June 2013 Archives

Robyn Benson, PSAC

Long weekend, on a high

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The Porter strike settled, the workers winning their first contract after four months on the picket line.

The disgraceful anti-union bill C-377 blocked in the Senate.

Pay equity at Canada Post at last—after a thirty year fight.

May we have another week like this? Please?

Enjoy Canada Day, everyone. I know I will!


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…and what still confronts them in politics. In 2013.

Julia Gillard, now the former Prime Minister of Australia, was dumped by her caucus earlier this week. Under Australian parliamentary rules, a caucus may depose its leader.

She was doing poorly in the polls, and an election is coming up in three months, so panic set in. But what caused it all?

Not, apparently, her actual achievements as Prime Minister, during which period she oversaw the passage of a comprehensive disability insurance scheme, the reduction of Australia’s carbon emissions between 8-11%, a comprehensive education overhaul, improvements in indigenous literacy, and an economy that grew by 14%.

Every step of the way, however,she was simply showered with abuse, belittled and ridiculed, for being a woman.

I won’t repeat some of the crasser public insults, which appear to pass for acceptable political discourse in the darker corners of Oz. Let her speak for herself:



And by all accounts that’s not even the half of it.

She paid the price for speaking out. Her support among women remained steady. But male support plummeted.

Can’t happen here? Well, something of the sort already is. The new Premier of Ontario, Kathleen Wynne, is a woman, and a lesbian. Here’s what she’s already been subjected to:

A male SUN columnist said the scrutiny of his colleagues would soon make Wynne “run screaming back to men“—managing to be both sexist and homophobic in one phrase. That comment has been excised since, probably more out of fear of backlash than human decency, but it’s likely a glimpse of what’s in store for her.

Two other SUN reporters, both female, have weighed in as well. Christina Blizzard spends a lot of time on Wynne’s wardrobe, a classic ploy to reduce a woman in leadership to her appearance.

Kathleen Wynne is slowly emerging from a severe pant suit chrysalis and turning into a giddy, girly butterfly.


May I repeat? It’s 2013.

Then there’s Sue Anne Levy, a right-wing lesbian, who read that Wynne was attending the flag-raising on June 24 that kicked off Pride Week in Toronto, and sent this vicious Tweet:

@SueAnnLevy: @Kathleen_Wynne Sorry I missed flag raising but was busy getting settled in at QP to keep an eye on all of your agendas, not just gay one.


We can expect a good deal more of this in the future. Why use dog-whistles when you have foghorns?

Finally, you may not have heard of Wendy Davis, a brave Texas lawmaker who faced down the Republican-dominated legislature with a lengthy filibuster against a law that would have dire consequences for women’s reproductive health by virtually outlawing abortion in the state.

A Texas legislator engaging in a filibuster must remain standing at all times, no bathroom breaks, no leaning on the desk, and stay on topic. The filibuster was actually about two hours short of the midnight cut-off, punctuated by points of order from Republicans—including a complaint that a fellow legislator had helped her with her back-brace. Apparently disabled legislators do not have the right to filibuster in Texas.

The remaining time was taken up with fierce procedural battles and a ruckus from hundreds of orange-clad spectators who crowded the galleries, engaging in their own “people’s filibuster.” Voting began after midnight, with an attempt to alter the time-stamp to indicate that it had begun before. But the legislators trying this on were caught at it, and the bill, at least for now, is dead.

The media largely ignored Davis’ heroic effort. CNN preferred to discuss the calorie count of blueberry muffins.

This is 2013. Or did I say that already?

I salute the courage of these women, and their steadfastness, standing up when so many would simply have given up. Win or lose, they did not waver. And that continuing, amazing display of inner strength empowers us all—women and men alike.


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The Conservative-dominated Senate has just blocked C-377, passing amendments that will require this appalling bill to be sent back to the House of Commons, now in recess.

