Public service not safe from recession 0
OTTAWA - Jobs in the public service aren't recession proof, despite popular belief to the contrary, say several experts.
A year ago, Privy Council Clerk Kevin Lynch called for a renewal of the federal public service and a ramped up recruitment effort to fill the gaps left by an aging workforce.
The government's fall fiscal forecast and the recent budget sent a different message as they imposed wage restrictions and department belt tightening, while simultaneously launching $40 billion worth of stimulus projects expected to increase public service workloads.
"Renewal is definitely a core challenge for the public service," says Christian Rouillard, a University of Ottawa-based Canada Research Chair in governance and public management.
Rouillard says the federal government has been sending mixed signals about its true intentions for bolstering the public service.
"In the current economy, it's not difficult for the government to say to the public, 'Cuts to the public service are a necessary method of keeping existing programs,'" he says.
Barry Nabatian, economic analyst with Market Research Corp., predicts federal jobs will increase in the National Capital Region in the coming months due to the demands of implementing the stimulus funds.
However, he says job security for public employees depends on whether the individual is a full-time or contract employee. Those on contract are at greater risk because they lack seniority rights or stability, he says.
The good news is that as a minority government in tough economic times, the Conservatives are unlikely to pursue their ideological desire for a smaller bureaucracy, Nabatian says.
"The Harper government is not in a position to cut and slash," he says.
Linda Duxbury, a professor at Carleton University's Sprott School of Business, says the public perception that government workers are "lucky to have a job" during an economic slowdown might give the federal government second thoughts about its ongoing recruitment efforts.
She pointed to the hiring freeze in the 1990s that followed an economic downturn, which could be repeated during this latest market upheaval.
Recent talks of renewal and hiring increases are just that - all talk and no action, says Gary Corbett, acting president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada.
The public service has experienced downsizing through attrition for several years and those jobs that have been filled are largely contracted out.
Corbett anticipates that the government's preference for hiring on a contract basis will continue until a significant portion of civil service jobs fall to the private sector and wind up costing taxpayers more in the long run.