“Lifer” Syndrome

You have been in the same position or at the same group and level for what seems to be forever, with little opportunities (if any) for promotion.  Bargaining has provided economical pay increases over the last few years, but you feel that your salary is not at par with what others have obtained and you wish to be paid better. Or, you feel that you are, or can be, performing at a higher level and, yet, little (or no) opportunities to apply for a promotion have been forthcoming.

Why are scientists finding themselves in a “lifer syndrome”? Scientists are usually focussed on one or a given number of aspects of their science, making them “specialists”. You will rarely find a “generalist” of a given science. For example, let us consider geology. You will find paleontologists (geologists with a biology background), or petrologists (geologists with a chemistry background), or geophysicists (geologists with a physics background). All of them could hold a PC position. Yet, there is limited transferability of their scientific expertise from one position to another and ever more so limited transferability from one department to another. Thus, scientists tend to remain in their one position longer than non-scientists (e.g., such as economists, policy analysts, admin officers, etc.). Compound this with the limited opportunities, especially in regions, for promotion, and you get the “lifer syndrome”.

Looking at the “pure salary” issue from above, there are a few factors to consider:

  • The recent economic increases have not been enough to keep up with living costs, resulting in the erosion of salary. 
  • When considering the value of science in the federal government, we notice that it is undervalued. Most scientific positions require at least a university degree, resulting in additional costs for the candidate and a later time in life to enter the labour market (versus technical jobs requiring just a high school diploma, for example). Yet, when comparing entry salaries, for example, we see a gap of at least $12,000 between step 1 of the EG01 and entry level of the SP Group.
  • Classification standards, group definitions and qualifications standards are old, especially for scientific positions, and do not necessarily reflect the role, responsibilities and functions of today’s reality. Moreover, there are different types of classification standards and each standard evaluates a different set of elements/factors, thus making it difficult when comparing positions with different group and level. For examples, PC and EC have a totally different classification standard, with no similar element/factor between them. Even PC and MT, which are part of the same group (SP), have a totally different classification standard sharing no similar element/factor. You can now realize why assessing and classifying positions are very complex and require the proper training and experience.

What can you and PIPSC do?

  • During the bargaining round of a new collective agreement, pay and work conditions can be negotiated. Pay issues must be presented with strong arguments, and we are often at the mercy of what the Employer is ready to offer.
  • You may be aware that, thanks to your bargaining teams and one annex in the last collective agreements of the RE and SP Groups, PIPSC members and staff are working on Scientific Integrity policies with many departments. This is one way to have science recognized for its true value. 
  • Although the employer has refused to negotiate classification during the bargaining round, PIPSC is looking at ensuring that it is consulted, and in fact codevelop, the next suite of classification standards and qualifications standards for scientific groups.
  • In addition, when classification standards are developed, the Employer refers to work descriptions to understand the work and determine what aspects should be measured. As a result, the accuracy of work descriptions is very important. It is a good idea to have a copy of your work description and to discuss the content with your manager or obtain advice from a PIPSC representative if the work you are required to perform is significantly different from what appears in your work description.

Looking at the “non-promotion” issue from above, there are a few factors to consider:

  • In principle, the mandate, vision and mission of the organization should dictate its “make up”. Classification officers should be involved in establishing the required org design for a given organization. Yet, many organizations within the federal government should take a good fresh look at their organizational design.  Every employee should have a copy of the organizational chart for their organization, so they can discuss with their manager about their career progression opportunities (hopefully within).
  • Once the organizational design is adequate, a gap analysis should be done to determine a proper human resource (HR) plan to fill the needs of the organization. Wow, what a concept, an HR plan!  So many organizations are still without a proper HR plan… How can you ensure fair opportunities to all if you cannot communicate and plan the staffing actions?
  • What about this urban myth called “talent management”. We certainly hear about it a lot, but, yet, very few (if any) scientists get to have a “talent management plan”. Why is that  There are professional development programs for EC and ENSUR, it is about time that such programs be considered for SP and other groups.
  • Work descriptions also factor in organizational design issues. If the mandate or priorities of an organization change, for example through changes in legislation (like the recent changes related to the legalization of Cannabis), or if work evolves over time, work descriptions should be reviewed to ensure they remain accurate. If work descriptions are not accurate, the levels of positions in the organization may not be accurate, which has implications for scientists’ career progression and pay.

What can you and PIPSC do?

  • Your organization’s PIPSC National Consultation Team (NCT) can raise these issues with management.  Find out who is the president of your NCT, get in touch and see how you can help (https://www.pipsc.ca/labourrelations/consultation). 
  • Best would be to have your NCT codevelop professional development programs with management. This way, we could ensure that they are tailored to your needs. Some NCT presidents are making progress on this front in their own department. We are hoping that we will have best practices to share within the next year. Stay tuned.

To recap: Ask your employer for a current work description that matches your current functions and responsibilities. It might take a while for the employer to react. Note that updating your work description may not result in a reclassification. If you are unsuccessful getting an updated work description or not satisfied with the results, speak with a PIPSC representative (steward or employment relation officer) to see possible options.


Better together!

Ann Therriault and your SP Group Bargaining Team

February 2019



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