Hugh Segal is the hero of the hour. A Conservative Senator, he has stood up against this bill from the start. He proposed the amendments that passed by a vote of 49-33.

The amendments raise the reporting threshold for payments to $150,000 from $5,000. The reporting threshold for salaries is raised to $444,661 from $100,000.

The amendments also exempt union locals and unions with fewer than 50,000 members.


Clearly Senators had been listening to the parade of witnesses that told them the bill was unconstitutional, discriminatory, a violation of privacy laws, and just plain wrong. And a number of Conservatives in the Upper House successfully resisted government lobbying to vote with the majority.

The salary threshold figure indicates that humour is not dead in the Red Chamber. The now former Conservative MP Brent Rathgeber had proposed a private member’s bill that would have forced the government to disclose the salaries of all federal public sector managers earning more than $188,000. In a Conservative-dominated Committee, the majority voted to raise the amount to $444,661, prompting Rathgeber to quit the caucus in disgust.

Let me add a qualified mea culpa to this joyous news. A few days ago, in a very rare moment of pessimism brought on, perhaps, by the staggering number of fights we’re presently involved in, I ventured to suggest that we were going to lose this battle in the Senate.

Well, we didn’t exactly win it—killing the beast would have been far preferable to giving it a wash and brush up—but we didn’t lose it, either. The Senate vote means the bill will be put off until the Fall, when the House of Commons will vote on the amendments—or simply allow the bill to die.

We can always hope that the Harper Conservatives will tire of the game. The bill has been shredded by constitutional experts, the Privacy Commissioner, the Canadian Bar Association, and a host of other people and organizations who know whereof they speak. There’s not much support in the media, either, or elsewhere, except from rabidly anti-union pressure groups like Merit.

Is this a ditch the Conservatives really want to die in? The party ideologues, count on it, will be pushing hard to continue the fight, regardless of law, morality or justice. It’s how they roll. We won a battle, and good for all of us, including those Conservative Senators who proved they were able to think for themselves—but the Harper war on unions continues. We’ve just been granted a little breathing room. We’d better start using it.


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Why is the Harper government so bound and determined to make life miserable for unemployed workers?

New rules to make it harder for seasonal workers in particular to receive Employment Insurance benefits are just the most recent in a series of measures that punish workers for being unemployed. In Quebec, massive protests have erupted, and an anti-reform coalition continues to grow. In the Atlantic provinces, still highly rural, where high unemployment is a fact of life, the four Premiers—who span the political spectrum—have spoken out forcefully against the restrictions.

Minister of Human Resources and Skills Development Diane Finley has been playing her dutiful role as Harper’s hit-person all along. A year and a half ago, she cleared out 1,000 or so casual workers struggling with claims backlogs, and put a ban on overtime into effect, too. When outstanding claims mounted up as a result, she had the audacity to blame our members in the EI offices for conducting a secret work to rule.

Things became, in fact, almost surreal. Service Canada had established an Office of Client Satisfaction for unhappy claimants—but Service Canada employees were discouraged from telling anyone about it. The word got out, though, and complaints soon spiked.

This sort of thing, meanwhile, has become all too typical:

Jamus Dorey of Nova Scotia applied for employment insurance on July 24. His claim was not processed until Sept. 24, and he received his first EI cheque on Sept. 28.

“It went on and on and on,” he said. “I would call almost every second day for the full eight weeks and not one person from Service Canada actually called me back.”

Mr. Dorey found a job in October. But as the single father of a young son, he says he is very glad he had his own savings to get through two months with no income.


EI offices have been closed all across Canada—the aim is to “consolidate” 120 offices across the country into 22—but, not surprisingly, at least two in Conservative-held ridings were spared.

