You get what you pay for, as the saying goes. So what is one to think about recent statements by federal Transport Minister David Collenette in response to requests from airport security guards and their union for more training to better protect the public?
“I’m alarmed…the union is saying their people want training. That means they doubt the skill set of their own people,” Collenette said. “When we identify people who can’t do the job, they’re pulled from the position at the airport.”
Yes, minister, we feel safer now.
Imagine the audacity of the union to admit guards averaging $9 per hour with 40 hours of training are concerned they require further training to tighten security in light of Sept. 11. Collenette appears oblivious to the message he is sending: “If you want to keep your job, shut up and do it poorly because if you ask for help you’re out of here.”
The minister is of course following well-worn government thinking. Cut costs, pile on the work, ignore morale and safety concerns and let the chips fall where they may.
Take Ottawa’s HR practices in regards to foreign service staff, who include immigration officers that screen people applying to come to Canada. Last April, before the events of Sept. 11 brought immigration concerns to the forefront, the federal Auditor General’s report stated that determining if someone is a criminal or security risk requires a high level of expertise, but visa officers posted abroad lack the tools and training to do the job and have heavy workloads that are an obstacle to making sound decisions. And then there’s the pay. A recent survey of foreign service officers, by William M. Mercer, found they are among the lowest paid federal bureaucrats, with starting salaries at $38,000, lower than many government clerks and secretaries. While compensation is their biggest complaint, lack of opportunities for promotion, the inability of spouses to find work during postings and workload (of course) are on the list.
Businesses that have this attitude about training and compensation usually find themselves falling behind the superior HR policies of competitors, or on the wrong end of lawsuits for injuries, poor service and faulty products. In government, such suits are paid for by the taxpayer.
Governments can’t, of course, go out of business, politicians can just be tossed out. But, their replacements are usually just as short-sighted. Get elected, make some big, rushed changes and if you’re still around in five or 10 years when the chickens come home to roost, shuffle the cabinet and cut some cheques if you have to.
But sometimes avoiding the fallout isn’t so easy. In Ontario, the inquiry into the deaths of seven people in Walkerton’s tainted-water tragedy will soon report its findings, and the extent to which the government’s decision to slash the environment ministry’s budget and off-load responsibility for water testing to municipalities and the private sector will be presented.
Perhaps, it’s time governments adopted a new catch phrase: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.