B.C. taxpayers to pay millions for 2010 Olympic Games ‘volunteers’

Posted by admin on Aug 10th, 2009

By Miro Cernetig, Vancouver Sun columnist. August 10, 2009

VANCOUVER — Vancouver’s Olympic organizers informed us a few days ago they want the private sector to hand over 1,500 highly skilled workers to help them run the 2010 Winter Games. As you might have guessed, the chances of big business lending the Olympics so many employees, whose salaries would all be paid by their companies, wouldn’t be good in the best of times. In a recession, it’s about as likely to happen as China’s hockey team winning the gold medal in 2010.

So where does the Vancouver Olympic Organizing Committee — facing at least a $40-million budget shortfall from a sudden drought in private advertising and sponsorships — really intend to go to find that sort of people power on short notice? You guessed it, the taxpayer.

The deal hasn’t made the news yet, but a few days ago the B.C. government announced to its employees through a posting on its internal website that it is looking for 250 civil servants to start working full-time for Vanoc. Their salaries will be paid by the government for up to six months, a move that will help fill in the Olympic organizing committee’s looming budgetary gap.

But that’s just the start.

With each passing month the government is expected to hand over more employees — on what’s called secondment — until the Olympics gets the 1,500 staff it needs.

It’s unclear how many civil servants will actually be drafted into working for the Olympics full-time. Most expect businesses will perhaps offer up to 100 employees. Insiders know the bulk of those 1,500 people will have to come from the civil service.

As you might have expected, government employees think it’s quite a deal. They get to stay on the government payroll but work on the Olympics for up to six months. When the government quietly posted its call for 250 volunteers a few days ago, it got triple the number of applications.

The cost of this to the taxpayer isn’t being released. But it’s not hard to figure out.

An average civil servant makes about $50,000 a year. So, assuming 1,400 government employees sign up for Olympic duty, the secondments would cost at least $7 million a month. Assuming an average of four months on the Olympic roster and you reach a cost of about $28 million.

Count on it being more, though. The sort of highly skilled people the Olympics are calling for are at the higher pay grade and they are often unionized employees. You can bet there will be scads of overtime to go around.

I can already hear the howls of protest about this latest dip into the taxpayers’ pockets to put on the 2010 Games. While there were plans for some government secondments — mostly senior managers and personnel familiar with protocol and security — nothing like this staff grab was in the bid book.

Then again, neither was a global recession.

So it’s hard to blame Olympic organizers for suddenly finding their budget tighter than they thought. There are few organizations not facing similar pressures.

Even if you might be inclined to tell the provincial government to refuse Vanoc’s request, it wouldn’t save any money. These are essential, management-level positions that need to be filled to make the Olympics a success. If Victoria rejected the idea of lending out employees, Vanoc would have to go out and contract the staff anyway.

That hiring spree would surely mean Vancouver’s Olympic organizing committee would post a massive debt when the Games are over. And guess who would end up paying that bill after the Olympic torch is taken back to Olympia?


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