Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Government job cuts and services

Some public sector workers are going to be taking one day a week off this summer to help the government cut spending.
And the change is the first of what looks to be a big series of cuts in the government workforce.
So far, it's unclear where or how the cuts will be made, how they will affect services - and their impact on the economy.
The government, after a couple of employee surveys and talks with unions, has announced a 10-week pilot program of voluntary workweek reductions. Eligible employees will be able to apply for approval to work a four-day week, with a 20-per-cent pay reduction. Benefits and pension contributions won't be affected.
The plan makes sense. About half the 32,200 government employees are eligible to apply. The decision, the government says, will be based on the ability to keep up with the work. (That aspect worries the B.C. Government Employees Union, which fears work will pile up when employees are off.)
But it's a small step. The savings would be about $2,500 per person who takes the reduced workweek - if 2,000 people sign on, the savings would be about $5 million.
The government plans much deeper cuts.
Information on the plans, or goals, so far has been unavailable.
The budget projects no major job cuts over this year and the next two. The Attorney General's ministry is to lose 168 people by 2011/12; children and families will lose 267; housing and social development 128.
In total, though the government is projecting 31,872 full-time equivalents by 2011/12, compared with 32,214 this year. That's about a one-per-cent cut.
But other indications suggest a much more dramatic reduction.
On budget day, Jessica McDonald, the deputy minister to the premier and top public sector manager, wrote to government employees.
The memo, quickly reprinted in publiceyeonline.com, said "overall staffing costs will go down substantially in the next few years." McDonald pointed first to "increasing attrition and recruitment lag."
That's consistent with the government's analysis over the last few years. It has projected that a large number of government employees will retire or quit over the next 10 years. At the same time, there will be competition for a smaller number of young people entering the workforce. It could be tough, in that environment, to keep jobs filled.
But McDonald went on to write that "direct staff impacts" - a euphemism for layoffs - could occur as "a last resort."
The memo also the need to "adjust to delivering services as a smaller organization."
And then it suggests that even after retirements, other attrition and a hiring chill, layoffs were possible.
McDonald said the government would work hard to lessen the impact and layoffs would definitely not affect more than five per cent of the workforce.
That's still 1,600 people. And those cuts would be on top of reductions as people retired or quit and their positions went unfilled.
There is slack in any organization, of course. And effective operations are always looking for ways to be more efficient or eliminate tasks that provide little benefit.
But after eight years under the Liberals, you might expect that process to be well advanced.
So what will be sacrificed if, as McDonald suggests in another e-mail obtained by publiceyeonline.com, the public sector sheds 10,000 positions in the next 10 years?
Even with clever efficiencies and new ways of doing things, that represents an enormous reduction in the number of people doing the work of protecting children or the environment or healthy care quality.
And what will be the impact of job losses on communities, particularly during the current recession? Government doesn't exist as a giant make-work program. But it seems puzzling to look for ways to create jobs with stimulus measures while cutting services and employment.
Government workers are already twitchy about what lies ahead. Given the extent of the job cuts, the public should be just as concerned.
Footnote: It's impossible to say when the way ahead will be clearer. Some indication could come when Gordon Campbell appoints the new cabinet, likely in mid-June.


wstander said...

I don't know how deep the cuts to services will eventually be, but I do know that the 20% cut to salaries achieved by employees taking a 20% reduction in their work week means there will be a 20%cut in services unless there is demonstrable waste occuring now.

Come on, this is not rocket science.

Anonymous said...

@wstander - Depends on your definition of "services": voluntary workweek reductions are not being offered to front line staff

Boomers are starting to reach retirement age in ever higher numbers - a voluntary departure program will easily take care of any FTE reductions. 'Direct staff impacts' will not be needed unless the BC Liberals decide to outsource more backend and other services.

Anonymous said...

All it means is sell sell. BC is for sale. Big auction. People are lemmings , no fight.

BC Liberals Suck said...

This province is being set up for a major crisis in public services. The government simply cannot be trusted to report the impacts in a simple, honest and accountable way. It's all in how they do things behind the scenes.

In the most problematic Ministries - Children & Families, Public Safety & Solicitor General, the ones taxpayers would want to be fully staffed, they put a hiring freeze in AND they are not replacing workers who leave, for whatever reason - maternity leaves, sick leaves, people who've transferred into other positions.
The front lines were already cut to the bone. In their first mandate, the BC Liberals slashed FTE positions off most teams and they've never bumped them back up again, in spite of demand for the public services.

While it is true that they now have a third mandate to privatize all that they can, what they will also do is cut public services back to a shadow of what they used to be. Combined with the high burnout & attrition rates for front line workers, this is going to leave BC in crisis. Even more kids not being protected, left in abusive situations. Even more criminals not being overseen because the bodies just aren't there.

If the BC government wanted to make a real difference, they could have rolled back the ridiculous raises MLA's and the Premier voted themselves, cut a number of the useless and workless senior bureaucrats and mid-managers who are on the gravy train. There is so much dead wood in this government you could start a forest fire. But all of this, would take real, enlightened leadership that has a clue what it's doing, but that's not what we have. It's the other type we're inflicted with - the inexperienced, the incompetent and those lacking in any kind of commitment to providing services that are truly in the public interest.