Add to this a squad of 121 “integrity officers” deployed in Atlantic Canada alone, sent off to visit EI claimants in their homes, unannounced. As it turns out, despite earlier denials by the Minister, these officers (our members, by the way) are assigned quotas of money to be recovered—sorry, “performance objectives” to be met—and their managers earn performance pay when targets are achieved. Quebec has the highest quota set—$121 million. Ontario’s target is $110 million, while officers in the Western provinces and territories are expected to recover $115 million.

The integrity officers who are being sent out to do the government’s dirty work are, to no one’s surprise, encountering angry responses, putting them at considerable personal risk.

Everyone suffers, in other words: claimants and Service Canada workers alike.

A protest by the NDP against this government-ordered harassment brought this response from Finley: “The NDP only care about fraudsters and cheaters, who they call victims.”

Which brings us to the new rules in the last Harper budget targeting seasonal workers.

Workers who are unemployed in the off-season will be expected to take any job for which they are qualified, at as much as 30% less than their regular wage. And such jobs could require a commute as long as 100 kilometres from home, as though rural areas were blessed with public transport.

Seasonal work will likely continue be a dominant feature of the Atlantic provinces specifically for some time to come. In a part of Canada notorious for its high unemployment rate, seasonal work in fishing, forestry, construction, tourism and agriculture has allowed more than 100,000 workers, most in rural areas, to live and raise families. Employment insurance has traditionally tided them over during the off-season.

Pro-business journalists, characteristically, sees EI payments to seasonal workers as a problem. Here is one typical article from that perspective. EI payments prevent labour mobility—the West is facing labour shortages, we are informed, so workers should just move there.

In fact, the new rules are dividing the provinces, with the Alberta and Saskatchewan governments welcoming the changes as encouraging workers to head West.

What becomes of seasonal industries when there are no workers to fill the positions is never seriously addressed. Yet the prospects for year-round employment for many seasonal workers remain problematic.

For his part, Harper has just shrugged off the concerns of the Atlantic and Quebec premiers, and, by extension, the effects of his new policies on workers across the country.

For the foreseeable future, it seems, we will be hearing more stories like this one: Marlene Geirsdorf was denied EI benefits and told to go on welfare because she had no means of transportation to get to a possible job in Charlottetown, 60 kilometres away. Only a considerable outcry led to her benefits being restored—but must each such case be addressed through a public protest?

Harper’s changes to EI are divisive, punitive and extreme. They threaten the continued existence of the seasonal economy from which we all benefit, and the personal lives of workers and their families—not only in Atlantic Canada and Quebec, where the effects will be most keenly felt, but in other parts of Canada, particularly in rural areas. This one is everybody’s fight, and we’d better get down to it.

[Photo: Matthew Sherwood/Globe and Mail]


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Pourquoi le gouvernement Harper s’acharne-t-il contre les chômeurs?

On dirait qu’il veut les punir d’être chômeurs. En tout cas, c’est l’impression que donnent les récentes modifications à l’assurance-emploi, qui rend l’accès aux prestations plus difficile pour les travailleuses et les travailleurs saisonniers. Au Québec, il y a eu des manifestations monstres, et une coalition contre la réforme continue de grandir. Dans les Maritimes, des provinces toujours assez rurales où le taux de chômage est très élevé, les quatre premiers ministres, de toutes persuasions politiques, ont demandé qu’on suspende la réforme.

Depuis le début, Diane Finley, ministre des Ressources humaines et Développement des compétences Canada, fait le sale boulot de Harper. Il y a un an et demi, elle a viré un millier d’employés occasionnels aux prises avec l’arriéré des demandes d’assurance-emploi et a interdit les heures supplémentaires. Naturellement, les demandes se sont empilées. Et elle a eu le culot d’insinuer que nos membres dans les bureaux de l’assurance-emploi font la grève du zèle.

Tout ça est complètement surréaliste! Service Canada a ouvert un Bureau de la satisfaction des clients, tout en décourageant ses employés d’en parler! Mais les gens l’ont su quand même, et le nombre de plaintes a explosé.

