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The Australian National University

Redundancy in the Australian Public Service —Some Critical Reflections

Cameron Roles (2013) 41 (3)

This article critically examines the law concerning dismissal on grounds of redundancy as it applies to the Australian Public Service ('APS'). Such an examination is timely, given the newly elected Coalition government's stated intention to reduce the APS by 12 000 employees through natural attrition.
The article argues that a reduction of 12 000 employees through natural attrition alone is unlikely, and that redundancies are almost inevitable. Against this backdrop, the article considers recent legislative developments concerning dismissal on grounds of redundancy. Its focus is the genuine redundancy exclusion contained in s 389 of the Fair Work Act 2009 (Cth) ('FW Act') and its application to APS employment. The genuine redundancy exclusion precludes unfair dismissal claims if the redundancy is genuine, the employer complies with any consultation obligations in a modern award or enterprise agreement and it would not have been reasonable in all the circumstances to redeploy the affected employee within the employer's enterprise or that of an associated entity.
The article argues that, prior to the FW Act, redundancy obligations were predominantly dealt with in collective agreements, and did not require consultations or redeployment of redundant employees beyond the individual agency. However the FW Act fundamentally changed the law in this area. The article contends that a failure to comply with consultation obligations in an agency enterprise agreement will increase the prospects of a dismissal being found to be unfair. In the APS this is problematic, given the convoluted nature of many consultation clauses in enterprise agreements. The article also argues that the redeployment obligations in s 389(2) are extremely broad and, contrary to past practice under the Public Service Act 1999 (Cth) ('PS Act'), encompass redeployment across the APS. The obligation to redeploy across the APS creates tensions in the law between the provisions of the FW Act and the devolution of managerial powers under the PS Act.
The article concludes by calling for reform of the law which would address these tensions. It is submitted that any reforms should first clarify whether, as a matter of policy, the Commonwealth wishes to permit redeployment across the APS, or confine it to the level of each individual agency. Options for reform are suggested which would achieve either policy outcome.

Vol 41, Issue 3, 2013

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