Robyn Benson, PSAC

♫ Accent-u-ate the positive ♪


A commenter takes me to task for being, as he puts it, too “adversarial.” He wants less “negative rhetoric,” and, by gum, I’m going to give him what he wants.

But let me qualify that just a bit. In the Senate, as I write this, is Bill C-377, a piece of legislation that threatens to sink unions under a mountain of paperwork almost every time we make a move. It deliberately singles us out for this treatment: corporations are not treated this way, nor even charities, which of course have their own problems to deal with.

C-377 is so vindictive that even Conservative Senators are speaking up.

Then we have front-bench Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre, floating trial balloons about abolishing the Rand formula.

And of course there’s Tony Clement, heading up Treasury Board, who lashed out at my predecessor John Gordon for having the gall to ask where the looming public service cuts were going to fall. To this date, the government has been so secretive on this issue that the just-departed Parliamentary Budget Officer Kevin Page launched a court case to restore transparency. (Given his departure, the fate of that case is uncertain.)

All this, accompanied by cuts which have eliminated 16,220 public service jobs—and now the threat to sick leave, a negotiated benefit, and to our members’ pensions—could make a public service union leader a tad touchy. My usual good humour, admittedly, deserts me on occasion.

So let me turn quickly to the positive.

Despite the hostility of the present government, we never stop talking to our Treasury Board and departmental counterparts in the federal public service. There are many joint forums in which we regularly meet—such as departmental joint consultation, the Public Service Commission Advisory Council, the Public Service Pension Advisory Committee, the National Joint Council, the Joint Learning Program—and we play an engaged and positive role in all of them, doing a lot of day-to-day problem-solving.

As for employee benefits, we have a long and successful tradition of collective bargaining to discuss those, openly and in detail. We have never shied away from those across-the-table debates. Dark hints of changes leaked to the media and contained in budget documents, however, have no constructive function; they only add to our members’ already high level of stress.

I’m positive about our members and our staff, knowledgeable as they are in the details of public service operations, and committed to quality public services for all Canadians. We have suggestions based upon a wealth of experience to offer—if called upon to offer them.

I’m proud of the union I lead, a fundamentally democratic organization where the needs and the will of the members come first and foremost. The union is, after all, the members, to whom leaders are accountable, and no one can make leaders more accountable than informed and passionate grassroots PSAC members.

Here there is no blind adherence to some kind of party line imposed from above, but debate, differences, a variety of points of view, all kinds of positions and approaches to our common task. In our ranks there is respect for dissent, a willingness to listen as well as speak, and above all an on-going commitment to each other.

The members, one by one, offer ideas and energy to the process. They place their trust in leaders, but have shown, time and time again, that they are willing to do what it takes themselves to defend against unfairness and move forward. There can be no doubt that they will do so again if it’s required.

I feel honoured to have earned the trust of the members. But I am also aware that this trust must be earned anew every day. Having a positive and optimistic outlook goes with the territory. I may react negatively to government announcements that directly affect the well-being of our members, and frankly that should be expected. But I do so, thanks to the members, with a song in my heart and a smile on my face.

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on March 27, 2013 8:16 AM.

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