Workforce management

Workforce management in the public sector is guided by the general principles of human resource management and official conduct in ss. 8 and 9 of the Public Sector Management Act 1994 (PSM Act). However, workforce management is broader than compliance obligations; it encompasses the activities needed to maintain a productive workforce.

A workplace where employees are able to improve their own productivity and raise creative ideas helps to ensure efficient achievement of public sector outcomes, such as delivery of services to the community. Effective workforce management involves supporting staff to be productive through mechanisms such as clear communication of organisational expectations, appropriate delegation and task allocation, development of individual capability, and constructive performance feedback.

This chapter commences with a discussion of the factors driving employee productivity in the WA public sector, as indicated through levels of employee engagement. This is followed by the sector's use of strategies to improve workforce management for productivity, in areas such as professional development, performance management, conflict management, and occupational health and safety. The level of compliance with public sector standards is also covered as a requirement of reporting under s. 22D of the PSM Act.

Overall, management of the public sector workforce appears to be proving effective even in these times of change and financial constraint. Reported employee engagement levels are high in the sector. Most employees indicate they are motivated to perform well, and are satisfied with their job and their employer. The numbers of reported grievances and breaches of public sector standards remain low.

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Employee productivity

Employees who are engaged with their job and committed to their organisation are generally more productive because they are motivated to work with the success of the entity in mind. Improved productivity helps to ensure that service delivery is not impacted during times where there may be fewer resources available to public sector bodies.

There are many factors that drive employee engagement, and result in increased productivity, through the reduction of workplace absence, improved retention, better customer service and increased capacity for innovation.1 These drivers of engagement for the employee include:

  • effective management and leadership by the immediate supervisor and senior leaders
  • intrinsic rewards such as being able to 'make a difference' and having interesting work to complete
  • good match between the job and the employee's skills
  • clear understanding of workplace expectations and organisational goals
  • suitable levels of role autonomy and authority
  • opportunities for career progression
  • access to options for work-life balance, such as flexible working arrangements
  • recognition for work performed, and feeling valued by the entity
  • effective workplace relationships
  • learning and development opportunities
  • receipt of performance feedback.

Several of these drivers are discussed throughout this chapter and Chapter 6.

Employee engagement levels in the WA public sector continue to be quite high. Figure 4.1 shows that almost all respondents to the 2013 employee perception survey (EPS) reported they are satisfied with their job (85%, compared to 76% for Victoria and 74% for New South Wales) and proud to work in the public sector (81%, compared to 86% in New South Wales and 87% in Victoria).2

Most WA public sector employees (74%) also agreed their immediate supervisor is effective in managing people.

Figure 4.1 Employee engagement levels in the WA public sector, 2013

Figure 4.1 Employee engagement levels in the WA public sector, 2013. Click to view a larger version of this image.

Click on the image to enlarge

Source: EPS

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Professional development

Providing professional development opportunities helps to improve employee capability and productivity, and brings innovation to the sector through new skills and ideas.

Professional development frameworks

Most entities (72%) reported in the 2013 annual agency survey (AAS) that they have a professional development strategy or framework in at least part of their organisation. Three-quarters of EPS respondents in 2013 confirmed that development opportunities are available to all employees, similar to the previous year (76%).

A key aspect of a successful professional development program is tracking employee participation in training. Centrally recording information about employee skills may help to identify development needs, potential areas of collaboration and possible mentors.


Mentoring is a key component of the blended learning approach supported by the Public Sector Commission. Through harnessing public sector expertise, mentoring facilitates the sharing of knowledge and experience.

Mentoring results in improved work performance and levels of employee engagement. The approach can be used to support knowledge transfer and may improve retention.

A 2012 survey of mentoring in the public sector, conducted by the Commission, indicated there were 49 mentoring programs active within the sector. The survey found there is opportunity for mentoring to be expanded across the sector. A mentoring group has been established to share practices, encourage sustainable programs, and foster whole-of-sector thinking.

The Commission's development programs, such as the Foundations of government human resources (FoGHR) program and Public sector management program, include a mentoring component to embed learning in the workplace.

Professional development for human resources practitioners

Human resources professionals play a key role in workforce management. The Commission provides a range of resources and advice to support good practice in human resources management.

