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Bigger proportion of federal public service goes temp, according to PCO report

By Derek Abma      

The Privy Council clerk’s annual report to the prime minister also shows that there are more workers older than 55, and fewer between 25 and 34.

Privy Council clerk Michael Wernick says in his latest report on the public service to the prime minister that progress is being made on recruitment efforts, but 'we still face a skills gap as the experienced baby boomers leave.' The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright
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The Privy Council clerk’s annual report to the prime minister on the public service shows growth of about one per cent in the core public service between 2015 and 2016, but fewer people employed on a permanent basis.

It said there were 258,979 public servants at the end of the 2015-16 fiscal year in March last year, up by about 2,000 from 257,034 a year earlier. Yet, the number of indeterminately placed public servants was 218,544, or 84.4 per cent of the total, down from 219,688, or 85.5 per cent, a year before.

Those on term jobs numbered 25,472, or 9.8 per cent of the total, compared to 23,203, or nine per cent, a year before. Casual employees had risen to 9,251, or 3.6 per cent, from 8,663, or 3.4 per cent. Student employment was at 5,712, or 2.2 per cent of everyone, compared to 5,500, or 2.1 per cent, a year before.

The report said: “Ensuring that we recruit, develop and support the right people is now our most pressing challenge,” given the scores of baby boomers retiring.

But union leaders say the government is going to have to offer more stable employment if it wants to attract a critical mass of younger workers who can fill the gaps over the long term.

“If you have young workers coming out of university, they have a huge debt load, obviously, so they’re going to look for some stability in their life,” said Robyn Benson, national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), the biggest union of federal employees. “The government, if they’re only going to offer you a six-month term, would you do that or would you go somewhere that’s offering you an indeterminate or a permanent position? I would suggest the latter.”

From the left, PSAC’s Larry Rousseau and Robyn Benson, and PIPSC’s Debi Daviau. Union leaders are discouraged by the rising proportion of temp jobs in the public service. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), said such numbers are “discouraging,” but she understands how it happens. She said major hiring needs are being created by people retiring at such a high rate. However, she said those in charge of hiring are forced to get people on a temporary basis because it can be done quickly as opposed to the six months to a year that hiring someone on a permanent basis can take because of the bureaucracy involved.

“They need somebody now; they don’t need somebody a year from now,” Ms. Daviau said. “So I think they’re turning to alternative solutions because of the barriers in staffing. … Some of our members who are managers have explained that when they have a need, they almost have no choice but to turn to non-indeterminate [positions] because the indeterminate staffing is such a heavy process.”

Ms. Daviau added that the most qualified applicants for government jobs have often moved on to other jobs by the time the government gets around to calling them.

A letter from Privy Council Clerk Michael Wernick to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.), which topped off the report, said: “You will see evidence on the following pages that we are also making headway in recruiting new public servants.”

The report pointed out that that there were 7,698 new permanent hires in 2015-16, more that half of whom were younger than 35. That did not quite make up for the 9,554 people who retired or quit from the public service, but was a slightly better ratio than in 2014-15 when 9,737 people left and 6,093 people were hired on permanently. It was also the highest level of hiring for permanent positions in many years—two-and-a-half times more than the 2,865 that the former Conservative government hired in 2012-13.

“Although the gap between people leaving through attrition and hiring continues to shrink, we still face a skills gap as the experienced baby boomers leave,” the report said.

The average age of the public service was 45 as of March 2016, unchanged from a year earlier.

The proportion of the public service who were 65 or older at the end in March last year was 2.1 per cent, up from two per cent a year before. The proportion between the ages of 55 and 64 rose to 18.1 per cent from 17.6 per cent.

The cohort aged 45 to 54 made up 31.2 per cent of the public service, down from 32 per cent a year earlier. Twenty-eight per cent were found to be between the ages of 35 and 44, up from 27.8 per cent the year before.

In the younger categories, 16.9 per cent of the public service was between 25 and 34, down from 17.3 per cent a year earlier, and 3.6 per cent were younger than 25, up from 3.3 per cent the year before.

Ms. Benson said 25 to 34 “would be the age group that you should be trying to entice for coming to work for you” in terms of getting people who are well educated and who will establish a long tenures with the public service and replace retiring boomers.

The Liberal government had been in power for five months at the time this data was measured. In its first budget, the Liberals committed to making annual reductions of $221-million in the category of “professional services, travel and government advertising,” and it was reiterated in this year’s budget. That number would include money for some temporary staffing, though it’s unclear how much.

There would not have been enough time for Liberal budget measures to affect public service numbers taken in March 2016, the month this government’s first budget came down. But Ms. Daviau said she has not seen much evidence of less contracting out for manpower in the time since.

“In fact, in some areas, because the deficit-reduction [measures of the previous Conservative government] cut too deep and because staffing takes too long, they’ve been forced to increase the amount of contractors just to meet the ongoing operational needs,” she said.

Ms. Benson said: “I think that the Liberals are starting to move, but there’s a lot more work to be done.”

The clerk’s report said the public service’s ratios for different employment-equity groups all exceeded their workplace availability, which represents those in the overall workforce in corresponding occupations. For example, visible minorities made up 16.2 per cent of the public service compared to a 14.2 per cent availability People with disabilities were 5.6 per cent of the public service compared to a national availability of 4.5 per cent. Aboriginals were 4.7 per cent of the public service compared to 3.3 per cent workplace availability. And women were 55.1 per cent of the public service compared to 52.3 per cent availability.

All these proportions were up between 2015 and 2016, except for people with disabilities, which was down slightly from 5.7 per cent.

However, Mr. Wernick said in the report that he is “concerned that there are still gaps for particular specialized classifications and that representation is not distributed evenly across all levels.”

For example, visible minorities accounted for 9.4 per cent of executive jobs in the public service compared to 9.5 per cent availability. For aboriginals, they made up 3.7 per cent of executive jobs despite national availability of 5.2 per cent. And women took 47.3 per cent of public service executive jobs compared to an availability of 47.8 per cent. People with disabilities, however, made up 5.1 per cent of executive jobs, well ahead of their availability of 2.3 per cent.


The Hill Times 

Federal public service by the numbers (up or down from 2015 to 2016)

Total core public service: 258,979 (up)

Permanent: 218,544 (down)

Term: 25,472 (up)

Casual: 9,251 (up)

Students: 5,712 (up)


24 and younger: 9,390 (up)

25-34: 43,810 (down)

35-44: 72,519 (up)

45-54: 80,904 (down)

55-64: 46,793 (up)

65 and older: 5,563 (up)

Source: Privy Council clerk’s 2017 annual report to the prime minister on the public service

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