Public employment: better to improve than cut

Public employment: better to improve than cut

More than a millennium ago, China began to lay the foundations for what ended up becoming one of the most effective bureaucracies of the 21st century. The entire system was based on an unquestionable maxim: only the best enter the ranks of the State. The same thing happened in Western democracies such as the United States, France and even Italy. By contrast, the Argentine bureaucracy is increasingly reviled.

A long time ago, for some sectors of public opinion, it stopped being the necessary organization to efficiently solve society’s problems, and instead became a heavy burden. Public employment is measured here in terms of public spending and not efficiency. It is no coincidence that President Milei announced a few weeks ago the imminent elimination of 70,000 jobs in the State, nor that several positions are being cut in most public organizations and companies.

The problem is complex. It is not solved, of course, by firing employees or eliminating positions. The chainsaw is of no use if we do not build a better system. Public employment in Argentina has a single common factor: its great heterogeneity. Only at the national level and in the field of Public Administration, the majority of agents are today hired by special mechanisms or exception regimes that are governed by more than twenty different collective labor agreements.

In addition to the political staff (Ministers, Secretaries and Undersecretaries), who have their own regime, the central map of the State is made up of the permanent and temporary staff. But there are several grays. The “regular employees” are those who accessed their positions through a competition in which they proved their suitability as required by the National Constitution. They cannot be displaced except for just cause that has caused them to lose that suitability (as the Court said in “Madorrán”).

It happens that a large number of employees gained permanent employment but not through a competition, but rather through a political decision. Although this decision is contrary to the law, it is also true that the consequences of illegality cannot fall exclusively on the agents, which is why jurisprudence on some occasions recognized the right to stability, or to aggravated compensation for dismissals without cause.

Then, the transitional staff includes personnel hired for functions with a specific term. They do not compete for entry but they do not have stability either: they leave when their functions end. It is common, however, for temporary contracts to be renewed again and again and, in practice, for many temporary employees to perform permanent duties. The Court, in the “Ramos” ruling, recognized their right to severance pay when it is proven that a permanent appointment was concealed under the guise of a fixed-term contract.

There are also some mischief. The State can hire monotributistas under service locations who, in reality, provide full-time tasks. In other words, covert employment relationships. Or it has agreements with private organizations (“Cooperating Entities”) that, in exchange for authorizations to manage public funds without control, hire workers to put them at the disposal of the Administration.

The problem of public employment in Argentina is therefore not only its quantity but also its disparity. Money laundering has to start with the State. A good start is in the recent draft of the Bases Law sent to Congress by the Executive Branch, which includes a chapter with modifications to the Public Employment Framework Law that, among other things, seeks to improve promotion systems and access to the Administration. , and update sanctions and conduct of the disciplinary regime.

We must end the exception and start respecting the rules. This means nothing more than (i) holding transparent competitions to banish favoritism and reward merit; (ii) revalue the administrative career and generate serious incentives for promotion, as well as effective punishments for non-compliance; and (iii) protect the quality of the human factor in the Administration. In short, it is public agents who can put the state machinery at the service of all Argentines.

The author is a professor of the Master’s Degree in Administrative Law at the Austral University.

Source: Ambito

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