The Human resources practitioners' forum regularly updates the sector on new policies and resources and provides opportunities to share the expertise and experiences of professionals within the sector.

The FoGHR program (which leads to a Certificate IV in Government qualification) is also designed to train practitioners in a wide range of essential human resources policy and core development areas.

Professional development for policy practitioners

The Public Sector Commissioner recognises the need for high-level policy capability in the public sector, and in collaboration with the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, has commenced a series of Policy practitioners' forums. These aim to provide employees with opportunities to learn from policy development experts, and to gain skills and knowledge to respond to new and evolving demands placed on the sector.

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Performance management

Performance management is closely related to performance development. Effective performance management helps to improve employee productivity by providing clear expectations about performance, and a mechanism for managers to provide feedback. Effective performance management processes align individual performance with key organisational goals, and help to identify future training requirements.

The Performance management standard established by the Commissioner outlines the minimum standards with which public sector bodies must comply in undertaking performance management. In summary, the minimum standard is met when employees are informed of how their performance will be managed, and the results of their performance assessment. Further details about the standard can be found in Appendix B - Public Sector Management Act 1994.

The FoGHR program contains a module on managing performance. This module provides human resources practitioners with the knowledge to review and improve their entities' performance management policies and procedures as required, and to assist managers to effectively manage performance.

Performance management processes

Close to two-thirds (64%) of respondents to the 2013 EPS felt performance development is fairly and consistently applied in their workplace (compared to 65% in the previous year). Most respondents (89%) reported awareness of the Performance management standard.

Through the 2013 AAS, the majority of entities reported having performance management procedures and policies in place. Figure 4.2 shows the strategies used by entities to assist managers to effectively manage employee performance. Most public sector bodies reported having some form of defined timelines for completing the performance cycle within their policies (85%).

Figure 4.2 Strategies used by entities to assist managers to effectively manage employee performance, 2012/13

Figure 4.2 Strategies used by entities to assist managers to effectively manage employee performance, 2012/13. Click to view a larger version of this image.

Click on the image to enlarge

Source: AAS

In 2013, the Commission conducted a review of performance management. Performance management in the public sector - A review of how agencies conduct performance management found that while public sector bodies have clear procedures in place, and there is a high level of awareness among employees, participation in performance management processes could be improved. This is reflected in the 2013 AAS results, with only 39% of entities having completed at least one formal, documented performance management meeting for over 80% of their employees.3

Performance management typically refers to formal and documented processes. However, informal discussions are equally important. Less than half (42%) of the 2013 EPS respondents reported having informal discussions about their performance at least monthly. This could present an opportunity for recognising good performance given 30% of EPS respondents, in both 2012 and 2013, indicated that employees in their entity do not feel valued for their contribution. Recognition of good performance assists in improving morale, and hence productivity.

The Commission is consulting with chief executives to provide guidance on ensuring reward and recognition programs are an efficient use of resources, and are managed and monitored in a fair, ethical and transparent manner. Public sector bodies and individuals are also encouraged to participate in awards such as the Premier's Awards for Excellence in Public Sector Management, Institute of Public Administration Australia WA Achievement Awards, and the WA Information Technology and Telecommunications Awards.

Substandard performance

Performance management can be particularly challenging for managers where employees are underperforming. Substandard performance may occur for a range of reasons, such as poor recruitment processes; performance expectations not being clear; inadequate skills; lack of adequate feedback; low morale or lack of motivation; or personal issues such as health or family problems impacting on a person's capacity or focus.

At the time of the 2013 AAS, 54 out of 138 863 employees in the public sector were identified as being subject to a substandard performance process (nine public sector bodies did not have this information available). Recordkeeping issues aside, this suggests poor performance is not common in the public sector. However, around one-quarter of respondents to the 2012 and 2013 EPS believed their supervisor does not appropriately manage poor performance.

In such a large population, poor performance from around 1% to 5% of employees (about 1400 to 7000) could reasonably be anticipated.4 This suggests substandard performance processes may be underutilised in the public sector, or provisions for managing employee performance are somewhat ineffective. The Commission is currently developing a guide to assist entities with managing substandard performance.

