Tax Office cuts leave a group of has-bins

Times are tough at the Australian Taxation Office with bosses telling staff they can no longer afford the luxury of having a ''personal bin'' under their desks.

In a sign of the austere conditions for federal government agencies under the Abbott government, an internal email titled ''under desk bins'' was circulated to ATO staff earlier this month. ''From 30 June 2014, all under desk bins will be removed from your workstation,'' employees were told, in the edict obtained by The Sun-Herald. ''Bins will also be removed from meeting rooms and executive offices … In the absence of your personal bin, you will need to use the bins in the kitchen to dispose of your rubbish.''

ATO staff were also told: ''Rather than placing your banana peel in your under desk bin out of convenience, you will now need to walk to the kitchen and place it into the organic waste bin.'' To help the adult employees of the tax office interpret the email, cartoon graphics were printed beside the text. They depict a man putting rubbish in a bin, with a large cross, similar to a no-smoking sign, printed over the top. Below the man is an image of the Sesame Street character Oscar the Grouch standing in a garbage bin.

The ATO managers let it be known they had undertaken detailed productivity modelling on the new bin policy. ''The efficiency gain [of removing desk bins] is 1.5 hours of night cleaning per floor,'' the email states. ''This will allow our cleaners to focus on other areas including dusting and vacuuming.''

The rubbish bin crackdown comes at a time of significant belt-tightening at the ATO and in the bureaucracy generally. Over the next three years, federal departments will be subject to the 2.5 per cent ''efficiency dividend'' applied across the public service in order to achieve deep cuts.

By October, the ATO will have 3000 fewer full-time equivalent staff than in July last year. They will have 4700 fewer by 2018. Currently, the tax office has about 20,000 employees.

ATO management is working on efficiency reforms such as introducing voice recognition technology that could replace 100 staff, and introducing a new ''tick-and-flick'' system for taxpayers that will reduce the need for up to 1.4 million Australians to lodge returns.

Overall, the public service is going to lose 7336 full-time positions in the coming year. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and Employment Minister Eric Abetz have said the redundancies will continue and that they expect 16,500 jobs will be shed in the next four years.

These are the biggest cuts to the federal bureaucracy since the Howard government was elected in 1996. In John Howard's first term, almost 30,000 staff lost their jobs. About 170,000 people are employed as federal public servants, roughly as many as in the early 1990s.

The story Tax Office cuts leave a group of has-bins first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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