Understanding staff selection and promotion procedures
Whether you're applying for a position, being asked to sit on a selection panel or assisting a colleague in a promotion scenario, it's important to understand how merit selection operates in the Northern Territory Public Sector.
In large organisations like the Department of Education, having to apply for and win a position against other candidates is a standard occurrence.
How that selection process is conducted (and often seen to be conducted) matters greatly if there is to be a good working environment where colleagues have confidence in their peers and their superiors.
Some managers and organisations believe the best way to select individuals for a position is that they choose who does what (a “captain’s pick”). That’s not how things are to be done in the NT public sector.
Legal and procedural basis
All departments and employees of the NTPS are governed by the Public Sector Employment and Management Act (PSEMA). The Act specifies how selection and recruitment process must be conducted in its clause on merit selection, which defines the merit principle.
The merit principle states that the employment of a person within the public sector, including on a promotional position, must be based solely on a person’s suitability, as measured by their knowledge, skills, qualifications, experience and potential for future development.
In accordance with subsidiary legislation (Employment Instruction Number 3), “natural justice” must be applied during selection processes.
Luckily you don’t need to get bogged down in any of this legislation because the Department of Education has a well-written and comprehensive document governing selection procedures (known as DoE Guidelines and Procedures: Staff Selection). The AEU NT encourages all sub-branches and members participating in and/or conducting selection panels to read and refer to this guide.
Establishing selection panels
The guidelines set out clearly the composition requirements for selection panels for all levels of positions. Selection panels must formed and the position advertised for every vacancy, permanent or fixed term, that will last more than six months (one school semester).
Each member of a panel has an equal say in coming to a decision, and all must carry out their role in good faith, adhering to principles such as natural justice, obeying confidentiality and disclosing any potential conflicts of interest.
Two key points to note:
a) All panel members must be formally trained in merit selection via courses conducted by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Employment (OCPE);
b) Staff representatives on panels must be nominated and elected by the staff of that school. The AEU encourages all sub-branches to make sure they have members who have been trained and a proper election process is carried out when positions become advertised.
Members who are concerned that a selection panel has not been correctly constituted can contact our office for confidential advice.
Rights of candidates
A candidate for a position has the right to respond to any negative comment that is made about them in written or verbal referee statements or to concerns raised by panel members when the panel is considering the merits of applicants. A panel should always provide this natural justice to applicants.
Candidates should also receive a statement summarising the merits of the successful candidate. This is crucial because it allows unsuccessful candidates to determine whether they may be grounds for appeal.
Appeals & grievances
Unsuccessful candidates have the right to appeal or raise a grievance if they believe the selection process has been run unfairly or has erred. Both these types of complaint are dealt with by a specific team within OCPE. Additionally, the AEU NT office is able to explain and assist unions members with appeals and grievances.
Important to get it right
There is often cynicism among employees as to whether the Department always follows its own rules. In our 2017 AEU NT member survey, only 25 per cent of respondents said in their experience merit selection is applied properly and fairly.
With more members understanding the process, sub-branches making sure panels are established properly and individuals challenging processes that are conducted unfairly, we aim to get to a situation where all staff has confidence in the system, and in their peers and managers.