AGS has acted for a large number of Commonwealth agencies in employment and workplace relations disputes, such as unfair dismissal actions, general protections claims and workplace bargaining disputes. Our lawyers have had critical input into all of the major workplace relations reform initiatives over the last 2 decades.

We continue to be a leader in advising on machinery-of-government changes. Across 2012–13 we advised on the employment arrangements for a range of newly established APS agencies, such as the National Health Funding Body, and advised the Wheat Export Authority on the process and entitlements for its staff as that agency was being wound-up.

Within the employment law field, probably the single largest issue that our OGC lawyers advised on in 2012–13 was work health and safety. Due to the unique structure and governance arrangements of the Commonwealth, model laws are not always easy to apply to Commonwealth agencies. We assisted clients to navigate some very complex issues in order to sensibly and practically apply the model laws to their activities.

In addition to advice and representation in specific matters, during the year AGS continued to actively help agencies to stay informed of the latest developments in employment law, and develop their skills and knowledge in this critical area of government operations.

Employment Law Forum

Our annual Employment Law Forum was held in Canberra in October 2012 with more than 130 participants. Highlights of the forum included a substantial segment on the meaning of 'reasonable administrative action' under the Safety, Rehabilitation and Compensation Act (a similar term is soon to be included in the Fair Work Act); a presentation given by Andrew Dillon (Senior General Counsel) on preparing persuasive 'reasonable administrative action' submissions; a session by Richard Harding (Special Counsel Dispute Resolution) on the High Court's decision in Barclay; and presentations by senior officials from the Federal Court of Australia.

Free seminars and publications

During the year we assisted clients by providing information about and analysis of 2 significant reform initiatives that will affect their approach to employment law.

Amendments to the Public Service Act 1999 came into effect on 1 July 2013 and made a number of fairly significant changes to employment arrangements in the APS. In February 2013 we published an Express law (electronic bulletin) for clients informing them about the amendments. Topics covered included the new Values and Employment Principles, amendments to the Code of Conduct, the Public Service Commissioner's expanded functions and new powers of review, and the roles and responsibilities of Secretaries and the Senior Executive Service under the amended Act.

In June 2013 we published an Express law covering new anti-bullying measures and other amendments to the Fair Work Act 2009. The publication gives a summary of the background and purpose of the Fair Work Amendment Bill 2013, including an explanation of the anti-bullying measures, family-friendly measures, and amendments to the right of entry provisions.

Free seminars were held in Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Adelaide to tell our clients about the Public Service Act and Fair Work Act amendments, and what they would mean in practice for agencies. Our presenters included Fiona Dempsey (Senior Lawyer), Leah Edwards (Senior General Counsel), Richard Harding, Damien O'Donovan (Senior General Counsel), Rodger Prince (Senior Executive Lawyer), Craig Rawson (Senior Executive Lawyer), Sarah Wright (Senior Executive Lawyer) and Bianca Wellington (Counsel). These seminars were very popular, with more than 200 agency staff attending in total.

Client training

Our client training calendar includes a range of employment-related training. Our presenters are AGS lawyers who are experts in the subjects they teach. During a year when continued priority was being given to work health and safety (WHS), AGS delivered a number of presentations for clients on the Work Health and Safety Act 2011. We presented separate modules on general awareness, duties of officers, work health and safety for human resources managers, WHS for procurement, and WHS for grants.

Virginia Masters (Senior Executive Lawyer) developed and delivered a new presentation titled Tough Conversations about poor performance to clients in Canberra, Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Darwin. The presentation recognises that many managers despair at the prospect of starting another performance cycle with the sense that performance issues identified at the end of the last cycle could still linger at year's end. The 90-minute presentation explores how to structure performance-related conversations to get to a decisive point. It also examines the reasons why employees fail to perform to expectations, and provides guidance on critical conversations that lead to improved performance or underperformance management action, and lists a range of ways to motivate supervisors to do their part in the performance framework.

This is an extract from the 2012–13 AGS annual report