11/02/2012 07:18 EDT | Updated 01/23/2014 06:58 EST

Government temp work loses its lustre

Newly unemployed Ottawa workers who turn to temporary staffing agencies in an effort to maintain income may be shocked by what's available, according to one longtime temp worker.

Deidre Bradley, 48, said she once loved working as a temporary office worker with the federal government, but said the jobs that she's now being offered pay only slightly above minimum wage.

"My daughter is 16 and she makes minimum wage, and the jobs they are offering is about 50 cents more an hour," said Bradley.

Temp wages in public sector have fallen 'drastically'

Martin Chenier, a spokesman for the Association of Canadian Search, Employment and Staffing Services (ACCSESS), said wages for temporary workers have fallen drastically since the federal government started awarding contracts to the lowest bidder.

"We're seeing wages drop quite dramatically — by 40 per cent right now, which is pretty sad," said Chenier.

A Public Service Commission study of temporary workers in the federal public service published in 2009 found that spending on temporary services tripled from 1999-2000 to 2008-2009.

But Chenier said temporary jobs are scarcer this year as departments grind through the process of handing out affected notices to workers as departments have had to cut staff as part of an overhaul announced in this year's federal budget.

'Experience' not always a positive

Bradley said she and her husband Jim — an IT contract worker finishing up a federal contract this year — have been creative in their efforts to keep working.

She has found work as an actor pretending to be a patient for medical students, while he has been painting neighbours' homes to help keep them afloat.

As an IT contract worker, Jim Bradley said he feels his experience will give him a leg up in the job search.

But for work handled through temporary agencies and not regular contracts, Chenier said experience might actually be a disadvantage because of the government's emphasis on the bottom line.

"It really focuses on lowest cost rather than best value, it no longer makes make sense for a supplier to send someone who exceeds expectations. It no longer makes sense for our members to send a candidate resume who has five years of experience," he said.