LOW morale and stress issues affecting the mental health of Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) staff will be addressed at a meeting this month between director general Ralph Addis and union officials
Mr Addis will meet with officials from the Community and Public Sector Union and Civil Service Association (CPSU/CSA), which represents DPIRD's 1640 employees, to discuss how issues identified in a survey sent to staff, including those at regional offices, in May are to be addressed in a reorganisation of the department.
Agriculture and Food and Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan and Fisheries Minister Dave Kelly - Fisheries is a part of DPIRD - also recently met with the CPSU/CSA to reassure its members they consider staff welfare and mental health top priority.
They blamed the previous government for the "mess" agriculture had been left in and claimed its plans to slash employee numbers and budget allocations had "destabilised" DPIRD and left staff uncertain of their future.
DPIRD is working on a second-generation organisational development plan, known internally as ODP2, which, Ms MacTiernan said, was now expected to be finalised before the end of the year.
Staff have been consulted for their views on the reorganisation.
However, the CPSU/CSA survey of its DPIRD members found that 41 per cent of respondents believed their feedback on ODP2 was "rarely" taken on board, 32pc believed it was "never" taken on board and 26pc believed it was "sometimes" taken on board.
Only 3.6pc said they were "very clear" about their ongoing role within DPIRD, 53pc said they were "not at all clear" and 43pc said their future with DPIRD was "somewhat clear".
The survey indicated 46pc of DPIRD staff do not feel they could speak up or report issues without fear of consequences and 39pc were unsure whether they could.
Only 12pc believed they could speak out.
In response to another question, 69pc of respondents felt that the organisational change was damaging their mental health, 16pc were unsure and 15pc felt it had no impact on their mental health.
According to the survey results, 80pc of respondents are concerned about the welfare of colleagues and 71pc said they had "no confidence" in job security at DPIRD, 20pc were unsure about job security and only 8pc had no concerns.
Staff morale was rated at 2.2 out of 10 and workload rated at 5.6 out of 10.
Only 12pc of respondents said they would recommend DPIRD as an employer, 49pc would not recommend DPIRD as an employer and 39pc were unsure.
Critically, the CPSU/CSA claimed 80pc of survey respondents said they did not believe DPIRD's executive "understand the role and business of all DPIRD business areas".
The executive consists of Mr Addis, deputy director general sustainability and biosecurity Heather Brayford, deputy director general industry and economic development Niegel Grazia, managing director research development and innovation Mark Sweetingham and managing director capability and performance Melissa Murphy.
Ms MacTiernan on Monday said the government had been working to "fix the mess left by the former Liberal-National government in agriculture".
"The former government slashed jobs, capability and capacity in the then-Department of Agriculture and Food, with an almost 40pc jobs cut over eight years and left a further 37pc cut to the department's budget over the forward estimates," Ms MacTiernan said.
"Critical programs were only funded on a short-term, ad hoc basis.
"That destabilised the department, left staff unsure about their future and diminished the department's ability to service and support industry.
"Our government's 2019-20 budget has dealt with the fiscal cliff hanging over the department - we have provided extra expenditure of $131.5 million for the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development.
"This ends the funding uncertainty, helps to put DPIRD back on a sustainable footing and allows us to rebuild capability and capacity lost under the previous government.
"We are seeing a real revitalisation and renewed enthusiasm now that staff can see R&D is firmly back on the State agenda.
"At the same time, the department has been working through a major restructure, bringing together the departments of Agriculture and Food, Regional Development and Fisheries (DPIRD was created on July 1, 2017, by amalgamation of three previously separate departments and staff from nine regional development commissions).
"The restructure will have long-term benefits for industry and regional communities, but we do acknowledge that this change process is complex, has taken time and has had an impact on staff," Ms MacTiernan said.
"Now that we have funding certainty for DPIRD, the department is focused on finalising the organisation design process and providing clarity for staff.
"The results of the union survey reflect concerns about the impact of uncertainty and change on employee mental health.
"The department has been engaging regularly with union delegates via joint consultative committee meetings, attended by the director general personally and has responded to employee and union suggestions to improve the organisation design process - including expediting finalising the restructure process.
"Mr Kelly and I recently met with union delegates to better understand their concerns and ensure the department is addressing them appropriately.
"The department is committed to supporting employee wellbeing and is participating in regular meetings with union delegates to resolve these issues."
CPSU/CSA assistant secretary Melanie Bray said DPIRD staff were surveyed after "some issues were highlighted around change and uncertainty".
"The results of the survey were very concerning and the union immediately organised a meeting with Mr Kelly (a former union secretary) to discuss the issues," Ms Bray said.
"Mr Kelly acknowledged the department had been through a lot of change and took the concerns on board.
"Since the meeting we have seen some change that indicate the concerns we raised have been heard, we look forward to an upcoming meeting with the department to continue to make progress on these matters.
"Although significant Machinery of Government (reorganisation of the public sector) changes can be very challenging, the safety and wellbeing of the people directly impacted is paramount and we will continue to advocate strongly for our members as they continue to work through these processes."
DPIRP has about 1640 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees and Ms MacTienan had previously said that number would "stabilise" at 1580 FTEs.
She said there may also be scope in future budgets to employ extra staff on specific projects.
Before it was amalgamated, staff numbers in the Department of Agriculture and Food dropped below 900 in a period when it had three ministers in charge of it in three years.
Liberal Party Agriculture and Food spokesman Jim Chown said he found the CPSU survey figures alarming.
"They show a dysfunctional culture in DPIRD under Minister MacTiernan and (Premier) McGowan and I believe the survey highlights the McGowan Labor government's Machinery of Government changes, which were personally overseen by the Premier, have been an abject failure," Mr Chown said.
"I have no doubt at all that these sorts of results carried out by the union would be replicated in other departments that have had Machinery of Government changes.
"We now have agriculture and regional development lumped in together and I can't see any economic gain from a spend perspective.
"Anecdotally I hear that departmental people have multiple tasks put to them with no help or resourcing to achieve those given tasks and when they do get an outcome and it is presented, then find that wasn't the objective.
"That is dysfunction."
Mr Chown said the survey was concerning, not just for regional Western Australia, but all of WA.
"The public service is being neglected by the government and the cost of the Machinery of Government changes - no one will put a figure on them - but I believe we know now those costs are morally expensive and certainly financially expensive without any good outcomes for regional WA," he said.
"The Labor government needs to come clean and show what the survey results are like in other departments and, if there is a difference and the surveys are not consistent through the Machinery of Government changes to all departments then the Agriculture and Food Minister needs to address matters promptly so her department can serve regional WA with confidence.
"However, if the CPSU results are similar for all other departments then the Premier has a case to answer and needs to ensure that State departments are working with confidence on behalf of the community of WA."