UK civil service chief pictured in COVID rules breach report; US official urges backing for worker protection hiring plan: management & workforce news in brief

By on 26/05/2022 | Updated on 26/05/2022
A picture from the 2022 Sue Gray report showing Simon Case and Boris Johnson at a social gathering in Whitehall during the pandemic
Simon Case, the UK's most senior civil servant, pictured at several parties in Whitehall taken during nationwide social restrictions

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UK civil service head pictured at parties during COVID

The UK’s most senior civil servant, Simon Case, has appeared in several photographs featured in a long-awaited investigative report into rule-breaking activities that occurred in Whitehall during the coronavirus pandemic.

The report was carried out by top civil servant Sue Gray and was published on Wednesday this week. It contained details of several after-work drinks parties that took place when indoor gatherings were prohibited as part of nationwide restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Case was among several key figures, including the UK prime minister Boris Johnson, to be pictured at these events.

The 37-page report said Case and other No 10 private secretaries had received an email in June of 2020 – before he took on the role of cabinet secretary – inviting them for “sandwiches and cake” to celebrate Johnson’s birthday.

“The permanent secretary for Covid and Pandemic Response, Simon Case, attended for a short period having arrived early for a meeting which was due to take place in the Cabinet room,” it said.

Case was also present at a leaving event that same month where Johnson gave a speech. Gray’s report describes several crowded gatherings in which staff had to sat on each other’s laps to make room, and where remnants of the festivities were left overnight. The events were also shown to have lasted a long time, with some civil servants “remaining in the office until after midnight”.

Case initially led the probe into the parties after initial newspaper reports released late last year. The BBC said Case would not resign due to the findings, nor be sacked by Johnson. The Metropolitan Police meanwhile has issued a total of 126 fines relating to the events.

In a speech to parliament this week, Johnson said government had learned its lesson, meanwhile praising civil servants for working tirelessly through the pandemic.

Hong Kong’s civil service pay methods questioned as recommendations reach 7.26% for high earners

Top officials in Hong Kong could receive a pay increase worth more than double that of lower ranking colleagues under a pat plan published by the city state’s government.

The 2022 Pay Trend Survey report has suggested increasing the pay of top ranking officials by 7.26%, with increases for middle-ranking officials going up by 4.55% and for the lowest officials by only 2.04%. The Hong Kong government typically adjusts pay increases to allow lower earners to enjoy a comparable boost to middle-ranking officers. On this scale of adjustment, the civil services’ lower earners would be expected to receive a 4.55% raise this year.

The pay plan has been criticised by some businesses, with the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce saying that the plan is “out of touch with reality” after the economy shrank in the first quarter of 2022.

However, the chairman of the Hong Kong Civil Servants General Union Fung Chuen-chung said the pay rise would both enhance the attractiveness of being civil servants and promote economic recovery. It would also benefit wage earners in the sector.

Lee Fong-chung, chairman of the Hong Kong Senior Government Officers Association said that the higher pay rise for senior officials was a result of he government having to increase the wage to retain staff.

US federal hiring guidance: ‘Focus on what candidates know how to do, not where they learned it’

The Office of Personnel Management has set out more details of wide-ranging US federal government recruitment reforms that will introduce a new skills-based hiring system.

In a memo to all agency and department heads, OPM director Kiran Ahuja said that the move to skills-based recruitment would put the US federal government in a position to compete with other sectors for top talent.

Plans to change how the US federal government recruits staff were first announced under former president Donald Trump, but the changes have been continued under president Biden. The reforms require agencies to hire candidates based on skills and expertise in fields relevant to a position, rather than their educational qualifications or job experience.

Ahuja said that the “important, merit-based reforms” will better capture the ability of candidates to perform the job. “Skills-based hiring helps hiring managers focus on what candidates know how to do, not where they learned it,” she said. “It values all relevant skills for the role at hand, whether they are learned in the classroom, on the job, or on one’s own.”

Ahuja said that the reforms would help the government recruit in a tough jobs market by making it easier for those who do not have a four-year degree to demonstrate that they have the skills to compete for federal jobs, thereby expanding pools of potential applicants and removing any barriers for underrepresented communities.

Upcoming webinar:  Aiming hire: how to use skills-based hiring assessments to improve recruitment

Australia’s top public servant leaves post after Labor election victory

Phil Gaetjens has left his post as Australia’s top public servant after the country’s incoming prime minister signalled he was prepared to dismiss him.

Labor leader Anthony Albanese had indicated that he would remove Gaetjens from the post, despite an overall pledge not to sack public servants as part of an effort to improve relations with the federal workforce. Gaetjens has worked closely with outgoing Liberal-National Coalition prime minister Scott Morrison, and during the election campaign Albanese said he would seek to change the head of the Australian Public Service (APS) if he became prime minister.

Gaetjens has been replaced by Stephanie Foster as secretary of the Department of Prime Minister & Cabinet (PM&C), who stepped into the role in an acting capacity yesterday. She was previously PM&C deputy secretary governance.

However, Albanese has issued a statement of support for public servants overall. “We’ll be valuing public servants and respecting them. And the fact that we’re able to have discussions and put measures in place to allow whatever the outcome of the result… for those arrangements to be put in place, says a lot about how professional our public service are,” he said.

The Labor Party has so far secured 74 seats in the lower house, ending a decade of Coalition rule. Counting continues to determine whether Labor can get the 76 seats needed to form a majority.

Read more: Australia’s top public servant leaves post after Labor election victory

US Labor Department urges backing for budget to boost worker protection agencies

The US Labor Department has called for lawmakers to approve funding increases to boost staffing levels at worker protection agencies after sharp falls in recent years.

Marty Walsh, US secretary of labor, told lawmakers on a House Appropriations subcommittee recently that the Biden administration had earmarked US$2.2bn of investment in the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in its 2023 federal budget.

Such investment was “more essential now than ever as we rebuild the staffing levels”, she said, with the agencies having lost 14% of their staff between 2016 and 2020.

The OFCCP needs extra funding to oversee the implementation of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which passed last autumn, and Walsh also said that building capacity at office would also tackle “systemic barriers that workers in underrepresented communities face to accessing good jobs in construction and other growth industries”.

The funding boost for OSHA is intended to help it reach its goal of doubling its number of inspectors by the end of Biden’s first term.

The Budget faces a challenge to be approved by the US Congress due to political splits. The 100-seat Senate is split 50-50 between Biden’s Democratic Party and the opposition Republications, and Democrats maintain only a slight majority in the House of Representatives.

About Jack Aldane

Jack is a British journalist, cartoonist and podcaster. He graduated from Heythrop College London in 2009 with a BA in philosophy, before living and working in China for three years as a freelance reporter. After training in financial journalism at City University from 2013 to 2014, Jack worked at Bloomberg and Thomson Reuters before moving into editing magazines on global trade and development finance. Shortly after editing opinion writing for UnHerd, he joined the independent think tank ResPublica, where he led a media campaign to change the health and safety requirements around asbestos in UK public buildings. As host and producer of The Booking Club podcast – a conversation series featuring prominent authors and commentators at their favourite restaurants – Jack continues to engage today’s most distinguished thinkers on the biggest problems pertaining to ideology and power in the 21st century. He joined Global Government Forum as its Senior Staff Writer and Community Co-ordinator in 2021.

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