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The British Columbia government has cloaked its health and hydro privatization in a friendly-sounding term: Alternative Service Delivery. But a new study shows privatizing key support jobs at both BC Hydro and the province’s Medical Services Plan and PharmaCare programs hurts public services and those who deliver them.

The study , published by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, concludes that “contrary to the government’s claim that ‘this is alternative service delivery, not
privatization,’ ASD is a euphemism, and does indeed represent a form of privatization.”

The study looks at workers who were privatized from the public sector to multinational, for-profit corporations. Authors Penny Gurstein and Stuart Murray looked at the impact of privatizing “back office” work at BC Hydro, including customer services, IT services, human resources, financial systems, purchasing, and buildings services; and the privatization of administrative work at the Medical Services Plan (MSP) and PharmaCare.

The Hydro jobs were handed to Bermuda-based multinational Accenture, and the MSP work went to American multinational Maximus.

The consequences are far-reaching. Workers interviewed for From public servants to corporate employees reported a deteriorating quality of work life, including:

  • Not feeling valued as workers
  • Constant monitoring and surveillance
  • A push for quantity over quality
  • A rigid and hierarchical workplace with many roadblocks to job progression
  • A lack of training
  • Constantly-changing technology
  • Lack of consultation
  • Low morale

Workers are under constant stress. For example, Accenture workers worry their jobs could be further privatized to a country with cheaper labour. Both groups of workers belong to unions that fought the privatization – and continue to expose and oppose its impacts.

All the workers felt quality of service to the public had declined since privatization. The study also found that outsourcing left citizens’ personal privacy under threat while at the same time diminishing government transparency.

The authors conclude that the cultural shift from a model of public service delivery to corporate culture is at the root of many of the problems they document. As one Maximus worker told interviewers “[the employer’s] attitude is everything should be for the company. This company is all about giving money to its shareholders, which is just totally foreign to us. Our shareholders are the citizens of the province.’

The workers and their union representatives regard the cultural shift with grave concern, as they witness the core values of public service undermined by outsourcing,” write Gurstein and Murray.

CUPE members are all-too familiar with Accenture’s spotty track record. Accenture was known as Andersen Consulting when the Ontario government privatized an ill-fated overhaul of the province’s social assistance program.

Accenture has had major problems in Colorado, Texas (including this story, eerily similar to Accenture’s failed social assistance “reforms” in Ontario and New Brunswick), and Florida, as well as farther afield in Australia and the United Kingdom. Citizens groups, unions and researchers will continue to keep the pressure on Accenture in British Columbia.

Maximus has also had its share of problems, including privacy concerns stemming from the privatization of key tasks in the provincial plan that insures medically-required services.