Voici quelques problèmes typiques:

Jamus Dorey, résident de la Nouvelle-Écosse, a fait une demande d’assurance-emploi le 24 juillet, mais son dossier n’a été traité que le 24 septembre et il a reçu son premier chèque le 28 septembre.

« Ça n’arrêtait pas, explique-t-il. Pendant huit semaines d’attente, j’ai laissé des messages à Service Canada presque chaque jour et personne ne m’a jamais rappelé. »

Monsieur Dorey a trouvé un nouvel emploi en octobre. Père célibataire d’un jeune garçon, il s’est dit très heureux d’avoir eu quelques épargnes qui lui ont permis de tenir pendant les deux mois où il est resté sans revenu.

Le gouvernement a fermé plein de bureaux d’assurance-emploi aux quatre coins du pays, soi-disant pour « consolider les services ». On fera passer leur nombre de 120 à 22. Mais au moins deux circonscriptions conservatrices ont été épargnées. Tiens, tiens…

Il faut ajouter à tout ça un escadron d’« inspecteurs » déployé dans les Maritimes, qu’on envoie faire des visites impromptues chez les prestataires d’assurance-emploi. Malgré les réfutations de la ministre, ces agents (nos membres, en passant) se sont vus imposer des quotas de prestations à couper. Et s’ils les atteignent, ce sont les gestionnaires qui toucheront une prime au rendement… Le quota de réduction des prestations le plus élevé est celui du Québec : 121 millions de dollars. En Ontario, les prestations doivent être réduites de 110 millions de dollars, dans l’Ouest et dans les territoires, de 115 millions de dollars.

Les fonctionnnaires doivent faire les basses œuvres du gouvernement. Pas surprenant qu’ils soient reçus avec une brique et un fanal, ce qui les met en danger.

Personne n’en sort gagnant : ni les prestataires, ni les employés de Service Canada.

Quand le NPD a protesté contre ce harcèlement des chômeurs par le gouvernement, la ministre Finley a répondu que « le NPD ne s’occupe que des gens qui sont des tricheurs ou des fraudeurs, qu’ils appellent des “victimes”. »

Ce qui nous amène aux nouvelles règles du budget Harper qui touchent les travailleurs saisonniers.

Les travailleurs qui chôment pendant la saison morte devront accepter n’importe quel emploi pour lequel ils sont qualifiés, jusqu’à 30 % de moins de leur salaire normal et jusqu’à 100 kilomètres de leur domicile, comme s’il y avait des transports en commun dans les zones rurales!

Or, le travail saisonnier restera sans doute très répandu dans les Maritimes ces prochaines années. Dans cette région où le taux de chômage est élevé, plus de 100 000 travailleurs ont pu élever leur famille, surtout dans les zones rurales, grâce au travail saisonnier dans l’industrie de la pêche, des forêts, de la construction, du tourisme et de l’agriculture.

L’assurance-emploi leur permettait de tenir durant la saison morte.

Comme on pouvait s’y attendre, il y a des journalistes pro-business qui considèrent les travailleurs saisonniers comme un problème. Elles pensent que les prestations d’assurance-emploi préviennent la mobilité de la main-d’œuvre. Leur solution est simple : il y a des emplois à l’ouest du pays, les gens n’ont qu’à y déménager.

Mais la réforme proposée divise les provinces. Les gouvernements de l’Alberta et de la Saskatchewan accueillent favorablement la réforme, car pour eux, c’est une façon d’encourager l’immigration de travailleurs vers les provinces de l’ouest.

Mais qu’est-ce qui va arriver aux industries saisonnières quand elles ne pourront plus trouver de travailleurs? Personne n’a l’air de s’en soucier. Et la perspective d’emplois à longueur d’année n’est pas nécessairement à la portée de la plupart des travailleurs saisonniers.

Harper, quant à lui, se lave les mains des inquiétudes des premiers ministres des provinces des Maritimes et du Québec. Il ne semble pas non plus se soucier de l’impact de la réforme sur les travailleuses et les travailleurs au pays.

