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Nova Scotia New Dems SAP the Province

Public Service IT jobs looking to be outsourced to corporate baddy, private information of Nova Scotians at risk

by Miles Howe

NSGEU and their allies take to the streets [Photo: DeeDee Slye]
NSGEU and their allies take to the streets [Photo: DeeDee Slye]

K'jipuktuk (Halifax) – Talk about alienating your fan base.

Members of Nova Scotia's Government and General Employees Union (NSGEU) yesterday staged a rally outside of the Nova Scotia House of Legislative Assembly, over the proposed privatization of Systems Applications and Products (SAP) services at the provincial government level. The irony of a New Democratic Party actively seeking to outsource public service jobs has not been lost on the party faithful, and sources close to the provincial NDP note that the public relations machine is already readying what remains of membership for an imminent defeat in next year's potential election.

While neither NSGEU or the provincial NDP will identify the private company slated to take control of Nova Scotians' private information, the rumour mill suggests that the company will be none other than IBM, the IT specialist with a penchant for outsourcing formerly secure jobs in North America to more unprotected labour markets abroad.

IBM, well-known as a blue chip stock, is equally well known in labour circles for unannounced layoffs and other shady practices.

“I would like my members, government employees and the government itself to be the custodians of the information of Nova Scotians. Not an international company,” NSGEU president Joan Jessome, who represents the 110 affected employees, told The Halifax Media Co-op. “They are responsible for building and maintaining systems that distribute 40,000 social assistance cheques a month, for all of the procurement tenders that are put out, all of the aquaculture, agriculture loans that are applied for. You name it. There's not even a Nova Scotian that is not affected by some form of their information that's within this system. So for this information to be contracted out to a third party – and I don't have any of the details of what they're discussing either. So we call into question the job security, because the company that has been identified is not labour friendly across this world. We know that because we know what they offer employees versus what we've been able to negotiate for our members. Very, very different. And we're also concerned about the safety of the information of our citizens.”

The writing on the wall for this contract going through does not look good for the NSGEU, or all Nova Scotians for that matter. And it does not appear as though whoever gets the plum provincial SAP contract will be stopping there.

The Herald has reported that HRM's untouchable CAO Richard Butts has already suggested turning the municipality's SAP services over to the province, which would certainly sweeten the deal for an IBM. Jessome also noted yesterday that NSGEU's SAP staffers assist a number of clients on restricted budgets, including “housing authorities, health authorities, Halifax Water and municipalities.” Jessome worries about these groups being able to access quality SAP services on their budgets.

Looming like a shadow over Argyle Street on this contract is also the question of the new, and enormous, convention centre, upon whose rat-infested foundation excavators are again hammering. The monolithic homage to corporate enterprise will be aching for office tenants, and with Halifax's newly crowned and unabashedly pro-convention centre mayor Mike Savage set to seize the reins of municipal government, a red carpet roll-out for a new private IT firm with a view of the harbour would be a feather in the new mayor's cap.

Savage, who has noted he won't even allow for a council referendum on the convention centre, may well be inclined to follow provincial premier Darrell Dexter's lead and offer up HRM's SAP services as a sacrificial lamb.

All this begs the question, to those inclined to labour rights and beyond. If you can't count on the provincial NDP to protect public service jobs, and the private information of the citizenry, then who do you vote for?

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