Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Census for the taking...

Dave is right on the mark.

I've done the long-form census. It's a real pain in the ass. When the census taker came for a visit and had a talk with me about it I was more than reassured. No threat was ever issued. Guarantees, however, were very much in the forefront. As were the explanations and the reasons. And, just so we're all clear here, the point that I could identify with any group within a reasonable level of accuracy as I wished. Therefore, if I wanted to state that I was a Jedi Knight, that was entirely my decision. I told Statistics Canada that I worshiped the gods of the House of the Junii... and only occasionally. Look it up. You'll find it, and you won't find my name.
As someone whose been in the enumerator's chair, I will state that it is not up to me to determine relative truth behind your responses. I isn't my prerogative to check male instead of female should the individual's appearance counter their responses. However, your responses are the best data the government can get without secretly mining your records with other ministries and organisations. It is in the public's interest to be as clear as they might with the important stuff because the analysis of that data translates into money and services. I have never ever issued a threat of jail. Nor might I make that threat because the decision to legally pursue a refusal is made by people far above an enumerator's pay grade. As I recall, the most an enumerator can do is politely suggest that a refusing person is legally obligated to participate in the census, and this as a last resort if it is used at all. Suggesting to a particularly belligerent member of public that they are obligated by law to do your bidding might well be a quick ticket to a police and ambulance matter. There is a high degree of discretion involved outside the letter of the Statistics Act.

Enumerators, those door knockers, are the conscript infantry of the Census operation. In my case I worked something close to 50 days in a row, 10 to 16 hours a day. Others, who stayed on longer, worked longer. If someone asked for a day off, it was implied that they would have to find alternative accomodation and probably their own flight home because Statistics Canada weren't going to cover accomodation and transport costs if you weren't working. If you weren't working you weren't employed. We were classified as casual labour, and were therefore not covered by the same union protections as regular Statistics Canada employees. There was no clear avenue of redress when we had problems, and problems we had aplenty.

Pay was one. If I recall, an enumerator made something like $11 or $12 an hour. It took me two months after I finished to finally get my pay in full. I kept my own records of hours worked for good reason. Statistics staff from other levels of government were appalled when they learned what we made compared to what they paid their temporary hires. I knew enumerators who quit and flew themselves home when they found the remuneration did not match the working conditions.

Productivity. You had to get the minimum completed long forms a day or you were fired. One or two bad days, for reasons to do with the nature of locale one was enumerating, and some supervisors would send you home.

Staffing. Some were absolutely golden. Some were tyrants. Colleagues, in one case, were made to stay up until 3am entering irrelevant information on the long form that their supervisor was erroneously convinced was necessary. Another inheriting a crew from a colleague, proceeded to fire or pressure the old crew to leave and made big noises about bringing in 'my people'. I saw another commandeer a local government office despite having no authority to do so, and against the protests of local staff. A religious fundie couldn't stop evangelising or imposing their superstition on us.

I lividly quit after we were asked to enumerate the same households twice because my insane, permanent staff, supervisor decided that the public "was lying when they say they've been done." I would have complained, but I had no known avenue for redress. I was exhausted, pissed off, and mostly just wanted to get the hell out of there.

However, these are technical issues and are not part of an argument against scrapping the long form. The data are required and if anything the means of collecting ought to be overhauled. I have a feeling there's lot a more to that story but need to check a couple things first.

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