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July 24, 2012
The Watcher

The Watcher

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The tap on the shoulder is happening in all departments. Most organisations have used the past month or so to plan their restructures. That means they have a list of services that need to be cut. They will have a list of positions who are no longer going to be part of the “renewal journey”. But sackings are about real people – not positions, services or faceless bureaucrats. They are people with partners, children, responsibilities, bills and dreams. Many of those have been crushed. Not because they were bad at their job but because someone decided to undertake debt reduction through sackings.

Nobody wants to take a deployee into their work unit. In some areas the deployee list is referred to as the exit lounge or God’s waiting room – a form of slow professional death.

Here are two personal stories of staff that come from opposite ends of the “renewal” process:

35-year-old mother of two, “Wendy” had worked in the public service for nine years:

“We’d been told the week before that the cuts were coming but when the manager asked me if I had a few minutes to spare and to come into her office, my legs went to jelly and I could feel my chest tighten. At that moment I knew for sure she was going to tell me I had to go, and she did. It wasn’t about the quality of my work or my work ethic, I was told, it was all about delivering a set number of sackings for the government. I remember feeling sorry for her having to do the dirty work, and being determined not to cry. (But) I left the office feeling more humiliated in front of my work colleagues than I did walking into the office. I left the building to catch my breath and then it hit me that I was out. OMG what about the bills, the mortgage, my husband’s temporary job…

“There is still a choice to be deployed elsewhere, and there is a lot being made of that, but the brutal truth is being a “deployee” would be the most humiliating of all. Nobody wants to take a deployee into their work unit. In some areas the deployee list is referred to as the exit lounge or God’s waiting room – a form of slow professional death.

“I am hurt and sad but I can live with that and move on. The Director General sent a message that there is a free employee assistance scheme. This is their answer to thousands of public servants being dumped – go get counselling. In the meantime, this doesn’t get finalised until the end of August so now I get to sit in a work unit where I am not considered necessary with all the embarrassment and humiliation that goes with that.”

Long-term public servant Anne, 54, is very happy to be taking a redundancy package:

“I put my hand up for one and they agreed. I have had 25 years in the public service. I had planned to stay around for another five years but the last few months have taught me that enough is enough. I’ve been around long enough to have seen most things in the public service but the level of brutality and thuggery that I have witnessed all in the name of saving Queensland is absolutely horrifying. My heart goes out to all those losing their jobs who are not in a position to say ‘enough’ and walk out. I also feel for those left “intact” (for now) as they will have to wait for the next round of executions, and the next and the next and the next. I am disgusted and I don’t want to be part of it all anymore.

“The last straw was when some of those who were responsible for creating personal empires and pet projects – what we are now told we can’t afford – began getting promoted. Winners are grinners I guess and the rest of us pay the price. Yes I am very happy to be going; not because I hate working but because I hate what I am seeing and feeling. I am also very sad as this is not how I saw my “retirement”- 25 years ago.”

Numbers games
The Government has been deliberately evasive about how many are going, although the actual number is dribbling out a little at a time. The Together Union calculated the job losses at 10,000. That’s based on the number of public service jobs before Newman was elected compared with now. It will not end here. The Treasurer has written to every minister with a list of savings to be achieved over the years 2012–13 through to 2015-16. Critical to these savings is a three per cent reduction in non-frontline staff each year. So what if staff are facing are waves of sackings for the next three years? So much for builing an apolitical frank and fearless public sector and increasing permanency.

According to reports, staff at Transport and Main Roads are expected to learn their fate this week with their Director General and one-time Queensland Liberal party president Michael Caltabiano believed to be a strong supporter of a large (40 per cent) reduction in what is now euphemistically known as “back of house staff”. The Department of Community Safety is looking to chop about 230–240 staff over two years. There are rumours of major cuts at QBuild. The level of fear within departments is escalating as the body count increases.

The nepotism fiasco
Political messaging is largely about symbolism – and there could not have been a worse contradiction than sacking people because the state can’t afford them and the appointment of 25-year-old Ben Gommers – son of Arts Minister Ros Bates and former Toy R Us salesperson as the Departmental Liaison Officer for Transport and Main Roads. This is an apolitical public service position, and that’s a pretty important qualification. If ever there is a job in the public service that demands apolitical frank and fearless advice, it is this one. Being a DLO is also a position which requires extensive knowledge of the department; the policy areas; the ministerial system and, oh yes, the public service. We are assured Mr Gommers was appointed to a $100k position on merit. Well here’s a bit of frank and fearless advice for both Minister Bates and Minister Emerson. Firstly, if you’re going to appoint a member of your family, or a colleague’s family, there’s a couple of basic things you might want to look at. Don’t appoint them outside the Ministerial office – despite what the “that’s the way the world works Premier” may say, public service positions are subject to a closer scrutiny and can buy you a whole world of political grief. So while it’s nice to be proud of your children (many parents are – including those who lost their jobs last week), if you want to run the merit claim make sure you can (a) name who was on the selection panel, (b) be prepared to release the selection and assessment report; release at least the number of applicants – assuming there was more than one – and release the advertisement. Oh, and stop hiding behind privacy laws. Privacy laws have never inhibited a minister from releasing information if it suited their purpose. Invoking privacy laws is usually also used only when it suits the minister.

Some are travelling better than others
Politicians are not the only ones who seem to be disconnected from the renewal process. It seems that some of our senior bureaucrats are having a little bit of trouble with this thing called empathy. The recently appointed Director General of Tourism, Major Events, Small Business and the Commonwealth Games (and previous Associate Director General of Education), Richard Eden, is probably leading the way. His newsletters are prime examples of what not to do when you are trying to impose change. At a time when people are wondering who has jobs; what the future holds for the department, what the timelines are, what the structure will be, he spends his newsletters waxing lyrical about his eight-day trip to China with Minister Stuckey; his attendance at a Telstra Awards dinner and his attendance at a tourism function in Cairns. Frank and fearless advice for the Director General: there’s a big chance your staff are being offended rather than informed by your communications.

Meanwhile, the Director-General of the Department of the Premier and Cabinet, Jon Grayson, is reported to have told a group of directors general that he’s concerned the public service renewal process would not be seen in a positive light – can’t imagine why that might be.

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