Australian Bureau of Statistics

Rate the ABS website
ABS Home > Statistics > By Release Date
4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1998  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 03/06/1998   
   Page tools: Print Print Page Print all pages in this productPrint All RSS Feed RSS Bookmark and Share Search this Product  
Contents >> Work >> Paid Work: Public sector employment

Paid Work: Public sector employment

In August 1997, 22% of all employees in Australia worked in the public sector. This was a decline from 30% in August 1987.


Sector of employment

Public sector refers to enterprises which the Commonwealth Government, State/Territory and local governments, separately or jointly have control over. It includes local government authorities and all government departments, agencies and authorities created by, or reporting to, the Commonwealth Parliament and State parliaments. It also includes public trading enterprises such as Australia Post and Telstra. Partially privatised organisations (such as Telstra - currently 1/3 privatised) are classified as being in the public sector if the government retains control over the enterprise.

Private sector refers to enterprises that are not controlled by Commonwealth, State/Territory or local governments (i.e. any enterprise that is not part of the public sector).

The Australian Public Service (APS) is responsible to the Commonwealth Government, for a wide range of functions including defence, social security, immigration, and foreign affairs and trade. It provides advice and support to the Commonwealth Government and administers, and implements government decisions and programs.

State and Territory Governments perform the full range of government functions other than those the Constitution deems the domain of the Commonwealth. Functions mainly include public order, health, education, administration, transport and maintenance of infrastructure.

Local governments govern cities, towns, shires, municipalities and district councils. Their powers and responsibilities are generally similar and cover matters such as: the implementation and administration of local area zoning ordinances, the operation of local transport, sanitation and water services, and the provision of cultural and recreational facilities.


The Australian public sector comprises all enterprises controlled by the Commonwealth Government, State/Territory and local governments. The main functions of these governments, with varying degrees of responsibility, are to provide a range of public facilities and social services, regulate social and economic conditions and redistribute incomes. Public sector enterprises include government departments and authorities as well as bodies which have been corporatised (i.e. they operate on a commercial basis) such as Australia Post, Telstra (concerned with telecommunications) and some State rail and electricity authorities. Historically, such public trading enterprises were set up to create new industries, to foster competition to allow governments to influence pricing policy, or meet other economic or social objectives.

In August 1997, 1.5 million employees worked in the public sector, a decrease of 206,000 people (12%) since 1987. In the same period the number of private sector employees increased by 1.3 million people (32%). As a result of these changes, the proportion of all workers employed in the public sector declined from 30% to 22%. This decline was not spread evenly between levels of government or across different industry sectors.

The decline in the public sector was a result of many factors, including the introduction of policies which sought more efficient management and work practices; rationalisation and outsourcing of services; and technological advances. In addition, changes to government policies on public ownership resulted in the private sector competing with, or taking over, various public sector functions. This occurred, for example, with the Commonwealth Employment Service which served to assist people in finding jobs. It also occurred at State and local government levels with services such as prisons, rail, gas, electricity and waste management. Changes in public ownership have also occurred by selling public trading enterprises to the private sector. Large organisations that have been fully privatised over the last decade include the Commonwealth Bank and Qantas.

PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SECTOR EMPLOYEES, AUGUST 1987 TO AUGUST 1997
Source: Weekly Earnings of Employees, Australia (cat. no. 6310.0) and unpublished data, Survey of Weekly Earnings of Employees.

Measuring employment

Data presented in this review concerning public sector employment has been obtained from two ABS surveys: the Survey of Weekly Earnings of Employees, conducted annually as a supplement to the monthly Labour Force Survey; and the quarterly Survey of Employment and Earnings. Information from the Survey of Weekly Earnings of Employees was collected from persons, and relates to their employment in their main job. Information from the quarterly Survey of Employment and Earnings, on the other hand, was collected from employers and collects information on all jobs. As a consequence of this, and other differences, the figures presented are not strictly comparable.


Level of government
In August 1997, 19% of public sector employees worked for the Commonwealth Government, 72% for State or Territory Governments, and 10% for local governments.

There were 283,000 people employed in Commonwealth organisations around Australia. Administrative information1 for June 1997, shows that 133,600 people were employed in the Australian Public Service. This represented approximately 47% of all Commonwealth employees. The Australian Capital Territory had the highest number of Commonwealth employees as a proportion of all employees (36%). However of all Commonwealth Government employees, 82% worked outside the Australian Capital Territory.

State or Territory Governments employed the largest number of public sector employees (1.1 million). The Northern Territory had the highest number of State government employees as a proportion of all employees (22%) and Tasmania had the second highest (19%). The lowest proportions were in the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria (both 13%).

Local governments employed the fewest number of public sector employees (142,000). The Northern Territory had the highest number as a proportion of all employees (4.8%). The lowest proportion was in South Australia (1.6%).

Between August 1987 and August 1997, the greatest decline in numbers of public sector employees occurred at the Commonwealth Government level, which experienced a decline of 154,000 employees (35%) (administrative data for the Australian Public Service1 - from June to June in the respective years - indicate that employment in the service declined by 23,000). At the State and local level, the number of public sector employees declined by 7% and 9% respectively. This can be partly explained by government policies allowing private sector companies to compete with, or take over, established public sector functions.

PUBLIC SECTOR EMPLOYMENT BY LEVEL OF GOVERNMENT, AUGUST 1987 AND AUGUST 1997
Source: Wage and Salary Earners, Australia (cat. no. 6248.0).

