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New report shatters myths about public sector employees in South Australia

23 Feb 2010

Hanna Schutz

A new report which surveyed more than 3000 South Australian public sector workers shows that public sector employees are working long hours, under considerable amounts of pressure and are struggling to cope with their current workloads.

The findings of this state-wide survey conducted by Dr Mike Rafferty, Hanna Schutz and Serena Yu at The University of Sydney's Workplace Research Centre raise considerable doubts about how the South Australian Government will be able to cutback a further 1600 staff in the next budget without cutting services and intensifying the pressure on the remaining workforce.

Report co-author Hanna Schutz said: "We found that public sector employees are working long hours. Many of these hours are unpaid, with over half of the respondents reporting that they regularly undertake unpaid overtime."

The report also found that of those performing unpaid overtime, twenty five percent are working between 5 and 20 hours unpaid per week. In some cases employees are working in excess of 20 hours extra each week. By way of contrast, the average full-time Australian worker works an average 1.6 hours of paid overtime each week.

"The survey results indicate that this amounts to thousands of hours being donated by current staff to the public sector each week," Hanna Schutz said.

The experience of unpaid work seems to be most prevalent in Education, Transport and Justice Services, and occurs more often amongst employees in front line delivery roles.

The survey, commissioned by the South Australian Public Service Association shows that public sector employees are accruing considerable amounts of time in lieu which they are unable to take due to consistent workload pressures.

"It should be concerning to the government and the public that a third of the SA public sector employees who responded to our survey told us that they are rarely or almost never able to get through their current workload during normal working hours," report co-author Dr Mike Rafferty said.

"Based on this research, it is pretty clear that the stereotype of the slack public servant bears little resemblance to the current public sector employee in South Australia. We found that the typical public sector employee in South Australia is working longer and doing more unpaid work than their private sector colleagues. It's hard not to conclude that any future cut backs are likely to lead directly to a deterioration in services provided to the public," said Dr Rafferty.

Hanna Schutz said, "The high incidence of unpaid overtime and inability to complete their work in normal hours has clear occupational health and safety implications. Forty percent of respondents feel stressed and overworked due to their existing workloads and this will only increase if further cutbacks are implemented."