Robyn Benson, PSAC

A new workplace program?

PSAC members.JPG

As the latest government grab is all over the media--this time it's our members' sick leave--the online comments are already appearing. You know the ones: pampered, underworked public service workers, big fat benefits, they ought to get out in the real world, etc., etc.

We should be used to it by now, but somehow we never quite are. The public (and of course we're part of that public, and pay our taxes like everyone else, but the pundits always try to suggest we're somehow above and beyond) is full of angry voices. And their two demands are always the same: 1) More services, please, and 2) Cut the public sector, and roll back the benefits of those who remain.

The obvious contradiction never seems to faze them.

The current suggestion, from those who should know better, appears to be that we are abusing our sick leave credits. This would require, of course, that the countless doctors who provide treatment and medical certificates for our members are part of a conspiracy.

More generally, there is resentment, stoked by the current and previous federal governments, that we have achieved wages and benefits through collective bargaining that are superior to those of employees in smaller organizations and in non-union workplaces.  I guess that's one of the benefits of unionizing--if we failed to do better than non-union employees, our members would rightly question what they're paying their dues for. Size also matters: whether its a union or a non-union employer, larger organizations tend to provide better wages and benefits.

But we can come out with dry facts and arguments until we're blue in the face. More seems needed to dispel the false assumptions and misrepresentations that fuel  the ongoing stereotyping of federal public employees.

Maybe a new initiative is called for: Take Our Public to Work Day. "Our" public, because we work for Canadians, providing a vast range of essential services--everything from food inspection and border security to environmental protection, education, search and rescue, old age security and transportation safety.

The program would cost very little, but it would have significant long-term value. We could invite members of the public who have expressed scepticism about value for money to join us in various workplaces to see what actually goes on there. Perhaps a day at an EI office, as our members struggle to clear backlogs and field telephone calls, while staff is being cut back to the bone and offices are being closed. Those with strong stomachs might like to accompany our primary inspectors in a meat-packing plant, and join them on the kill floor. The more intrepid could spend some time at a customs border point, or meet the clientele that our parole officers deal with, or accompany our firefighters out on the job.

The best way to dispel stereotypes is to meet the real people behind them. What better way to educate the ill-informed (and, to be fair, people who depend upon the media and the government for information about us will almost inevitably be ill-informed) than to spend a day, if not in our members' shoes, at least walking close by.

What about it? Something, perhaps, to raise at Joint Consultation?

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on March 25, 2013 9:48 AM.

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