I wasn't surprised when I heard about the uproar up in Queensland over a proposed government model for hiring contractors. Sure, it seemed to take the industry by storm and they're peeved, but there's definitely an underlying issue here that something needs to be done about — an issue which has made itself into a monster on the sly.
According to Queensland-based research firm Longhaus, the IT
contracting industry is worth $18 billion in Australia. That's a
lot of money. I mean it could have paid for the old
fibre-to-the-node broadband network plan almost four times over.
And that money is starting to annoy people.
We've already had a bit of an uproar this year on
how much the CenITex COO was paid as a contractor. Almost $500 grand. That's
half a million smackeroos. I'm in the wrong business. Then there
was former NEHTA CEO Ian Reinecke,
getting paid $70,000 for a week's work, although I've been browbeaten by a lawyer cousin on
that example. She told me that his advice would in
all likelihood save the government much more than $70,000.
But that's beside the point, which is that contractors can rake
in big dollars. Of course, many will say, and it's true, that such
figures are not the rule. And Longhaus's report says that they're
necessary in some firms to cover costs.
So they cost a lot. What does that mean to me? Be careful what
you use them for. Be sure why you're using them. Get them in to do
what they're supposed to do then get them out. And if their
business model is set up around bearing the risk for projects, let
them take that risk!
According to Longhaus, this isn't what Queensland's been doing
and it needs to be rectified. But somehow the message's got lost
in the wash with a proposal that seems like an episode of Grand
Designs. For those who haven't seen the show, it's where people get
to build their dream home which might be an absolute failure, is
sure to be obscenely expensive and piss off all the neighbours.
It might be a brilliant masterstroke. But
to me, there are simpler solutions. For instance, I'm sure the cost ($18
billion) wouldn't be quite so big if we didn't have so many of what I
would call "sleeper" contractors hanging around.
These workers act like permanent employees, they're trained like
permanent employees. They can have tenures creeping up to a decade,
but they're paid like contractors. Seems like the permanent
employees are getting a rough deal there. Makes Gershon's
contractor recommendation sound like pure genius.
But dig deeper. Why exactly is it that there are so many? Well
the government needs workers. Maybe it isn't sure how long it needs
those workers. Projects drag. People get entrenched and they're
still needed. There's no way you're going to get them onto a
permanent contract because it would be a massive pay drop.
What's that I hear? Massive pay drop? Maybe, instead of using
the stick to try and get the contracting industry into line, we
could raise the wages for IT workers in the public service? In the
current environment that might draw some into its warming bosom of
safe employment. I'm not saying it's the best idea since sliced
bread, the light bulb or whatever, but I think it may need to be
Or, shock horror, we could widen the skills pool by doing
something massive. Something really Ruddesque like saying that from
now on, all IT degrees are free. Yes, you still have to pay if you
do your piddly little arts or journalism degree, but tech rides for
Of course, maybe it was the government's master plan to piss
everyone off either to make its next proposal smell like a rose, or
just to force change. If the latter is the plan, it's likely to
succeed. I've been told that the situation up there is a bit chaos
theory. If a butterfly flaps its wings, it could cause a hurricane.
And as we've already seen, governments tend to follow each other
like lemmings. So watch out industry. Change could be afoot.