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Minimising and managing conflict

Interpersonal conflict and complaints about the behaviour of managers or colleagues can create wider workplace disharmony. Prompt management of any issues ensures disruptions are minimised, workplace relationships are improved, and productivity is maintained.

Where records existed5, public sector bodies reported in the AAS that 294 grievances were lodged in 2012/13 (similar to the previous year), and 241 cases were completed. Following the completion of cases, entities most often reported undertaking additional actions such as employee counselling and training.

There was a low number of substantiated grievances across the sector, with only 70 recorded cases from all public sector employees. Entities reported that substantiated grievances were most often related to inappropriate behaviour in the workplace, interpersonal conflict, and bullying.

Grievance policies and procedures

Under the Grievance resolution standard, employing authorities must ensure the process used to resolve or redress employee grievances is fair. Further information about the standard is in Appendix B - Public Sector Management Act 1994.

To ensure employees are comfortable with raising any issues (especially where they are ongoing), it is important that they are informed about the avenues available to them when they are aggrieved, as well as the procedures that can be used to address their issues.

Figure 4.3 shows entity strategies to support grievance management. The majority of public sector bodies reported they have established clear policies and processes in at least part of the organisation (95%, same as the previous year) and have communicated them to employees (87%, compared to 88% last year).

Figure 4.3 Entity strategies to support grievance management, 2012/13

Figure 4.3 Entity strategies to support grievance management, 2012/13. Click to view a larger version of this image.

Click on the image to enlarge

Source: AAS

However, the 2013 EPS indicated that respondents were less aware of, and confident in, these policies and procedures. Thirty-one per cent of respondents said they have not been provided with information about their entity's internal grievance resolution procedures (although they may have been able to find information), and less than half (48%) reported having confidence in grievance resolution processes (compared to 41% in the previous year).6 Lack of confidence, whether due to concerns about confidentiality, belief that the process may be biased, or fear of the potential negative impact on working relationships, reduces the likelihood of an employee lodging a grievance where it may be a good avenue for their issues to be addressed.

The following case study highlights a Department of Agriculture and Food initiative that is assisting with preventing and addressing grievances in worksites across the state.

Case study

Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) employees supporting workplace harmony

DAFWA has a unique network of employees who assist their colleagues in dealing with informal grievances related to the workplace. The Contact Officer and Grievance Officer (COGO) network has been in place for nearly 20 years - a testament to its success.

COGO volunteers are located across the state in regional and metropolitan offices. These officers provide a sounding board to employees and assist them through the grievance resolution process. Grievance officers have the added role of working with the aggrieved parties to restore an ongoing working relationship.

DAFWA's Director General recognises the value and experience of these volunteers and has delegated responsibility to COGO volunteers to provide additional support and information to employees who feel they have been subjected to discrimination or harassment.

The COGO team is trained annually to maintain skills in this area and to stay abreast of emerging trends. DAFWA recently held a COGO conference, where state representatives came together to exchange learning experiences and build knowledge.

Through the hard work and commitment of this unique group of people, DAFWA ensures its principles of equity, fairness and justice are embedded throughout the department.

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Occupational safety and health

A key aspect of effectively managing the workforce is ensuring that the incidence and impact of injury and illness are reduced. Strategies to identify and manage health and safety risks lead to improved productivity through fewer employee absences from work and better overall wellbeing.

All public sector bodies are required to provide safe working environments under the Occupational Safety and Health Act 1984. In December 2012, the Public Sector Commissioner's Circular 2012-05 was released, which instructs entities to comply with the Code of practice: Occupational safety and health in the Western Australian public sector7, released by the Commission for Occupational Safety and Health (WorkSafe WA).


A new definition of bullying was adopted by the Commission in this year's EPS. In previous years, bullying was not defined in the survey. As per the definition accepted and used by WorkSafe WA, bullying in the workplace was defined in the 2013 EPS as unsolicited or unwelcome, 'repeated, unreasonable, or inappropriate behaviour directed towards a worker or group of workers, that creates a risk to health and safety'.8

Just over 1 in 10 employees (11%) who completed the 2013 EPS reported being bullied during the past year. Individuals may have reported actions that do not satisfy WorkSafe WA's definition of bullying given only 73 worker's compensation claims were recorded by Insurance Commission of Western Australia for bullying and harassment incidents during 2012/13.9

While the Commission does not take reports of bullying lightly, it is possible that some employees are simply responding to being managed more rigorously than they would like. A common question in investigating allegations of bullying is whether the reported behaviour constitutes legitimate management action.

