- Tim Covell is a writer, editor, and student of film censorship in Canada. He’s a Haligonian by choice, and lives online at covell.ca.
The decision not to privatize Nova Scotia government departments, such as the Registry of Motor Vehicles, was greeted with relief by unionized government employees. For the temporary employees in these departments, there is little to celebrate. A new hiring process this year has made their jobs even less secure and lower paying.
The provincial government, like the federal and city governments, and private industry, is increasingly relying on temporary and contract employees to lower costs. The Toronto Star has reported that one third of all jobs in Ontario are temporary, and there is no reason to believe the situation is different in Nova Scotia. Temporary and seasonal staff work alongside permanent staff, doing the same work, but with less pay, no job security and no benefits. If they miss a day due to illness, they don’t get paid. A statutory holiday is usually a day without pay. If the office closes early due to a snowstorm, their pay is cut.
Years ago, the wages for temporary employees were reasonable, but governments eager to declare savings and efficiencies forced the wages down, often close to minimum wage. People remain eager to fill the jobs, because starting as a temp is usually the only way to secure a government job. If you can survive on the low wages for a few months, or a year, or five years, it might lead to a permanent full time union job. Meanwhile, temporary workers serving the public receive abuse for supposedly having cushy well paid jobs.
In January of this year, the provincial government brought in a new process for hiring temporary employees. Previously, managers would work directly with employment agencies when they needed temporary employees. One agency would usually supply staff for a department, and would have a good understanding of the department's requirements and working conditions. Now a company called Flextrack supplies the temporary employees, after shopping multiple employment agencies to find the lowest cost labour for each position.
The Flextrack website promises clients save an average of 15 percent on temporary labour costs, however the only way to reduce labour costs is to pay people less. The new process of Flextrack finding the cheapest labour for each posting means the employment agencies have to pay their staff as little as possible, in order to place people. There is limited room for agencies to reduce their fees, as a portion of their fee now goes to Flextrack. In addition, the new process means less chance for experienced employees to obtain repeat assignments, and the possibility of temporary employees in one department being from multiple agencies, both complications that reduce efficiency. Modest savings in labour costs may be lost as efficiency decreases.
Governments at all levels could immediately create thousands of good paying, secure jobs, simply by hiring their long term temporary workers, and paying good wages to seasonal workers. Instead, in the name of fiscal efficiency, they continue to squeeze their lowest paid workers, ensuring large numbers of people are working poor, and contributing to a downward economic spiral that hurts everyone.