Désormais, il est fort probable qu’on entende souvent des histoires comme celles-ci : on a refusé des prestations d’assurance-emploi à Marlene Geirsdorf parce qu’elle n’avait aucun moyen de transport pour se rendre à un emploi disponible à Charlottetown, à 60 kilomètres de chez elle. Seul un tollé général a forcé le gouvernement à rétablir ses prestations. Est-ce qu’on sera obligés de mobiliser une telle attention dans tous les cas?

La réforme de Harper divise le pays, punit les chômeurs et leur impose des conditions déraisonnables. Elle menace l’économie saisonnière, qui profite à tous. Elle affecte la vie des travailleuses et des travailleurs, sans parler de leurs familles, pas seulement dans les Maritimes et au Québec, où l’impact sera significatif, mais partout au Canada, surtout en région rurale. C’est un combat qui concerne tout le monde. On est mieux de se retrousser les manches.

[Photo : Matthew Sherwood/Globe and Mail]


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Here I am on the Rock, aka Newfoundland, talking to some folks from our sister union, NAPE, out on the picket line. These are brewery workers, members of Local 7004, fifty in all, who have been on strike since late March, suffering a serious case of the Labatt Blues.

Labatt is owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev, which pulls in an annual revenue of $40 billion. After tax last year they netted $9.4 billion. That’s more than the annual Gross Domestic Product of sixty or so countries.

But Labatt came to the table pleading poverty, demanding concessions on pensions and medical benefits, and a raft of other takeaways as well, including a two-tier wage system. The workers know how to read a balance sheet, and weren’t having any of that. So the company, seeing their resolve, ordered them to train replacement workers before their contract had even expired.

That set off a brief so-called wildcat strike on March 25. The courts ordered their picket line removed on April 9. The workers proceeded to vote unanimously for a legal strike a day later, and they’ve stayed out ever since.

There’s a Facebook page. Go take a look.

Labatt has hired a private company, AFIMAC Security, to “monitor” and film the strikers. It built a fence to protect the scabs. It’s refused to have anything to do with the Local since May 13.

Labatt doesn’t want a collective agreement. It wants to break the union.

Meanwhile, Labatt beer is now scab beer. Somehow, that’s not a thirst-inducing thought, even on a warm day.

Unsurprisingly, there’s now a boycott on. The Canadian Brewery Workers Alliance (CBWA), consisting of Locals at seven Labatt breweries across Canada, is on board, and support has been reported internationally, in Argentina, the UK and Belgium.

All of the beers brewed by the parent company are on the boycott list, in fact: Budweiser, Bud Light, Becks, Stella Artois, Labatt Blue, Labatt Lite, Blue Star, Alexander Keith’s, Labatt Maximum Ice, Jockey Club, Hoegaarden, Michelob, Kokanee, and Leffe.

Hot summer ahead? A few jugs of brew among friends sound like a plan? Come on, there’s plenty of other brands to choose from. And by choosing them, you’re not only quenching your thirst, but supporting workers who’ve been on strike for nearly three months just to keep what they have.

The alternative isn’t so tasty. Think about it.



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Robyn Benson, PSAC

Recess time

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The House of Commons may have risen for its long summer recess, but the Senate creaks on, and will for some time longer.

Besides five government bills, a couple of other loose ends—two “private member’s bills”—are keeping the Senate in session. I place the phrase in quotation marks because, under the Harper government, private member’s bills are often thinly-disguised government bills, snuck in through the back door to avoid the usual scrutiny. Since the Conservatives have been in power, there has been a record number of these so-called “private member’s bills.”

One of these two bills presently under consideration in the chamber of sober second thought is C-304, which would remove Section 13 from the Canadian Human Rights Act. This section forbids the use of the telephone or the Internet to communicate hate speech. Removing it would effectively permit a freer hand to haters of all sorts to target their favourite minorities. Indeed, the bigots are already neighing and stomping at the starting-gate.

