Rorts recipe = Insecure work + budget cuts

Another day, another rort.  One day school sub-contractors are the victims, another day hospital patients are ripped off.  Both days taxpayers lose. Find the recipe here. 

Scratch below the surface of the recent health and school scandals in the WA public sector and you find that job insecurity and budget cuts are common factors. 

Who wasn’t being paid for helping construct new school building in WA?  Sub-contractors.  They are owed $45 million.  The WA Government had made a poor appointment for main contractors whom in turn appointed sub-contractors.  And those sub-contractors weren’t properly paid. 

In fact 119,300 Western Australians are now in contract employment and according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics this has increased by 18.7% in just two years.

How does that help make rorts?

Insecure work makes greater the distance between those paying for services and those delivering them.  You’re not a valued employee you’re a contract or a ‘sub’ contractor.  The quality of what is provided is necessarily affected. 

The case of the health service rort is also instructive.  Revealed in Parliament was that several doctors in the health service were shareholders in a recruitment company.  A recruitment company that employed doctors, on contracts, for that same health service.  Sound like a (profitable) conflict of interest? 

There’s money to be made from people being employed on contracts.  The risks and costs associated with insecure work (workers compensation insurance, sick and holiday leave, superannuation, taxation) are passed onto the worker/contractor, while greater certainty is enjoyed by the recruiters or main contract holders.  Minimise risk, maximise profit. 

Unions have made fighting for more secure work a major campaign.

These arrangements are also more complex.  So that makes it harder for them to be monitored, accountable and transparent.  Ultimately we’re talking about public money here.

According to the Public Sector Commission the number of permanent public sector jobs in WA is falling and those on short term contracts rising.

Increasingly those who are meant to monitor the expenditure of public money are themselves in insecure work.   

The next time you hear about an ‘efficiency dividend’ cut-back cloaked with the spin that frontline services will not be affected, think about public servants who work before a spread sheet reviewing seemingly unimportant paperwork.  They are ensuring public accountability and transparency, they help prevent rip-offs.  It’s a job that gets harder with cut-backs, more complex with privatisation and out-sourcing and it’s also work that is itself more likely to be insecure.

That’s a recipe that’s worth not repeating.