[IPAC-List] Civil Service - you gotta love/hate it

Mark Hammer Mark.Hammer at psc-cfp.gc.ca
Fri Jun 15 12:14:45 EDT 2012

The Canadian Federal Public Service is currently going through a
downsizing exercise, aimed at staff reductions in the 8-10% vicinity
(across the organization). Initially, politicians had their fingers
crossed that anticipated retirements and attrition would do the job, but
once people took a serious look at that, and at the deficit they hoped
to reduce within a rather short time frame (in time for the next federal
election), it became apparent that attrition was not going to be the
magic wand.

So, agencies were asked to identify areas were cuts could be made, and
a merit-based staff reduction is presently underway in many places.

As I understand it, it works like this:

A group of employees forming a work unit or directorate are designated
as "affected employees". A reduction goal is identified and
communicated. So, there may presently be 23 people reporting to the
manager, and the manager is aiming to have 16 when done. At that point,
those with enough pensionable service may elect to volunteer for layoff,
and receive some sort of buyout intended to defray part of the hit they
take on their pension. Those remaining are assessed on merit criteria
by the manager. The merit criteria should be communicated clearly to
staff, and the manager MAY elect to use some sort of formal testing as
part of it, but it is not required or monitored. Seniority is NOT part
of it, which is a bit of a fly in the ointment, since younger keener
employees may well have better performance reviews (should the manager
incorporate that into the decision).

Layoff decisions ARE grievable to the Public Service Staffing Tribunal,
but they're only around 50 people for the entire government, so I don't
know how they're going to handle the anticipated workload. There is a
mechanism available to internal candidates, since early 2006 referred to
as "informal discussion", wherein a candidate eliminated from
consideration can ask the hiring manager (or the HR advisor) for a
debriefing and explanation of why they didn't make the cut. This can
(happily) salvage things like someone being screened out because their
university chose to call the degree "government studies" rather than
"political science" or "public administration". The person can bring it
to the attention of HR or the manager and get screened back in before
things have gone too far along. If it is farther along, it can be used
to do things like allow the manager to inform the candidate that they
seriously pooched a test.

Apparently, while the manager MAY use this mechanism to address the
concerns of those laid off, they are not required to. And given that
this involves explaining to someone why you didn't think they were good
enough to hang onto, rather than explaining to someone who already has a
job why they are not about to get a better one, I can't see many
managers using it, or doing a decent job if they do use it. bad news is
something few of us relish breaking, and still fewer have any skill at

Once laid off, the employee shifts from "affected" to "opting". They
now have a 90 or 120-day window to decide what they're going to do.
They may elect to take what is deemed a "reasonable job offer" elsewhere
in the government, that may conceivably be at a lower level than their
present job. They may also engage in "job alternation" with someone who
has elected to retire or leave, and whose position has not been declared
surplus. If the opting employee meets all the qualifications, and the
manager is amenable to it, they now assume the duties of the departing
employee. Another option is that they take a training allowance, and
head out the door. Finally, there is the option which has always
existed: that they get placed in a central inventory of surplus
employees, which is checked for suitable matches, every time a position
comes up. Hiring managers have to give first consideration to anyone
from that inventory that gets referred, but they don't HAVE to hire
them. Either way, it's a time-limited enI'm in the process of helping to draft our federal staffing survey for
the coming year. The intent is to monitor "regular" staffing, but I
think we'd lose all face validity if we pretended like none of this
other stuff is going on. Besides, given the survey is a sort of "cold
call", folks WILL want to tell us about it, and look for places in the
survey to do so, so we're going to have to phrase the survey content
carefully. While all of what I described above does not affect
everyone, it does affect a significant chunk of folks who will be
essentially competing for their own jobs, and not really loving that. I
expect to be reading some very emotional comments at the end of those
surveys when the data comes back.

I won't pretend that I captured all of the policy nuances here, but I
think I've given the gist. There are some "merit-based decisions" that
are harder to make because you're not bringing in somebody new, but
rather breaking up the gang. Glad I'm not in the position of either
making those decisions, or being subject to them.

Have a great weekend

Mark Hammer


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