PUBLIC SECTOR EMPLOYMENT, AUGUST 1987 AND AUGUST 1997

Commonwealth
State/Territory
Local
Total




1997
1997
1997
1987
1997
State/Territory
'000
%
'000
%
'000
%
%
%

NSW
77.8
3.3
356.8
14.9
43.7
1.8
27.5
20.0
Vic.
64.6
3.7
230.9
13.2
31.9
1.8
27.1
18.7
Qld
37.3
3.1
211.7
17.8
37.5
3.2
30.1
24.1
SA
20.6
4.2
90.3
18.3
8.1
1.6
30.5
24.1
WA
21.0
3.1
110.4
16.4
13.1
1.9
28.8
21.4
Tas.
6.6
4.0
32.1
19.4
4.1
2.5
33.7
25.9
NT
3.6
4.9
16.1
21.9
3.5
4.8
37.4
31.6
ACT
51.1
36.5
17.7
12.6
-
-
56.1
49.2
Australia
282.6
4.1
1,066.0
15.5
142.0
2.1
29.0
21.7

Source: Wage and Salary Earners, Australia (cat. no. 6248.0).


Industry
In 1997, 73% of all public sector employees in Australia worked in three industries; education (29%), government administration and defence (23%), and health and community services (21%). Between 1987 and 1997, these three, and the personal and other services industries experienced growth.

Against the backdrop of declining public sector employment between 1987 and 1997, there was an increase of 119,000 employees in these industries. The growth in the education area is associated with increases in the number of secondary school students continuing to Years 11 and 12 and the number of students undertaking tertiary studies (see Australian Social Trends 1998, Education - National summary tables). All of the other industries in the public sector experienced a decline in total employment.

The three industries losing the largest numbers of employees were transport and storage (78,900); electricity, gas and water (75,300); and finance and insurance (68,900). During the same period, the greatest proportional increases in the private sector were in the communication services (285%); cultural and recreational services (100%); education (84%); and electricity, gas and water supply (66%) industries.

PUBLIC AND PRIVATE SECTOR EMPLOYEES BY INDUSTRY, AUGUST 1987 AND AUGUST 1997

Public sector
Private sector


1997
Change 1987-97
1997
Change 1987-97
Industry
'000
%
'000
%
'000
%
'000
%

Education
437.2
29.3
71.9
19.7
177.7
3.3
81.0
83.8
Government administration & defence
345.6
23.2
27.3
8.6
. .
. .
. .
. .
Health & community services
311.4
20.9
9.3
3.1
467.5
8.7
163.3
53.7
Communication services
106.9
7.2
-26.6
-19.9
23.5
0.4
17.4
285.2
Personal & other services
86.5
5.8
10.2
13.4
170.7
3.2
48.4
39.6
Transport & storage
66.3
4.4
-78.9
-54.3
225.5
4.2
75.4
50.2
Electricity, gas & water supply
50.7
3.4
-75.3
-59.8
9.8
0.2
3.9
66.1
Property & business services
26.7
1.8
-26.8
-50.1
719.5
13.4
274.3
61.6
Finance & insurance
9.2
0.6
-68.9
-88.2
252.3
4.7
18.7
8.0
Cultural & recreation services
24.0
1.6
-5.0
-17.2
162.5
3.0
81.1
99.6
Construction
11.3
0.8
-33.0
-74.5
319.1
5.9
73.8
30.1
Goods producing industries(a)
12.0
0.8
-51.9
-81.2
1,020.9
19.0
-90.8
-8.2
Wholesale and retail trade(b)
2.7
0.2
-4.7
-63.5
1,836.3
34.1
362.6
24.6
Total
1,490.6
100.0
-252.2
-14.5
5,385.3
100.0
1,109.0
25.9

(a) Includes agriculture, forestry, fishing, mining and manufacturing industries.
(b) Includes accommodation, cafes and restaurants.

Source: Wage and Salary Earners, Australia (cat. no. 6248.0).


Characteristics of employees
Differences in the characteristics of public sector and private sector employees largely reflect their concentration in different occupations and industry groups. Differing characteristics include the proportion of female employees in each sector and the highest post-school qualification attained.

In 1997 female employees made up a greater proportion of the public sector work force than the private sector work force. Just over half (52%) of public sector employees were female, compared to 43% of private sector employees. In 1987, females made up 42% of public sector employees and 41% of private sector employees. While this trend may reflect higher levels of recruitment of women into the public sector in association with the dominance of teaching and medical services in the public sector, it also partly reflects the relative decline in the number of male employees due to the loss of many traditionally male occupations.

Public sector employees are more likely to have a post-school qualification, particularly a degree or diploma, than private sector employees. In 1996, 57% of all public sector employees had a post-school qualification compared to 39% of all private sector employees. Public sector employees were more than twice as likely to have a bachelor degree or higher and were also more likely to have attained a diploma. On the other hand, the most common post-school qualification attained by private sector employees were vocational qualifications (19%). The most common field of study by public sector employees was in education (20%), of which 69% were bachelor degrees or higher. This was followed by health (16%). The large proportion of public sector employees with an education or health qualification reflects the large number of teachers and nurses employed in public schools and hospitals respectively.

HIGHEST POST-SCHOOL QUALIFICATION OF EMPLOYEES BY SECTOR, 1996
Source: Unpublished data, 1996 Census of Population and Housing.


Endnotes

1 Public Service and Merit Protection Commission, 1998, APS Statistical Bulletin 1996-1997, AGPS, Canberra.



Previous PageNext Page

Bookmark and Share. Opens in a new window


Commonwealth of Australia 2014

Unless otherwise noted, content on this website is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australia Licence together with any terms, conditions and exclusions as set out in the website Copyright notice. For permission to do anything beyond the scope of this licence and copyright terms contact us.