Canada’s top bureaucrat gets pushback over suggested changes to Public Service Employment Act
Expanding government’s power to fire public servants would backfire, says Colleen Bauman
iPolitics reports on some of the responses to Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick’s suggestion to a Senate committee that the government should amend the Public Service Employment Act to make it easier to fire public servants for poor performance.
The Association of Professional Executives of the Public Service was quick to respond, pointing out that the power to dismiss employees for poor performance already exists and that, to the extent that may not be happening, it is due to a failure of managers to document performance issues. It also noted that the fear of arbitrary dismissal would likely make public servants less likely to offer frank and forthcoming advice to the government officials they serve.
Colleen Bauman, a labour lawyer at Goldblatt Partners agrees.
She said government should be looking at ways to “empower employees” so they speak up and tell the truth, not put their jobs at a greater risk. Such a move would feed the ‘obedient’ culture of not speaking truth to power that [Auditor General] Ferguson flagged.
“Making it easier to terminate people in the public service will worsen the very problem they are concerned about,” she said.
“This is what the auditor general was saying. Senior public servants who should have spoken up when the political directive didn’t make sense. You give them less job protection and you will make people more fearful and afraid to criticize directives that come down from the government.“
Bauman said it’s a “huge myth” that it is nearly impossible to fire a public servant. She said the existing law makes” it easier to fire a public servant than in other unionized workplaces — as long as managers follow the process.
“There’s truly a myth out there how difficult it is to fire a public servant, but if managers don’t follow the process they don’t have the grounds.”
That means documenting employees’ performance. Appraising their work; giving them feedback and if they fall short then offering them coaching, training and time to correct or improve.