There are hate speech provisions in the Criminal Code, as defenders of this bill will be quick to tell you—Section 319. But the criminal standard of proof is much higher than that required in a civil procedure such as the Human Rights Tribunal process. On top of that, accessing Section 319 requires the consent of the Attorney General in the province or territory affected.

A recent case in Ontario highlights the problem. A talk-show host on a conservative television network broadcast a hateful eight-minute rant attacking Roma people, whom he called “Gypsies.” A complaint under the Criminal Code was duly made, the police were prepared to charge the host, and the regional Crown was ready to go as well. But the Ontario Attorney General, John Gerretson, refused to give his consent to proceed. It appears that he may have been cowed by the TV personality in question, which, if true, is shameful.

The repeal of Section 13, with Section 319 of the Criminal Code having become more or less a dead letter, will make public bigotry effectively legal once again, as it was half a century ago. Our future under this government, it seems, is the dubious past.

The second bill is C-377, a discriminatory anti-union initiative that I’ve blogged about before. Constitutional experts have been speaking out almost unanimously against the measure, with only one former judge dissenting—whose client happens to be the anti-union “Merit” organization. The Privacy Commissioner doesn’t like it either. And C-377 seems to have run into a few roadblocks in the Senate, with even some Conservative Senators expressing strong misgivings about it.

But what Harper wants of his caucus, Harper tends to get. The Senate may not all be trained seals, but the Prime Minister has installed a majority of them, and the sound of barking and flipper-flapping can be deafening in the Red Chamber. Barring a last-minute miracle, the bill will pass—and the labour movement will have to have it struck down by the courts.

A sorry end it will be to a dismal sitting of Parliament—perhaps the most divisive, destructive, hyper-partisan, scandal-ridden session in Canadian history. Interesting times, indeed: and they aren’t nearly over yet.

Robyn Benson, PSAC

And it's off to court we go

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…to defend the rights of our members yet again.

The people who keep our borders secure—the FB group—have been seeking a collective agreement since 2011. Last Fall, having achieved very little progress at the bargaining table, the dispute was referred to a Public Interest Commission, which is established to try to bring the two sides together.

The PIC took nearly half a year to report, during which time Treasury Board authorized the Canadian Border Services Agency to email our members with a “final offer,” which it did on April 29. Shortly after that, we were informed that Treasury Board and the Canadian Border Services Agency would be asking Minister James Moore to order a mandatory membership vote.

This was literally unprecedented, and wildly premature. The PIC report hadn’t been released at that point, no one knew what was in it, and this power—to force a vote—has never been used. But nothing more was said until earlier this month, when Treasury Board President Tony Clement decided to celebrate Public Service Week by announcing that the forced vote would indeed take place.

The PIC report had just been released (June 5). But instead of sitting down with us to discuss the contents of the report—the normal process once it is in the hands of the two parties—Treasury Board flatly refused to meet.

One has to wonder what the point of a Public Interest Commission is, if its findings can simply be ignored altogether by one of the parties. That’s hardly serious bargaining, and effectively six months or so of the members’ time has been wasted.

We shall be asking for a judicial review of the decision. The claim by the government is that there is a risk of strike action by our members. But the truth is that there is no risk at all at this time. Any strike would be months away. There isn’t even an essential services agreement in place, which needs to happen before a strike can proceed. And the whole point of such an agreement is to ensure that the public is not endangered.

It gets worse. The Public Service Labour Relations Board could hold the vote in mid-July, when many of the affected workers are off on vacation.

We believe that Minister Moore’s decision to force a vote is fundamentally flawed in law, have asked the Federal Court to quash the order, and have requested an expedited hearing on the matter. In the event that a vote does take place, the FB negotiating team is strongly recommending that members of the FB group reject it, as is the entire PSAC leadership.

