News: Immigration Department Public Servants Face Sack
There are over eight thousand public servants from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection that may lose some of their rights to appeals in unfair dismissal as part of the Australian Border Force’s formation.
At present before the Parliament, the Australian Border Force bill consists of provisions for the head of the new department to readily fire public servants if proven engaged with “serious misconduct”, with no appeal to the industrial arbitrator.
The main workplace union cries foul to these, and is stating that the new rules will strip workers of legal rights in an unfair manner, however, the department is saying that to be fired for serious misconduct could still be appealed in the courts.
Resembling provisions have also been in force almost 3 years ago in Customs. These were brought in to assist the agency get rid of corrupt officers who were manning the borders of Australia.
Now the rules are set to be extended to the eight thousand public servants of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. These are employees mostly deskbound, and are also set to face mandatory drug, alcohol and psychological testing under the new regime. Some will also have to prove that they are physically fit for the job too.
There are going to be tough background tests for criminal or radical associations and Mr Michael Pezzullo, the secretary for the Department of Immigration, has laid down the law on the standards for haircuts and dressing.
The Immigration and Customs department is set to merge on the 1st of July of this year to form the new Australian Border Force.
The officials at the Immigration Department who are disciplined by their bosses presently have several avenues of appeal. If they believe that they were given the unfair treatment, this can include an appeal to the public service’s Merit Protection Commissioner or recourse to Fair Work Australia.
The new bill however, increases Mr Pezzullo’s powers to “issue a serious misconduct declaration” after the investigation in code of conduct which is going to leave the employee with no unfair dismissal recourse in the Fair Work Commission.
It is necessary to report the outcome of the investigation to the Minister the moment the declaration has been issued out.
Unions state that the sole procedural fairness requirement in the bill would be to give the staff member a copy of the declaration within twenty four hours of the decision that was made.
However, a spokesman from the department said on Monday that any investigation into the alleged misconduct is, under the Public Service Act, a requirement to be procedurally fair. The declaration of serious misconduct can be reviewed under the Administrative Decisions Act.
Mr Pezzullo sent out a reminder last week through a message to Customs and Immigration workers, informing his staff of the grave risks corruption brings and also said that a tough “integrity framework” was necessary to make sure they are strongly protected against internal wrongdoing.
”Regrettably, there have been well documented instances of corruption in both the department and the service, including involvement in drug importation, unauthorised access and dealing in information, and the ‘selling’ of visas,” wrote Mr Pezzullo. “The Integrity Framework and related policies contain obligations and responsibilities that are new to many staff: it is understood that it will take time for the policies to settle into place.” But Mr Rupert Evans, the deputy secretary of CPSU, said that the department was going a little overboard with the new policies. “This is another example of the government taking a sledgehammer to the rights of hard-working diligent public servants,” Mr Evans said. “We oppose the extension of these laws for Immigration staff, just as we did for Customs officers.”
He continued on to say, “The government has failed to make the case for their extension to all Immigration staff.”
Mr Evans in his own words, described the provisions for dismissal “draconian” in nature.; “It looks like another government attack on hard-working and dedicated public servants. Every worker deserves basic rights and protections and these draconian laws will rob staff of their access to natural justice.”
“We are particularly concerned that there is no independent umpire to ensure fairness,” he said. “Getting the agency to report about the outcome of investigations to the Minister is nothing but window dressing.”
Mr Evans finished by saying, “The lack of proper checks & balances on decision-makers can lead to sloppy decisions &, in the worst cases, an abuse of power.”
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