Employees of the Municipality of Pontiac’s Public Works department were informed in writing Wednesday this week that, effective next Tuesday (September 6), all workers currently with the department will be laid off at 4:30 p.m. This action comes earlier in the year than is usual and seasonal lay-offs do not usually include all of the Public Works employees. The unusual move was made in the wake of the departure of Division Head Michel Trudel, whose resignation was accepted by Council at a special meeting on August 16.
Following Mr. Trudel’s departure, the municipality temporarily replaced the position through an employment agency, hiring Frank Forillio from Sherbrooke to take over until a permanent candidate could be chosen. Shortly afterwards, disciplinary problems - said to have been plaguing the department for some time - have become more conspicuous. Concerns that the quality of work did not meet proper standards in some cases, as well as costs related to re-doing jobs not properly completed, have come to light.
“In the past few weeks, there was work that was done unsatisfactorily as well as problems with discipline,” Assistant Director General and Director of Communications Dominic Labrie told Pontiac2020.ca. “It became necessary to protect the money spent by taxpayers, so we ordered a work stoppage and informed the workers this week that we are going to use the time to re-organize the department and its management.”
The municipality will hire two labourers in order to ensure continuity of service. All laid-off employees may apply for one of those positions but for some it will mean a demotion. “So now it’s a question of how much time [the lay-off will last],” added Labrie. “That will depend on the time it takes [to re-organize].”
However, some of the 12 or so laid-off department employees are now at risk of not qualifying for Employment Insurance benefits because of the shortened work season and therefore may not be able to make up the shortfall, even if the lay-off is only a short one.
The decision to lay off all Public Works employees early was taken by Director General Benedikt Kuhn after it was recently observed that the situation had grown worse within the department. Despite appearing drastic, the municipality feels that, under the present circumstances, it was necessary.
“We feel that, even though work might seem to be progressing, it’s important to ensure the work is of quality and we get our money’s worth," explained Labrie. "If it takes too much time or we have to redo work, we’re no further ahead. So the mayor felt that the quality of service provided to citizens needed to be improved. He found [that] in the course of recent weeks [the situation] had degraded and he proposed this action because of unacceptable behavior that may have been tolerated in the past but now isn’t."
“In the end, it’s temporary,” Labrie continued. “We explained in the letter [to the Public Works employees] that we are going to take the time to reorganize and ensure we have better supervision of employees ... so if [someone] is not properly supervised or the instructions are not clear, then we will go through step-by-step, group by group, and we’ll show them how to do the work. It’s not meant to [hurt] the employees but it’s a clear message — but we’re not letting them go. We will offer them the training necessary to enable them to perform at the level expected of them by the council and by the citizens.”
According to the municipality, residents' feedback had raised some red flags regarding the efficiency of Public Works. “I think the population has had the impression for some time that our services are not up to standard,” Labrie observed.
“It [won’t be a situation where there is] no-one working at Public Works for six months; we will bring in the people we need when necessary. For example, people purchased [garbage] bins and we have to deliver them, so we’ll have people to make sure that gets done.”