Sunday, November 28, 2010

Public Sector Disclosure Act - the narrow view of compensation in Nova Scotia

The introduction of the Public Sector Disclosure Act is nothing to get excited about. What it does is focus on a very small window on government pay scales, and hides the practice of Precarious Work pay practices in government. It is a narrow and disingenuous move to offer people a chance to see and digest pay scales in a small sector of the Public Service here in Nova Scotia, and ignores the skewed pay practices in hiring of contract workers. This practice puts many people at risk because the work is not secure, is poorly paid, and does not meet requirements to support a family.

It is more important to introduce reporting on government hiring practices for contract employees as this is the grey area that costs us more in terms of actual dollars, and in terms of social cost. The two areas that are significant are the different contract classes - the consulting classification - which would include resources that are considered 'professional' and are usually hired to work on large and fairly defined projects; and the temp classification, usually resources that may or may not have a degree or certification, are hired to work more generally throughout the workplace cycle, and includes clerical, though often it is more complex work than simply filing or answering the phones, and is a predominantly female resource pool.

What the Public Sector Disclosure Act should include:

1. Current numbers for contract employees - and that should include temp agencies, and consulting fees.
2. The guidelines that determine pay scale for consulting and temporary services, and how the pay scale is determined acceptable at the government level? The guidelines that state what the worker will realize as take home pay ( are there standards on the percentages the brokers can take?) The guidelines that expand on the expectation that worker have benefits?
3. An examination on whether existing hiring practices contribute to the precarious workplace problems in this province? A determination on whether this is a contribution to the loss of workers in the province?
4. An examination into the cost to the taxpayers to use temp and consulting firms for their services? In dollars and in social capital?

Taxpayers would be interested in getting a sense of the bigger picture, and not just of getting a peek into a small pay band. And taxpayers would be concerned if they found out that the hiring and renumeration practices here in the province, has been complicit in the generation and maintenance of a whole class of precarious workers.

It would better serve taxpayers to examine details on the government practice of using outside hiring firms, and determine if there is a practice of underpaying for services at the clerical end of the hiring spectrum. There is a general awareness about the costs of hiring expensive consultants, but I must say that I disagree with Minister Graham Steele when he says "I think most people would agree that public interest is focused on the upper end of the salary scale" on interview in the Chronicle Herald

I think that people would, and should, be be very upset if they were to learn that the Provincial Government engages in a hiring practice that contributes to the development of a vulnerable worker class in our province. So, yes, taxpayers should be able to keep an eye on pay scales at the high end in Public Service, but they should also be able to keep an eye on the low end, and to examine hiring practices regarding consulting and temp agency fees in order to get a real picture of hiring and pay practices in government.

How did we get here? This is a practice that was introduced in the late 80's as a way of cutting costs within government and private sector, and was supposed to be a temporary measure. The idea was that by using temporary agencies, or consulting firms, you could hire resources in for a period of time, get some work done, and avoid a permanent hire which was expensive in terms of not only pay but in benefits. The promise was that the pay would be higher to the temporary workers/consultants, so that they could take care of their own benefits, have a little extra pay in lieu of a guaranteed job.

What happened is that  two classes of temporary workers evolved, the highly paid consultants, and the low paid temp workers. The real story on government compensation is broader than who gets 100K a year as a paycheque, it is a story that includes pay practices that are not acceptable, and the public would be best served by having access to information that would generate discussion on the ethics of using tax dollars to perpetuate a negative hiring culture that should only exist in television shows like Mad Men.

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