By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
The fact that city staffers are logging overtime hours without having to provide a reason is only one of the issues discovered by an external auditor in their most recent look at the city’s methods for tracking staff overtime.
The latest internal audit completed by KPMG, the second the company has completed related to the city’s overtime issues, points to a few positive trends since their last visit on the topic, but there are still a few areas of improvement.
During their first kick at the overtime can, KPMG found that overtime was being tracked five different ways in five different departments across the city and that reasons for overtime were not “routinely documented on an individual basis in some areas,” the report reads.
And while that issue was pointed out more than a year ago, the same problem persists at city hall.
“In most cases, the various sources of overtime data did not contain ‘reason’ indicators, which made it difficult to understand the nature of the overtime and identify the most appropriate actions to reduce it where appropriate,” the auditors write in their most recent report. “The corporation should begin to track the nature/reason for overtime manually in the short term, but electronically in the medium to longer term.”
Also similar to the original audit, which pointed to increased workloads, vacancies in city departments are still to blame for the amount of overtime by current staff, especially in departments like Road Operations and Parks, both of which have nine vacant positions each.
KPMG also highlighted an issue with the collective agreements between the city and its worker unions, and how these agreements compare to the employment contracts signed by employees as to what stipulates “normal hours”, and outside of which, overtime must be paid. Specifically, in the Design and Construction Services department, contract hours are written as 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., but normal hours as stipulated by the collective agreement are written as 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m..
“The Corporation should negotiate better collective agreements to provide flexibility in what are considered regular hours to ensure the services standards expected by the public are met,” the auditor writes.
This issue drew the attention of Councillor Gail Bates who, while speaking at the committee level, noted trying to negotiate overtime pay out of a collective agreement would be tricky business and be bound to leave many people unhappy.
“It would really irritate, if we had to work, or were told we had to work extra time without overtime,” she said.
With the current issues aside, the recent analysis found that the city has been successful in reducing the amount of overtime being logged by city staff, a trend they have been unable to buck for the last three years, dropping the dollars paid out in extra time by $500,000 from $3 million in 2015 to $2.5 million in 2016.
“Every time you look at something it gives you an opportunity to make corrections and adjustment and and we’re a constantly evolving organization and you need to do checks and balances,” says Mayor John Henry of the recent audit’s findings, noting that the issues raised are of concern to him.
“I’m a numbers person, I’m always concerned about dollars,” he says.
With that said, the mayor notes that overtime will always be a thorn in the city’s side, as covering lieu days, vacation time, and sick days are always going to be logged with overtime.
“I’m not sure you’re ever going to truly fix the problem with overtime, because it’s hard for us to predict when you’re going to be sick,” he says. “If you look at the numbers, they’ve come down substantially, and you know that we’re monitoring it and we’re looking at it, and we’re on top of it.”