Robyn Benson, PSAC

The Harper government as schoolmaster


Restrictive Codes of Conduct are now springing up all over the federal public sector. I wrote about the Library and Archives Canada one back in March—a remarkably intrusive document that regulates both on- and off-duty conduct of its workers.

Now it’s Stats Canada’s turn.

This paragraph gives the flavour:

Employees are expected to wear appropriate clothing and shoes for a business workplace and should be neat, clean and well-groomed…. Employees may be asked to return home to change or wash if their attire or hygiene is considered unsuitable for the workplace. This includes wearing items that are revealing or soiled, or that bear inappropriate messages.

What’s next? Having to put up your hand to go to the washroom?

Look, I have no problem with a values and ethics code that clearly sets out what is to be expected of all federal public sector workers, and is reinforced by an effective system for dealing with whistle-blowing complaints. In practice, however, we don’t have any such thing.

Instead, these workers are being treated like unruly children. Elaborate conduct rules being churned out by departments and agencies seek to regulate just about every aspect of their employees’ waking lives. They go far beyond what is reasonable, demanding a robot-like loyalty to the government, and stifling the right to free speech. They are so broad and overreaching, in fact, that they have created a chilling effect—a culture of fear.

These codes of conduct are obviously open to wide interpretation as well, which is problematic in itself. What constitutes “inappropriate” messages, for example? “Unsuitable” clothing? Doug Marshall, the President of the Union of National Employees component, rightly calls those rules a “sword against employees”—one that could be too easily wielded by a bullying manager.

In a truly “values-driven” workplace, to use that already overused jargon, public workers would be treated like responsible adults. Their professionalism would be assumed. But not here, not now. Just what is this government so afraid of?

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on May 10, 2013 8:33 AM.

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