The death-trap that is public service.

Do you remember that kid at school whose mother came in to give the class a 10-minute lecture on how we shouldn’t tease them These kids grew up to join the public service and, statistically, are much wealthier than you. I have to preface this piece by saying that I worked in the public service for three months. On the back of being laid off on a twenty dollar an hour graduate job (with no paid overtime), I easily got a cushy forty dollar per hour ‘full time’ (meaning a maximum of 35 hours per week) job in the public service. I got substantially more pay for doing substantially less work. For the first few weeks I reclined my chair at my cubicle, grinning at the thought of how much better this was than at a job who didn’t appreciate my merits.


After the honeymoon period, I found myself increasingly worn-down by this goldmine. It was like the official moniker something-something-officer, compulsory lanyard and constant flurry of politically correct clap-trap was weighing me down. The obligatory team meetings which involved some higher up public servant droning on about something or another or about the new team motto being the age of inclusivity, often took up a full hour from the strict 7.5 hour days, but it felt as if it were 15 hours because of how little work was actually done.


The reason I became so swiftly disenfranchised with the job, despite the obvious financial benefits was twofold:


1) No matter how hard or how little I worked, I would get the same pay; and

2) I want my children to learn that hard work pays off and little work results poorly.


I could not reconcile these two facts.


Public service is becoming fatter and fatter


The statistics used below are from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, and are taken from raw data. It is interesting that much is published on public service pay, whereas very little is published about average national pay (consider why this might be). Unfortunately there are gaps in the statistics available, however, the following are some interesting facts:


1) The average public service salary is 24% higher than the average salary:


2) Public service mean salary increases 3.54% per year over the past 12 years.

3) National mean salary rose an average of 1.96% per year from 2015-2019.

What we can extrapolate from these statistics is that Public Service employees are receiving generous pay increases, at the same time that the workers who fund their salaries are not even keeping up with inflation. At the time of writing this piece, I am tolerating a flurry of news articles where my state government is giving $3000 payments to health workers, public servants are striking for pay increase, and where public servants have been ‘overworked’ during the pandemic.


To be clear, I am not suggesting that it hasn’t been a strenuous time for health workers over the past two years. What I am stating is that our public servants haven’t suffered more than their private sector counterparts, and in fact based on the above statistics they have suffered less.


Undoing a lazy culture


I recall when I was younger hearing some of my elderly relatives speak about dole bludgers. I asked my parents what this meant, and they explained that it was a low-brow pejorative used to described unemployed people. From this conversation, I carried with me the idea that it was a unfruitful act to ridicule those receiving government payments (whether that is welfare, pension or public service pay).

Unfortunately, I think our culture has shifted too far in the opposite direction from my elderly relatives’ perspective where not nearly enough scrutiny is placed on those who rely on government payments. Having started my graduate career in private businesses (consistently working 50 hours plus weeks) I was well aware that I could work far less, in an unskilled public service job for much more pay. Most of my university peers (in my field) took public service jobs, and I watched as they became much more financially stable than I was.


Notwithstanding my brief dabble into public service, the philosophical reason why I could never be a public servant for a living is a primordial one. I need to teach my children how to take care of themselves, thus I must be able to take care of myself.


Phrases like a cushy public service job, flexi-time, working from home arrangements, 15% government super should arouse derision from those who have to pay for it. For someone to receive 24% above average salary for less work, they need to move mountains to justify this.


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