Tan Gee Paw appointed acting chairman of CAG following Liew Mun Leong retirement

READ: Timeline: How former maid Parti Liyani was acquitted of stealing from Changi Airport Group chairman’s family


Mr Liew, the formal employer of Ms Parti, and his family accused her of theft in 2016.

She was convicted of four counts of theft in March 2019 and sentenced to two years and two months’ jail.

Last week, she was acquitted of all theft charges by the High Court, after Justice Chan Seng Onn said the convictions against her were “unsafe” due to the presence of an “improper motive” and that the prosecution had failed to prove its case beyond reasonable doubt.

She had filed a complaint to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) in 2017 about being illegally deployed to clean the home and office of Mr Liew’s son Karl.

Mr Liew’s wife, Ng Lai Peng, was issued a caution and Mr Karl Liew was issued an advisory by the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) in 2018.

Source link

Calls to eating disorder support service Butterfly Foundation triple during coronavirus pandemic

Previously diagnosed with anorexia, the start of the coronavirus lockdown in Tasmania caused 18-year-old Ruby Littler to relapse to such an extent she was admitted to hospital.

“It’s such an intense environment being so isolated. I had basically an excuse to starve myself with no-one watching,” Ms Littler said.

She is far from the only Tasmanian with an eating disorder suffering a decline in mental health during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Butterfly Foundation, which supports people with eating disorders and body image issues, has had a tripling of calls from Tasmanians to the foundation since the start of the year.

“People being at home unable to visit their support face to face, not being able to see friends and family, their psychiatrists, dietitians, psychologists face to face, has really affected people’s recovery,” Georgina Taskunas, eating disorders coordinator for the Butterfly Foundation in Hobart, said.

There has been an increase in mental health-related presentations to hospitals in general, according to Tasmania’s Health Department.

In Tasmania, people with eating disorders deemed non-urgent wait up to six weeks for an initial appointment. Others with acute conditions are referred to emergency departments.

Supermarket stress factor

Empty shelves at a Melbourne supermarket in March.(Supplied)

Already a stress factor before, shopping during the peak of restrictions and panic buying have made a trip to the supermarket even worse.

“And I guess the anorectic part of me was like, ‘Oh there you go, that’s another reason why you’re not allowed to eat food.’

“It became very toxic, very quickly.”

It is an experience shared by other Tasmanians with eating disorders.

“People suffering an eating disorder have really struggled with their routines being upset,” Ms Taskunas said.

“Gyms closing, supermarkets not having familiar brands, it’s all caused extra stress.”

Georgina Taskunas
The Butterfly Foundation’s Georgina Taskunas says calls for support from Tasmanians with eating disorders have tripled since the pandemic hit.(Supplied)

Wait lists ‘not uncommon’

National eating disorders research institute InsideOut surveyed 2,000 people with eating disorders and tracked their symptoms during the pandemic.

InsideOut director Sarah Maguire said almost all of the core behaviours of an eating disorder — extreme restriction, body image concerns, purging and exercise — increased during the pandemic.

“In almost every marker of severity of an eating disorder we’ve seen a majority of people reporting that the pandemic has had a negative impact,” Dr Maguire said.

She said more people with eating disorders were presenting to public health services for treatment.

Dr Maguire said a long wait for treatment could be very damaging for a person with an eating disorder if they were at a critical point in their illness.

A woman with blonde hair looking at the camera
InsideOut director Sarah Maguire says the COVID-19 pandemic has had a negative impact on people with eating disorders.(ABC News: Aaron Hollett)

Dr Maguire said more services were needed in Tasmania.

“It certainly would be very important for families and people that have eating disorders in Tasmania for them to see other services develop so they have an appropriate response regardless of their age, regardless of their gender, regardless of their geography,” she said.

“When you don’t have services available, you’re going to have people whose illness is allowed to progress without any input, and given all available evidence, are going to have worse outcomes.”