The 2013 result (11%) is substantially lower than the incidence reported by respondents in 2012 (29%). However, much of the difference is likely due to the new WorkSafe WA definition which requires the behaviour to be repeated.

In a new EPS item this year, respondents most commonly reported being bullied by their supervisor, a co-worker, or a senior manager in their entity. The following types of bullying were most often reported (noting that respondents could select more than one option):

  • verbal abuse, insults or criticism (5% of all employees who completed the EPS, or 258 employees)
  • misinformation or malicious rumours (5%)
  • exclusion or isolation from others (5%)
  • the withholding of information or resources required for effective work (4%)
  • unfair performance management (4%).

Through the 2013 AAS, most entities reported monitoring the entire workplace to ensure any incidents of bullying are addressed (72%), and communicating anti-bullying policies to all staff (73%), as shown in Figure 4.4. Development and promotion of these strategies help to create a workplace culture where bullying is not tolerated.

Figure 4.4 Strategies used by entities to reduce bullying, 2012/13

Figure 4.4 Strategies used by entities to reduce bullying, 2012/13. Click to view a larger version of this image.

Click on the image to enlarge

Source: AAS

In a new EPS item this year, a little over half (57%) of EPS respondents who reported being bullied indicated they did not report the incident. Respondents advised that the main reasons for not reporting were believing that no action would be taken, not wanting to upset workplace relationships, and thinking that reporting might affect their careers. Effectively preventing and handling incidences of workplace bullying requires a comprehensive and strategic approach. In last year's State of the sector report, the Commission committed to considering strategies to inform the sector on how to prevent and better manage bullying in the workplace. During 2013, a cross-sector working group developed Prevention of workplace bullying in the WA public sector: A guide for agencies. This publication highlights the impact of bullying, and the importance of developing a positive corporate culture where bullying behaviour does not flourish.

Workplace injury and illness

Through the AAS, entities reported using a range of strategies in 2012/13 to minimise the risk of injury or disease in the workplace. This included establishing clear processes for consultation with staff and dealing with issues (82%), and communicating relevant policies to employees (80%).

In 2013, the Office of the Auditor General conducted an audit of injury management in the sector. Management of injured workers in the public sector10 examined injury management systems and compliance with injury management legislation across eight public sector agencies. The audit found that all agencies provided assistance to injured employees, such as giving them alternative duties, shorter working hours and special equipment, and in 80% of cases, a clear return-to-work program.

The report made the following recommendations to improve the management of injured employees:

The 'Best safety and health management system in the public sector' award at the 2012 Western Australian Work Safety Awards was won by the Fremantle Port Authority for the 'Safety for life' initiative. The Public Sector Safety, Health and Injury Management Steering Committee recommended the following case study about the awarded initiative, which has resulted in significantly improved work safety and health performance. The initiative has broader applicability to the public sector.

Case study

'Safety for life' - 'No injuries; no harm; no damage'

In 2011, the Fremantle Port Authority (which operates under its registered business name, Fremantle Ports) launched its 'Safety for life' initiative, an integrated safety systems approach focused on continuous improvement of its occupational safety and health performance.

Employing over 330 staff, Fremantle Ports manages the port of Fremantle, the state's sea gateway for container and general cargo trades. In this extremely busy environment, the importance of good safety systems and procedures cannot be overstated, with the 'Safety for life' initiative ensuring that safety is a core value and top priority for the entire organisation.

With its aspirational goal of 'No injuries; no harm; no damage', 'Safety for life' focuses on active safety leadership at all levels through recognising people for integrating safety into their daily tasks and taking action against high potential hazards, and ensuring people have the right skill set to work in a safe and efficient manner.

One flagship initiative of 'Safety for life' was the introduction of a scratch card program which recognises and rewards people for proactive and positive safety behaviours. The scratch card program has proven to be an excellent tool for integrating 'Safety for life' into every aspect of Fremantle Ports' work, and for keeping safety at the forefront of all stakeholders' thinking. Managers hand out scratch cards to employees in recognition of desired safety actions observed in day-to-day work in a wide range of occupations.

