Tuesday, 29 March 2011

political activism in the public service

a recent case involving a public servant who is subject to a complaint for comments made on facebook has me thinking about the level of restrictions on our public service.

i don't believe choosing to work in the public sector should lead to a person having to give up the right to political views or political activism. there may be a very few sensitive jobs where it would be entirely inappropriate, but for the vast majority of public servants, i can't see why it should be a problem. the problem would be if they were using work time or work resources to carry out their activism or make their statements

on the whole, i'm particularly concerned that public servants are not able to advocate on issues about which they have knowledge and experience. that is made much harder in an evironment where public service jobs are being cut, and being a vocal activist can make you an easy target for redundancy. [it's another issue that we were promised no cuts, only a cap on the public service; and that the public service is now effectively paying for the bailout of failed finance companies, gifts to warner bros and unaffordable tax cuts].

i've already blogged before about CYFs workers who were prevented from going to a protest during their lunch hour regarding cuts to the pay equity unit. it's funny how those very vocal free speech advocates don't seem to be quite so vocal when it comes to this kind of silencing.


Oliver said...

I've been a public servant since 2004 and was far more scared of speaking out against the last govt than the current one. The last one lied about one lady in the house and sackrd another because of her boyfriend.

Anon said...

I've been working in the public service since 1983. The PSA has also become more politicised over the years.

When I started back in '83 at no one cared if you voted National or Labour. That had changed by 2002, there was a big change in culture from 2000 onwards.

By about 2003ish it certainally didnt pay to suggest you were anything other than a loyall labour supporter, or slightly further left. Within the area in which I worked, we discovered someone thought of themselves as a "policical commisar" who reported anything untoward to a political party and then on to a chief of staff at the beehive. A young woman I worked with started dating a young man, everything was fine till it was discovered he had family whose political sympathies lay with the National Party. She was almost isolated socially at work.

Thankfully we still have the secrecy of the ballot box, although some zelots would like to change that, and I'm not joking.

Since the change of government things have become less toxic.

katy said...

"i don't believe choosing to work in the public sector should lead to a person having to give up the right to political views or political activism."

I don't think this is the case, as I understand the Code of Conduct. The problem more seems to be that because the wording is kind of vague people and managers in particular seem to just be very risk averse when it comes to defining what the "political neutrality" of the sector means (which I support). I agree that in some parts of the public service we are seeing the culture of fear that is created in change environments.