THERE are 117 recruitments in process at the Department of Primary Industry and Regional Development (DPIRD) according to WA Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan.
The vacancies exist after 356 employees either resigned or took voluntary redundancy since DPIRD was formed in July 2017, while some new positions have also been created.
Some of the positions held before the staff left included multiple executive, manager, director, principal or senior leadership roles within the Department of Agriculture and Food, as well as compliance and veterinary officers, researchers and scientists, which has worried some in the industry that a lot of experience was being lost to the department.
The minister was questioned about the vacancies by Liberal Agriculture spokesman Jim Chown last month after a 2018-19 annual report hearing revealed "DPIRD was short 200 employment positions".
Ms MacTiernan responded that "current DPIRD vacancies are as a result of normal employee turnover; seasonal biosecurity positions; new positions created as part of the department's restructure, including in the regions and in R legacy vacancies not filled pending the department's restructure; and finite positions supporting information and computer technology and infrastructure projects".
"The department has 117 recruitments in progress," Ms MacTiernan said.
"As these recruitments are completed, the department will process remaining vacancies in priority order."
Ms MacTiernan said she expected to have all current vacancies in the new structure filled in the first half of 2020.
The minister was unable to clarify how many jobs were solely related to agriculture within DPIRD since the restructure, because various roles overlapped with Fisheries or Regional Development areas.
Ms MacTiernan said "under the previous government, jobs in the then Department of Agriculture and Food were cut by almost 40 per cent and a further 37pc cut had been factored into the department's budget over the forward estimates".
"We have managed to stop the rot," she said.
"The budget we inherited would have taken DPIRD from around 1640 full-time employees to 1300.
"We have provided an additional $131.5 million of expenditure to provide a stable base for around 1580 full time equivalents (FTE)."
In October, in answer to questions by The Nationals WA's Agriculture spokesman Colin de Grussa, Ms MacTiernan said a list of positions tabled had not been replaced.
"Voluntary severances can be offered only to registrable employees; that is, employees who are surplus to the requirements in their agency or whose job has been abolished and therefore no longer exists," Ms MacTiernan said.
"However, DPIRD has undergone a comprehensive re-organisation to integrate the functions and services of the three former agencies and to ensure it is fit for purpose.
"A range of new positions have been created in this process.
"The department does not have any plans for further voluntary redundancies at this time.
"For those employees who become registerable, the department's primary focus remains on finding meaningful work and, ultimately, a new suitable placement for them, either within the department or the broader WA public sector."
Ms MacTiernan also said "34 offers of voluntary redundancy severance have been accepted since April 18, 2019" with a total of 38 in the 12 months to October.
"The value of voluntary severances accepted is $5,889,701.55 (the total dollar value of any redundancies offered)," she said.
Mr de Grussa said "almost 90 per cent of (the 38) redundancies were made following a media statement that claimed the minister would be rebuilding capacity".
Mr Chown said there was "obviously something inherently wrong in DPIRD" to have that many vacancies two years on from the restructure.
"Staff dissatisfaction is evident by the sheer number of employees leaving the department," Mr Chown said.
"High turnover and high vacancy rates have always been the canaries in the cage that indicate lack of leadership in regard to operational matters.
"This lack of leadership and dysfunction within the department must have adverse repercussions on the agriculture and fishery industries."
Mr Chown said in the past 12 months it had been revealed, both through Parliamentary Questions and Annual Report hearings that there were "currently 200 vacancies in the department".
"By August 2019, just 13 months into the creation of the DPIRD, 181 employees had resigned and another 175 accepted voluntary redundancies," Mr Chown said.
"The figures paint an irrefutable picture of a department in chaos."
In parliament earlier this year Mr de Grussa said the changes had created uncertainty and was putting a tremendous amount of pressure on employees.
He asked "for the support of other members in the chamber to immediately call on the Premier and the Minister for Regional Development to take action and address the mental health concerns and job losses in DPIRD".
"In 2017, we clearly identified a number of warning signs of significant health and wellbeing problems in a broad number of government departments, including DPIRD," Mr de Grussa said.
"The Community and Public Sector Union/Civil Service Association (CPSU/CSA) survey subsequently came out (May 2019) and clearly identified very significant issues.
"Why were the early warning signs not heeded?
"The managers of this change must be held responsible for checking in with the people who have been impacted by the changes.
"They must understand that their health and wellbeing are incredibly important to ensure that the organisation's productivity continues to be strong and that it delivers the government's commitments, policies and legislation and performs the essential functions for the industries the department represents."
The CPSU/CSA survey revealed that 69pc of respondents felt that "organisational change is having a negative impact on their mental health".
A whopping 71pc had "no confidence in job security" and 80pc did "not believe that DPIRD executive understand the role and business of all DPIRD business areas".
The result was that "49pc would not recommend DPIRD as an employer" which wasn't surprising given that out of 10, staff rated their morale at 2.2.
"One survey respondent commented that DPIRD has become a dysfunctional and unhappy workplace and that it is only through the goodwill of the people that the organisation continues to function, but this comes at a cost to morale and the health of individuals," Mr de Grussa said.