Executive commitment and support has been a crucial component of the initiative's success. The strong focus from executive management, coupled with responsive line management action and engagement at every level, supports and inspires health and safety improvement.

'Safety for life' has resulted in a clear improvement in the reporting safety culture of Fremantle Ports and, importantly, an improvement of 41% in the lost-time injury frequency rate, 84% in lost-time injury severity, and 43% in the people-injury rate.

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Compliance with public sector standards

Effective workforce management involves supporting productivity while ensuring compliance with obligations in the PSM Act. The public sector standards, issued by the Commissioner under s. 21(1)(a) of the PSM Act, set out minimum standards of merit, equity and probity required of public sector bodies when managing their workforce.

The public sector standards are published in the Government Gazette11 and operate as subsidiary legislation, as if they were regulations, and are subject to s. 42 of the Interpretation Act 1984. They can therefore be scrutinised or disallowed by parliament.

Section 21(10) of the PSM Act provides that courts are not prevented from inquiring into, and deciding whether, a standard (or ethical code or any of its provisions) is valid, consistent with, or authorised by, the PSM Act.

The six standards are as follows:

  • Employment standard
  • Performance management standard
  • Grievance resolution standard
  • Discipline standard
  • Redeployment standard
  • Termination standard.

Employee awareness of the standards is high, with more than 80% of respondents to the 2013 EPS indicating they are aware of each standard. Further information about the standards can be found in Appendix B - Public Sector Management Act 1994.

Figure 4.5 shows strategies used by public sector bodies to monitor compliance with the standards in 2012/13. Through the AAS, the majority of entities reported having processes in place to review human resource policies to ensure consistency with the standards (79%), and to internally review processes carried out under the standards (72%). However, there is an opportunity for entities to consider gathering more information about their processes through seeking employee feedback and analysing any breach claims.

Figure 4.5 Strategies used by entities to monitor compliance with the public sector standards, 2012/13

Figure 4.5 Strategies used by entities to monitor compliance with the public sector standards, 2012/13. Click to view a larger version of this image.

Click on the image to enlarge

Source: AAS

Compliance with the standards is especially important in the current economic climate. Between 2011/12 and 2012/13, there has been a substantial increase in the number of applicants per position in public authorities.12 With fewer employment opportunities and more competition for positions, there are more unsuccessful applicants and an increased likelihood of applicants feeling they have been treated unfairly. Less than one-third (28%) of 2013 EPS respondents considered recruitment and promotion decisions in their entity to be unfair (compared to 30% in the previous year), and 24% thought that recruitment and selection processes were biased and that candidates were not selected on the basis of merit (compared to 28% last year).13

The standards allow for some flexibility and the way they are implemented varies across entities. For instance, targeted recruitment of diversity groups is possible, in line with the merit principle, where recruiting persons in that diversity group meets a need in the entity and the persons meet the work-related requirements.

Breach of standard claims

Under the standards, employees need to be made aware of their rights and responsibilities, and employing authorities must notify employees (both current and prospective) when decisions are made in certain areas covered by the Employment and Grievance resolution standards.

If a person feels that a decision made by an entity has not complied with a standard (apart from the Discipline standard), they may be eligible to lodge a claim under the Public Sector Management (Breaches of Public Sector Standards) Regulations 2005. Entities have 15 days to resolve a claim with a claimant before they must refer it to the Commission to be assessed.

In a new AAS item this year, 23% of entities14 reported they had resolved claims internally. Thirty-six per cent of all reported and finalised claims for 2012/13 were resolved within public sector bodies rather than sent to the Commission (as shown in Table 4.1).

Internal resolution is consistent with the devolved accountability structure for workforce management that operates in the WA public sector and is considered both desirable and appropriate. Entities are encouraged to resolve workforce issues at the lowest possible level and ideally reduce the need for matters to be formally referred to the Commission.

Table 4.1 Outcome of breach claims finalised under each public sector standard, 2012/13


Total number of claims

Claims resolved internally

Claims reviewed by the Commission

No breach


Other outcome(b)








Grievance resolution







Performance management




























(a) Employment standard includes breach claims about employee transfers.

