4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1998
ARCHIVED ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 03/06/1998
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Paid Work: Public sector employment
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 no. 6310.0) and unpublished data, Survey of Weekly Earnings of Employees.
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
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
(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.
1 Public Service and Merit Protection Commission, 1998, APS Statistical Bulletin 1996-1997, AGPS, Canberra.