Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Adventures of an A.S.O.C. in the A.P.S.

     Someday soon - say, next year or the year after - a position will become available at work which I hope to get, because I'm sure I'll never need to do it. Of course, there are other people who could say the same, but one thing is certain: if it goes to anybody so inexperienced that he or she will actually have to perform it, then a lot of appeals are going to be lodged.
    You see, I work for the A.P.S., the Australian Public Service, where I'm an A.S.O.C. 4 who's really an A.S.O.C. 2.  Or else I'm an A.S.O.C. 2 who's really an A.S.O.C.4. It depends on what is real in the Public Service. That is the question. No, seriously, our career structure is really quite simple, but a lot of outsiders find it difficult to understand, so please pay attention.
     Once upon a time, there were two types of public servant: Clerks, like me, who had class, and Clerical Assistants, who had grades. Then it was decided to amalgamate them, to help those who couldn't make the grade - or were outclassed. Henceforth, we would be A.S.O.s : Administrative Services Officers, and our classes and grades would become levels. But then, without any announcement, the powers that be began calling our levels classes. So we all became A.S.O.C.s - ay-socks - instead of A.S.O.L.s - arseholes. Nobody ever explained the reason, and there is a school of thought which believes that the original term was more appropriate - especially for the higher levels (or classes).
     Now, there are two types of job in the public service: the jobs you own and the jobs you do. The jobs you own are listed in the Australian Government Gazette, and once you have been "gazetted", it is very difficult for you to fall below that level (or class). Otherwise, you will be doing "higher duties". To give you an example, I've been in the public service for 12 years and 5 months, and I've been on higher duties, off and one, for - oh - 12 years. But things are changing. My section is close to a low in the number of people on higher duties: no more than 41% next week.
     So you see, when the planets are in the right conjunction, and a position comes up for gazettal, there's a free-for-all. The odds are that it will go to somebody who's been doing it for donkey's years or, more likely, to somebody who hasn't been doing it for donkey's years, but has been doing something even higher - also for donkey's years. But everybody else has to have a go for it as well, so that they will be "rated suitable", and allowed to perform it on higher duties. This occasionally leads to some minor anomalies, such as the time I had to obtain a referee's report from a candidate for the same job.
    So much for the jobs you own. The jobs you do come in two categories: the jobs somebody else owns, and the temporary jobs. The temporary jobs come in two types: the temporary temporary jobs and the permanent temporary jobs. We once had an entire team which was temporary for 7 years. In fact, at one stage in my section we had 46 people working on real jobs - many of which were owned by people outside the section, some of whom were never expected to return - and 10 people in permanent temporary jobs. There were also 6 real jobs which were unoccupied, because everybody was doing higher duties, and at least two permanent temporary jobs which were unoccupied except on a temporary basis.
     Normally, when you are put on higher duties, it is "until the return of the nominal occupant", which often means the same as "till the cows come home". One fellow is doing the job of a nominal occupant who retired, resigned, or was made redundant - I forget which - a couple of years ago.
    Me, I'm not so secure. For 4½ years I have been filling one of four identical A.S.O.C.4 positions. There used to be five, then there were three, and now there are four, but they are all the same. And because I've been at the same desk all that time, I naively assumed I was secure. But it turned out that the nominal occupant had come back for a couple of weeks and, when she left, while I wasn't looking, they gave it to a roving A.S.O.C.4 whose own position had been abolished. After that, although I was still at the same desk, I was officially doing the job of whomever was on higher duties or holidays at the time, until I managed to win one of those positions again.
     Only now, the nominal occupant has returned. So I don't know whose job I'm doing any more. It's either the job of the fellow who's doing the job of the man who retired, resigned, or was made redundant, or else it's the job of a woman who's upstairs doing a permanent temporary job which is about to be gazetted, while the person who's supposed to be doing her job is on higher higher duties doing the job of the man who's doing a temporary temporary job, which looks like going on for a long time. I wish I knew.
     Just think, only 17½ more years before I retire! But at least you can see why I intend to apply for every position going. This is one A.S.O.C. who is going for B.R.O.K.E.
     Don't laugh. This is serious. My career is on the line.
     The above is the text of a speech I gave at a Toastmasters' humorous speech contest in 1991, and it accurately portrayed the career structure in the Compensation section of the  Brisbane branch of the Department of Veterans' Affairs at the time. I swear there was not a word of exaggeration. On the contrary, only time restrictions on the speech prevented the addition of even more anomalies, as suggested by many of my work-mates.
     It would be too complicated to explain how that state of affairs eventuated, but you may wonder how long it lasted. Well, in the mid-1990s, a total reorganization was performed, and this time the union insisted on every officer being gazetted to the position he or she occupied. Thus, although I continued to climb the promotion ladder, for most of the last 13 years I was working at my official level. However, it did not take long for the junior levels to be swept back into the old round of higher duties and periodic gazettals. If any of my old workmates are reading this, I wish them luck.

More about the author