(b) Other outcomes represent 'not valid', 'declined', 'withdrawn/lapsed' and 'conciliation'.

Source: AAS (only for claims resolved internally by entities) and breach claims received by the Commission

Considering there were around 400 000 applications for WA government positions, and 138 863 public sector employees involved in processes covered by the standards, there were very few breach claims (181 finalised in 2012/13 across all standards as shown in Table 4.1). Of the breach claims finalised by the Commission, only 4% were substantiated. This indicates general compliance with the standards is very high.

Most respondents to the 2013 EPS (80%) understood the courses of action available to them, or knew where they could find out, if they believed their entity had breached a standard. This compares to 76% of respondents in the previous year.

In addition, 90% of entities that completed the 2013 AAS reported they provide information to applicants or employees when decisions are made under the Employment and Grievance resolution standards, in accordance with the requirements of the Public Sector Management (Breaches of Public Sector Standards) Regulations 2005.

Nine per cent of 2013 EPS respondents reported taking no action upon believing their entity had made a decision in the past 12 months that did not comply with the standards (compared to 15% in the previous year). The main reasons for this were concerns about professional repercussions or thinking nothing would be done.

The Commission's advisory service can advise employees and employers on how to make a claim, how to best manage a claim that has been received, and alternative methods to raise issues.

Man wearing safety helmet and protective clothing setting fire to a pile of timber

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Key chapter findings

Workforce management in the public sector appears to be effective, even during times of change and increased financial constraint. Employees indicate they are generally satisfied with their work, and there is a low level of reported grievances.

Most public sector bodies report developing and promoting policies and procedures for performance management and grievance resolution. The evidence suggests employees have good access to professional development opportunities and resources to assist them if they have issues in the workplace.

However, recorded participation in performance management continues to be relatively poor across the sector. While there are many workplace challenges arising from the current operating environment, it is important that performance monitoring, particularly in instances of substandard performance, is maintained to target strategies to improve workforce management and overall efficiency.

There is a high level of reported compliance with the public sector standards across the sector. In instances where breaches do occur, internal resolution is the preferred approach.

Implementation rates of anti-bullying strategies appear to be high across the sector. However, employees often do not report actual or perceived bullying within their entities. There also appears to be a lack of awareness of, and confidence in, grievance processes. Steps should be taken to encourage employee confidence in reporting and reinforce expectations of appropriate workplace behaviour.

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1 MacLeod, D & Clarke, N 2009, Engaging for success: enhancing performance through employee engagement, p. 9

2 State Services Authority 2013, The state of the public sector in Victoria 2011-12, p. 29; and New South Wales Public Service Commission 2012, People matter employee survey 2012 - Main findings report, p. 34

3 Seven per cent of entities did not have information available on participation rates. The figure reported here also excludes tier 1, 2 and 3 managers within entities' hierarchies.

4 For example, the United States Office of Personnel Management has estimated that poor performers make up 3.7% of the federal workforce (see US Merit Systems Protection Board 1999, Federal supervisors and poor performers, p. 7).

5 One large and one very large entity could not advise the number of grievances lodged, completed or substantiated in 2012/13. The totals may therefore underestimate the number of cases.

6 Twenty-nine per cent reported not knowing whether they have confidence in 2013, compared to 32% in 2012.

7 Commission for Occupational Safety and Health 2007, Code of practice - Occupational safety and health in the Western Australian public sector

8 Commission for Occupational Safety and Health 2010, Code of practice - Violence, aggression and bullying at work

9 Source: Insurance Commission of Western Australia data as at 23 September 2013. Includes claims pertaining to sexual, racial or other verbal harassment. Claims may have originated from some government entities that are not part of the public sector as defined in Appendix D - Structure of the government sector.

10 Office of the Auditor General 2013, Management of injured workers in the public sector

11 State Law Publisher 2001, 'Public Sector Management Act 1994: Standards in human resource management', Western Australian Government Gazette, no. 83, pp. 2189-2190; and State Law Publisher 2011, 'Public service', Western Australian Government Gazette, no. 19, pp. 527-529

12 Source: Recruitment Advertising Management System

13 Excludes respondents who responded 'don't know or does not apply'.

14 One very small and one small entity did not have this information available.

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Page last updated 2 May 2019