Urged to use internal mechanism to voice concerns
Library staff in the province are being told to keep quiet when it comes to the provincial government’s budget cuts.
In an internal letter sent to all in the Newfoundland and Labrador Public Libraries’ division, executive director Shawn Tetford told them that they shouldn’t talk to MHAs, cabinet ministers or the premier about budget cuts.
“Recently, a local staff member wrote their MHA, the Minister of Education and the Premier criticizing the budget cuts,” Tetford wrote. “Such action by public servants is unacceptable.”
Tetford said that it’s up to public servants to carry out the government’s decisions, and if anybody doesn’t agree with the direction that things are going, that should be dealt with internally.
“If any staff member has concerns regarding the budget reductions and the impact on public libraries, there is an internal process to bring those concerns forward,” he wrote.
“The appropriate protocol is to put your issues/concerns in writing and forward them to your supervisor/manager for consideration and appropriate action.”
Liberal MHA Andrew Parsons said he’s appalled the government won’t let civil servants speak to elected officials.
“What kind of government is this when people working for them aren’t even allowed to write to their own local MHA?” Parsons said.
“This has always been a government that was obsessed with control, but I think with how things have gone in the last couple of years, it’s gotten even worse.”
Parsons said he routinely struggles with political control and bureaucrats saying they’re not allowed to talk to him, especially when he wants to deal with constituency issues.
“Some, in fact, say to me now, ‘I would love to talk to you, but I’m not allowed,’” he said.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Education emailed a statement to The Telegram saying that the minister wasn’t involved in the memo being sent out to library board employees.
“Meanwhile, the department and minister are always open to hearing the ideas and concerns of individuals, including those who work for its boards and agencies,” the spokeswoman said in an email.
“Representation would typically be made by the employer (senior staff and/or the board chair), in accordance with processes and protocols established by the board/agency.”
Tetford said here’s nothing specifically wrong with an employee sending an email to their elected representative, as long as it’s not while they’re on the clock. But he said they assume that the case in question involved an employee sending something while at work.
“In this case, the individual indicated they were a library staff person, so the assumption is that they’re writing as a staff person and not as a citizen of the province,” he said.
“If it’s done outside of work, there’s nothing wrong with saying where you work, I guess, but the way I took this is that I’m writing you as a staff person, and it’s like I can’t get any satisfaction from the management structure.”
Generally speaking, Tetford said, by going to the minister, it means that the library board doesn’t have a chance to respond to whatever the employee’s issues are. He said the situation could become too much to control.
“There’s a mechanism to raise concerns through the management structure. If they have concerns, they can bring them up the line and we will certainly make a case,” he said.
“If all of our staff started writing letters to politicians criticizing all the decisions that are made, then it becomes uncontrollable and unmanageable.”
The library board’s budget was cut by $1 million this spring, and they were forced to cut more than 17 positions and reduce hours at some locations.