There appears much consternation with regard to proposed public service job cuts under the Tasmanian Liberals plan for Tasmania, with debate focussed on the difference between net and gross proposed job losses. The Liberals claim that the net loss will be 500 jobs in their first four year term. Calculations by the media determine the gross figure to be around 858 job losses when you add in the increase in the number of teachers, nurses and police announced by the Liberals during their election campaign.
The Liberals assert a budget saving of around $150 million as a result of the retraction in the size of the public service and that no forced sackings will be made. The Liberals suggest that these cuts will be achieved from retirement, natural attrition and some voluntary redundancies.
I suggest there are more important issues to consider.
As at the time of the latest ABS Census of Population and Housing (August 2011) the average age of the state public servant was 44.3 years. See the below chart for a visual representation of Tasmania's state government employee age structure.
Based on the Census 2011 data, between now and 2018, approximately 11,591 public servants will have reached the age at which they are eligible to access their private superannuation savings (56 years of age from 2017). This is 37 per cent of the 2011 public service workforce. Many of these will have unfunded, defined benefits scheme entitlements.
Even if those who are eligible to retire have not done so by 2018, based on Census 2011 data, there will be 6,117 public servants aged 55 to 60 years and 5,242 public servants ages 60 to 65 years old, all of whom are likely to be considering retirement in the imminent future. Furthermore, for those who do not have sufficient private superannuation savings and need to wait until eligible for the age pension (age 65.5 in 2018) there will be 3,950 public servants aged at least 65 years in 2018.
The issues that require the greatest consideration by all political parties is not about the number of net or gross job losses into the future, but the fact that in the next term of office over a third of Tasmanian state government employees will reach the age at which they are eligible to retire. The questions we should be asking are:
1) how are we going to replace this significant loss of labour
2) how are we going to fund the associated superannuation entitlements
Any future government should be focusing on maximising attachment to the labour force, increasing productivity, increasing efficiencies and maintaining key personnel in key positions. I won't even mention the risk that voluntary redundancies place on the loss of productive/effective employees (who are often confident they can gain employment elsewhere). Nor will I mention the restrictions that the State Service Act places on ensuring that government can deliver its services efficiently and effectively.
The focus of the future government should be on how to restructure the state service in the face of a double whammy - an ageing population and ageing public service workforce - to ensure delivery of basic services and infrastructure and ensure appropriate revenue streams through maintaining the population and growing the economy.