In a statement, the Tasmanian Government said $104 million has been invested in mental health generally in the past six years and it was spending almost $500,000 to employ peer support workers for people living with eating disorders.

The Federal Government is also funding a $10 million residential facility for people with eating disorders in Hobart. It is unclear when it will open.

Road to recovery

Since coming out of hospital, Ms Littler has been staying with her family in Turners Beach in north-west Tasmania.

She said her recovery was going well.

“That really helps me because I don’t just want to live at home my whole life and being in and out of hospital. That’s not too fun.”

She hopes sharing her story will help others in the same situation.

“If even one person saw this who was struggling with an eating disorder, or a parent, and it changed something for them, it would almost make all that I went through kind of worth it.”

18-year-old Ruby Littler using a laptop at a dining room table
Ruby Littler says her recovery from anorexia is going well.(ABC News: Jeppe Bjerre Trans)

Source link

Federal government spending $5 billion per year on consultants as gig economy grows inside public service

A few years ago, the then head of Australia’s Defence Department expressed his frustration to staff — he had discovered just how big his workforce had become.

Dennis Richardson warned his managers that, if they did not reel in their spending, he would step in and end contracts himself.

The trigger for that 2017 speech? The department had allowed its army of consultants and private contractors to outgrow its ranks of public servants.

Mr Richardson retired soon afterwards — but the situation did not improve.

Today, Defence employs about 17,400 public servants. However, its outsourced civilian workforce is far larger than that — documents published under freedom of information (FOI) law show it has about 28,600 contractors.

These extra employees often have the same titles as public servants and even sit next to them in the office — but they work for private businesses, not the government.

Several former senior officials are now questioning not only the costs and consequences of this trend, but whether it is legal.

Almost two-thirds of the people who work for the Defence Department are not employed by the government.(Supplied: Australian Air Force)

‘Private servants’ the new norm in government staffing

Defence’s “private” workforce may be unusually large, but outsourcing is the norm in Canberra.

Most Australian Public Service (APS) agencies now employ people via labour-hire firms, a practice that allows them to stay within the government’s official staffing cap but still get their work done.

No one knows how big this outsourced workforce is — not even the Finance Department, which exists to control how public money is spent.

However, an ABC analysis of about 120,000 federal government contracts — for services such as consulting, staffing and recruitment — suggests the Commonwealth’s market for “private” labour has doubled in the past five years, and is now worth more than $5 billion a year.

The biggest spenders are the biggest workplaces: Defence, the Australian Taxation Office and Services Australia (which runs Centrelink and Medicare offices).

And the biggest winners are similarly unsurprising: global firms such as Manpower, Serco and Datacom (which runs call centres).

Bureaucracy’s labour hire ‘may be unconstitutional’

A former senior Defence Department executive, Paddy Gourley, has warned against this trend for years, saying it allows corruption to flourish.

“The basic point is it opens up scope for nepotism and corruption in public service staffing,” he said.

Mr Gourley, a staffing policy specialist, told the ABC there was no way for government agencies to know how the firms had recruited their workers, who “may very well be sisters, cousins and aunts” of the business owners.

He also said the legality of these work arrangements was highly questionable.

Public servants
In many government offices, there is no difference between the jobs done by public servants and the employees of private firms.

Section 67 of Australia’s constitution says federal public servants can only be employed under an act of Parliament.

In most cases that is the Public Service Act, which says the “usual basis” of hiring a government employee is “as an ongoing APS employee”. The act also allows agencies to hire APS staff temporarily and for “irregular or intermittent” jobs.

Yet agencies routinely bypass this act.

They instead “buy” staff as “goods and services” — even though the Commonwealth procurement rules explicitly warn that procurement “does not include the engagement of employees”.

When asked about the legal basis of using labour-hire firms, Public Service Commissioner Peter Woolcott’s office did not respond directly.

Instead, his spokeswoman said labour-hire workers were not public servants and so not the government’s responsibility.

