A recent survey of employees working for the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) has revealed a department-wide decline in morale.
This shift has been attributed to a damming lack of confidence in both Australian Border Force (ABF) Commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg, and what has been described as Mike Pezzullo’s “problematic culture of command and control.”
The report also cites an ongoing shift away from focusing on assisting people, towards a primarily enforcement-based approach, as well as a lack of communication from senior management.
Concerns have been raised over an “emerging divide” between the DIBP and the ABF, as a direct result of resourcing shortfalls and the ongoing ramifications of the enterprise bargaining process.
This development comes in the wake of a statement from the Community and Public Sector Union declaring a loss of confidence in senior management, which has gathered over 2000 signatures from department employees. The statement signatories also issued a vow to campaign against the Coalition government during the upcoming election.
The scathing internal survey was independently conducted by the Nous Group, and found that there was intense staff dissatisfaction with the current “military-style regime” of both their department, and those at the top.
Analysing a mix of online feedback and face-to-face focus groups with up to 177 members of staff, the Nous Group determined that the DIBP’s “command and control” work culture was leading to serious issues within the department. Staff morale also appears to be at an all-time low, with only three out of every ten workers reporting that they have confidence in Pezzullo and Quaedvlieg to “guide the department to achieve its vision and mission.”
The report noted that this has been a common complaint since the inception of the Abbot government’s new “Americanised” approach to border protection, with department employees receive little to no consultation on changes. This is leading to a series of rapidly growing inefficiencies, “with too many people involved in decisions.”
Questions have also been raised over the increasingly militaristic direction of the DIBP’s “brand image.” While some staffers praised the department’s “positive and professional image,” others have characterised the changes as “narrow,” “exclusionary,” and “paramilitary”.
In response to these findings the DIBP has conceded that there are still “residual integration issues.”
However, the department argued that the survey also recorded a high level of trust in supervisors and team leaders, as well as a strong overall sense of professionalism, commitment and dedication amongst staff.
A spokesperson for the DIBP has issued a statement to the media promising that the department is already in the process addressing these issues.
“The leadership team’s challenge is to make sure that our staff have the right support in place so this potential can be fulfilled,” he said.
“We have developed an action plan to address these issues as matter of priority, including increasing staff engagement with our senior leaders, improving our award and recognition framework, and ensuring performance is managed consistently across the organisation.”
The department’s two-year war of attrition over working conditions and wages has also been singled out as a significant cause of internal anguish amongst staff.
The national secretary for the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU) Nadine Flood, has claimed that pay-disputes and unacceptable working conditions are driving the majority of union members working for the DIBP to campaign against the Coalition.
“We’ve heard from thousands of Immigration and Border Force workers whose anger and disillusionment with the Abbott and Turnbull governments has grown over two years as they’ve fought to hold on to their rights, conditions and take-home pay.”
“These people, some of whom are lifelong Liberal voters, have decided it’s not just time to change how they vote but to actively campaign for a change of government,” she said.
The CEO of Absolute Immigration Services (AIS) Jamie Lingham, also expressed concerns about the survey’s findings, partially attributing the department’s declining quality of service to employee dissatisfaction.
“Staff morale at the DIBP has always been a concern for AIS, as we believe that this has significantly affected the quality of work and processing times for visa applications, specifically those in the 457 processing area.”
“We have observed a substantial divide between dealing with the DIBP and the ABF. Since its inception, we have found many of the ABF’s decisions to be rather heavy-handed, and reports from clients indicate that officers investigating potential compliance breaches have resorted to tactics that would be viewed as bullying in any other workplace situation,” Lingham said.
“This feedback was provided to the ABF at a recent conference in Darwin, and the suggested response was for disgruntled clients to attempt to contact the generic compliance email addresses. We believe that this demonstrates the lack of both ownership and responsibility by the ABF in this area.”
“When a union suggests that they want to use an issue to campaign against a Liberal government, we believe that this makes it into a political football, rather than directly addressing the problem. We feel that both sides of politics have an interest in making this work, and express doubts that the situation will necessarily change in the event of an election victory for Labour,” he said.
Jamie Lingham (MARN 0108123) ~ CEO Absolute Immigration Services
This update is intended for explanatory purposes only. Any questions should be directed to a Registered Migration Agent at Absolute Immigration Services on 03 9827 3721 or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can follow Jamie Lingham on Twitter @JamieLingham