Election year guidance
Election year means greater scrutiny than ever on public sector workers. The new SSC guidelines will help avoid pitfalls. People who work in the public sector have the same political rights and freedoms as anyone else.
But a bit of care and judgement is needed to balance your rights whilst maintaining political neutrality. Political neutrality is an important part of our system of government. It means that if you work in the public sector, you don't allow personal political views to get in the way of how you do your job.
The PSA has worked with the State Services Commission on new guidelines to help you walk this tightrope in an election year. We think they are clearer and more helpful than before. They are speciﬁcally for people working in the public service, defence, crown entities, education and health sectors (but not CR|s and SOEs). However, we think everyone in the public sector will ﬁnd them useful. Here are some of the main points.
You can receive and share PSA election information at work
The guidelines say: ’’In an election period, it is appropriate for unions to share with their members the approach they are taking to party policies, and for their members to share this material with others.” You can discuss PSA election newsletters at work, hand out leaﬂets, and put up posters on the union noticeboard. We can't (and wouldn't) send you political party advertising.
What to avoid
Don't display the leaﬂets or posters in the public area. Don't interrupt your work to discuss the election issues. Do it in your breaks.
You can actively support a political party
The guidelines say: ”Membership of a political party is acceptable for most employees in the State services, as is helping with fundraising, assisting with leaﬂet drops, and taking part in other forms of support.”
What to avoid
Don't print off party political leaﬂets at work or stick up party political posters. Don't use the work email system to receive or send out party political information. Don't disclose information from your work to make a point at political meetings. If you work closely with ministers, you should avoid political activity.
You can stand for election to parliament
The guidelines say: ”State servants are entitled to stand for election to Parliament.” The Electoral Act sets down requirements around leave of absence for public servants, including a minimum of three-and-a-half weeks’ leave of absence. Those who don't work in the public service need to discuss leave with their employer. Once elected, you will be deemed to have resigned from your position. If you are not successful, you can return to work immediately after the election.
What to avoid
Don't forget to tell your employer. You need to discuss how it will affect your work and whether to take leave. Don't treat your workplace or work colleagues as campaign resources.
You can express your political views through social media
The guidelines say: ”State servants are entitled to participate, in a private capacity, in political activity via social media. The same rules apply as when participating in political activity in other ways.” A What to avoid Don't say anything that may harm the reputation of your employer. Don't disclose government information that is not already publicly available.
The guidelines and video are on the State Services Commission website here.
Chris Eichbaum, senior lecturer at Victoria University, explores the tensions between political neutrality and citizenship rights. Read now.
A PSA Journal article considers the impact of political advisers on political neutrality. Read now.