“Labour-hire workers are generally the employee of the labour-hire company from which their services are contracted, meaning the employment relationship is between the labour-hire worker and the labour-hire company,” she said.

Staffing cap to blame, says former APS chief

One of Mr Woolcott’s predecessors, Andrew Podger, said he was surprised by the size of the government’s reliance on the private sector, warning “it might reflect the loss of expertise that ought to exist among APS employees”.

“I fear that the numbers [of private-sector workers] are partly due to the APS staffing cap,” he said.

The Coalition imposed the staffing cap in 2015, saying the government workforce should not grow larger than it was at the end of John Howard’s prime ministership in 2007.

A man with glasses outside a building signed 'School of Music'.
Former APS chief Andrew Podger says the staffing cap is an “ideological attack”.(Australian National University: Stuart Hay)

The independent Thodey review of the public service urged the Morrison government last year to abolish the cap in favour of other spending controls, but that recommendation was rejected.

Mr Podger, now an honorary professor at the Australian National University, said the cap represented “an ideological attack on the APS”.

“While there is a legitimate debate about the appropriate size of government and its resources for administration, surely, within the resources to be made available, we want the highest quality public service and value for money,” he said.

Mr Podger also said that, while he was not a legal expert, labour hire raised “important legal issues … which need to be addressed”.

He suggested a class action, brought on by a union or a labour-hire employee, might be the only way to resolve the legal uncertainty.

‘There is no way in to the public service anymore’

One former public servant considering his next steps is Melbourne lawyer Geordie Wilson.

A man looks at the camera.
Geordie Wilson laments the lack of opportunities to enter the APS.(Supplied)

Mr Wilson was a temporary junior officer at the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT), where, by his count, “probably half or even more than half of the people at my level were on labour-hire contracts”.

“It was all casual employment, even though they were there for years in some cases,” he said.

A spokeswoman for the AAT said fewer than 10 per cent of the AAT’s total workforce “in our customer-facing, operational areas” were labour-hire employees.

However, she confirmed that one of the tribunal’s contractors had mistakenly underpaid 57 staff over six years, and said it had since corrected those errors.

But the experience sparked Mr Wilson to investigate why so many government workplaces had “segregated” workforces — some public, some private.

Earlier this year, he began to use FOI law to try to measure the extent of labour-hire use across government.

“Going into the APS, it hadn’t even occurred to me that you could just privately staff a department,” he said.

Mr Wilson, 25, said the outsourcing of government work had another effect: it had left young people like himself with far less hope of ever becoming a public servant.

“It’s kind of disappointing to realise that there really is no way in, aside from a tiny number of spots in the graduate program,” he said.

Contractors and consultants ‘can keep costs low’

Sitting on a red seat, Mathias Cormann looks across the room.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann says it makes sense to hire expertise on an as-needs basis.(ABC News: Matt Roberts)

The shift towards using private-sector labour while cutting government jobs divided the main parties during last year’s federal election campaign.

Labor and the Greens promised to slash spending on consultants, saying it cost taxpayers far more than employing public servants.

A parliamentary committee was also examining the trend, but the inquiry was abandoned when the election was called.

Yet while private contractors are often paid more than public servants — and the businesses that hire them profit, too — there is no clear evidence that using labour-hire staff is generally cheaper or more expensive.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has long argued the government saves money by buying skills when it needs them, rather than hiring specialists permanently.

His department also told the ABC that the use of contractors, “where appropriate”, was “an efficient way to keep the overall cost of government administration low when the business need to access relevant skills, expertise or additional support is temporary or the expertise and skills are more efficiently obtained and maintained in a dedicated private sector business”.

Perhaps that is true. The chart above shows the Commonwealth’s operating costs — money spent on staff, contractors and services — as a share of its overall spending.

Over the past seven years, the federal government shed tends of thousands of staff and ramped-up spending on external labour — and its overall operational efficiency increased, albeit marginally.

Of course, the costs of a future High Court challenge to the government’s use labour hire — if it ever happens — could change that.

Source link