Written on 29 November 2019 by Peter Hughes

Public Service Workfroce Data

Today the State Services Commission (SSC) released its annual public service workforce data.

SSC has been publishing workforce information since 2000. This data collection is run annually and collects information about public service department employees, including staff numbers, pay, senior leaders, diversity, and workplace wellbeing.

This data is really important. It tells the story of the people who make up our public service. It helps public service agencies to recruit, develop, and deploy the people they need – and it shows us where we are doing well and where we need to improve. 

Here are the highlights of the 2019 data: 

Generational shift

The average age in the public service is trending downwards. It is now 44.4 years, after peaking at 44.8 years in 2015/16. Public servants under the age of 35 now make up 28% of the workforce, compared with 24% in 2012. Census figures show public servants over time are becoming more qualified, holding a degree or higher qualification.  

More diverse

Diversity in the public service is increasing. New recruits are generally younger and more ethnically diverse than the existing public service workforce. Māori (15.5%) and Pacific (9.2%) representation in the public service workforce is higher than the overall New Zealand labour force (12.6% and 6.3% respectively in the year to June 2019).  Asian representation is now 11.1%, up from 10.1% last year.

More women leaders

The number of women in senior management roles continues to increase, now at 49.6% – up from 48.8% last year and 37.8% in 2009. Of the 34 public service chief executives, at 30 September 2019, 17 (50%) were women. This is up from 44% in 2018 and 30% in 2014. More women chief executives also now occupy larger roles. The average job size for women chief executives has increased by 16% between 2016 and 2019. The job size gap with their male colleagues is now 1%, down from a 27% gap in 2016.

Fairer pay for women

The gender pay gap in the public service as at 30 June 2019 was 10.5%, a substantial decrease from last year's gap of 12.2%. This is the lowest gender pay gap in the Public Service since measurement began in 2000.

Focus on ethnic pay gaps

Ethnic pay gaps have started to move in the right direction. The Māori pay gap has fallen from 11.2% in 2018 to 9.9% in 2019. The Pacific pay gap has fallen from 21.6% to 20.1%.  The Asian pay gap fell slightly, from 12.6% to 12.5%. This slower rate of decline may have been because of the large increase in Asian representation and new recruits tend to have lower pay. 

Investing in the public service

The number of full-time equivalent employees in the public service increased by 2898 (5.8%) to 52,628 in the last year. This reflects strong population growth and a corresponding increase in demand for services. Between the 2013 and 2018 Census counts, New Zealand’s population increased by nearly half a million. The 11% increase was the biggest increase since the 1966 Census.  


The average annual salary in the public service in 2019 was $81,300, up from $77,900 last year. 

Sick leave

Public servants taking sick or domestic leave decreased for the third consecutive year, down to an average 7.8 days, against 8.2 days last year and 8.4 in 2017.

There is plenty to celebrate here, but there is also work to do. 

The public service needs to reflect the communities that it serves. While ethnic diversity in the public service is growing, we need to step up efforts to close the ethnic pay gap and the shortage of Māori, Pacific, and Asian ethnicities in leadership and management roles. 

I am really pleased to see that we are moving towards a public service that values men and women equally. The drop in the gender pay gap is fantastic news – and we also have more women in leadership roles than ever before. It is also incredible that half of our chief executives are now women – when only five years ago this was at 30%.

There are a lot of encouraging trends in this year’s data. Our challenge now is to maintain the momentum we’ve started.

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