Civil service reformed again

  • Evaluation, advancement and faster terminations…Hendrik Bogaert is proud of his baby
  • Unions are more critical
  • Gerfa already predicts the early death of this reform due to its cost

The civil service will be reformed yet again, for the first time since the “Copernican” reform. Hendrik Bogaert (CD&V), secretary of state for civil service, is quite proud of his baby. What will change in the administration? Evaluation, promotion, firing, mediation… “In Belgium, we have one of the most modern administrations when it comes to human resources,” says its proud ‘daddy’.


1 More rapid evaluations. Federal civil servants will continue to receive annual evaluations, the purpose of which is to focus on obtainable objectives. From now on, the work accomplished during the preceding period will be rated using four levels: “exceptional,” “meets expectations,” “improvement needed,” or “inadequate.” On the other hand, certification training will be abolished. The system will be applied to newcomers within the civil service (where no more than one vacancy out of five is replaced) beginning next January 1. That amounts to 3,500 civil servants. This plan will also affect current civil servants, although their lack of raises will be made up by a new plan whose details are yet to be perfected.


2 Merit advancement. A good or poor evaluation will bring more rapid consequences. Two consecutive “exceptional” ratings will allow the recipient to access a higher salary scale after two years (instead of three, so that “expectations can be met”). Then, four other pointed evaluations of the same kind will permit another salary increase. On the other hand, those who are asked to improve will not be promoted. The reform’s plan is that all ratings affecting salary advancement be signed by the supervisor and his or her superior. Civil servants will advance through merit, with the possibility of accessing a higher salary scale within three years, instead of the current eight years.


3 Termination in one and a half years. The corollary of more rapid advancement is that the axe will fall more quickly in the case of an unsatisfactory employee. In the previous reform (Copernican), two negative reviews could result in a final sanction. From now on, however, a civil servant whose work is ranked unsatisfactory will be reviewed six months after the first evaluation. At that time, a second negative evaluation can result in termination. “We must prove very quickly that we want to change,” admits the secretary of state. Currently, the number of civil servants terminated from public service has dropped significantly over the past few years, after several years where it was greater than twenty. “It’s not many; during the previous period, we had ten terminations in ten years,” emphasizes Bogaert. “My goal isn’t to fire people but to send a clear message to a minority of civil servants who aren’t doing anything: you must change. In addition, we have to be careful with these figures because they include terminations for disciplinary reasons.”


4 Contract workers reevaluated. Currently, contract workers cannot access a higher salary scale, this “privilege” being reserved for civil servants (“nominated”). In the future, they may receive a promotion after several positive evaluations. “I’m proud of this change,” says Bogaert, adding, “For the first time, we can offer a career to contract workers up to the 3rd salary scale” (each scale being made up of pay grades).


5 Concentrated appeals. Those who are discontent will still have the opportunity to file an appeal. However, the number of commissions charged with hearing appeals has been reduced to three: administration, social security, and other departments. Reform group Gerfa fears that the system will be so overwhelmed that it will become unworkable. The minister is counting on training for evaluators and supervisors to limit the number of appeals. Still not convinced, Gerfa has raised another objection: the appeals panels will be bilingual, which might make the State Council flinch in case of …appeals.


6 Not one more euro. This reform is conditioned upon the fact that it must have no cost. “Otherwise, my colleagues on the Council of Ministers would never have voted for it,” says Bogaert, adding that the auditors and budget office have confirmed its budget neutrality. How can such neutrality be guaranteed when some workers, rated “exceptional” several times, will receive an accelerated pay increase? The trick is that the pay scales have been revised: between a floor and a ceiling (unchanged), the secretary of state has added pay grades. The result is that for the “average” worker, reaching the top of his or her salary category will take a bit more time. Gerfa and SLFP have already expressed their doubts as to this neutrality. Who is right? We will know no earlier than two years from now, after two evaluation periods. The excess cost of the reform might also be hidden in the compensation paid to current employees who will enter into this new system. A number of uncertainties still surround them.


7 Social arbitration. This measure began last year: in case of a social conflict in a federal public office, one of the parties may request a social arbitrator be designated, on the condition that everyone agrees to enter into negotiations. Three social arbitrators have just been named, after having been selected by a panel. This arose from a union request, part of a list of demands given to Inge Vervotte (CD&V) during the previous legislative session. It can now be put in practice.


8 Digital synergy. Information systems in the federal administration represent an annual budget of €600,000, software and hardware combined. These projects have sometimes been developed in isolation, without considering those of other departments. “We will coordinate plans for information systems within the public service,” Hendrik Bogaert announces. “The plan will be presented this Friday in the Council of Ministers.”



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