In the meantime, all members should ponder the grave consequences of this arbitrary action by the government. We have a collective bargaining process in place for a reason—to allow the two parties to negotiate an agreement in good faith. If either side can just arbitrarily step out of the process when it feels like it, we no longer have bargaining at all. Up and leaving when it chooses, Treasury Board is tearing up a process that has served both sides for nearly fifty years.

Stay tuned for updates. We’ll keep you fully informed of developments.


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The scandals that National VP Chris Aylward wrote about a while ago deepen and spread. Police and Elections Canada are now involved. Conservative MPs continue to sit who legally shouldn’t. Another Senator is confused by paperwork. A secret Conservative slush fund being run out of the Prime Minister’s Office is exposed. The Speaker of the House disgraces his office yet again. A former Harper insider questions the Prime Minister’s veracity.

And so the increasingly tacky reality show called “Parliament” continues to drag on, like Big Brother without the sex.

We haven’t heard much more about Mike Duffy since his desire to become a minister without portfolio was revealed a couple of weeks ago. Seems he wanted a limousine. He didn’t get it.

But fellow ex-CTV journalist Pamela Wallin has chosen the tactic of throwing herself upon the mercy of the public. She admitted to having “made mistakes.” She’s sorry about that. It was all the paperwork, see, “mounds” of it (Duffy apparently had the same problem) and she’s already paid back $38,000 worth of those mistakes.

(Shorter Pat Carney, former Conservative Senator: “Are you kidding me?”)

In any case, there may well be more oopsies:

Eyebrows were first raised after an examination of Wallin’s travel expenses from September 2010 to Nov. 30, 2012, showed she had claimed only $29,423 in what’s deemed regular travel to and from her home province of Saskatchewan, while racking up another $321,000 in other travel elsewhere in Canada and abroad.


An audit report will be completed in July and is likely to be made public in August. It’s later than it was supposed to be, in part because the auditors are now going back to the date of Wallin’s actual appointment in January, 2009.

The Conservatives, obviously tired of all the shoes that have been dropping recently, gave her an hour to leave the Conservative caucus or be booted from it.

Meanwhile Senate bad boy Patrick Brazeau and the charming Liberal Senator Mac Harb have been given a month to pay back significant amounts of what the Senate internal economy committee considers to be improperly-claimed housing allowances. Like Senator Duffy, these two had some problems, it seems, remembering where they live.

They’ve both decided to sue to keep the money. And it’s entirely possible that the Senate may have to pay their legal bills—which means, of course, that you and I will.

The RCMP has proceeded to launch a criminal investigation of former Harper Chief of Staff Nigel Wright’s $90K cheque which, in an impulsive fit of generosity, he gave to Mike Duffy to get the latter off the hook with the Senate internal economy committee.

The Prime Minister, famous for his micromanagement style, claims that he had no idea what his Chief of Staff was up to. A former PMO insider, soon to be tried for influence-peddling, expresses polite scepticism.

One question hanging in the air: would Wright have eventually been reimbursed his $90K out of the huge, and until recently, secret, PMO slush fund that he controlled?

Turning now to the House of Commons, another Conservative MP, Jeff Watson, joins his colleagues James Bezan and Shelly Glover in having been found guilty by Elections Canada of exceeding his election spending limits.

All three MPs are fighting Elections Canada in court. Watson is claiming that the independent agency is pursuing a “vendetta” against the Conservative party—as one Tweeter sarcastically put it, just like the way police officers are pursuing a vendetta against drunk drivers.

The three MPs continue to sit and vote in the House, contrary to the Canada Elections Act.

And that brings us directly to the Speaker of the House, a young Conservative MP named Andrew Scheer, whose perceived partiality in the House has become somewhat of a scandal of its own. It turns out that Scheer had been sitting on letters from Elections Canada calling for the suspensions of Bezan and Glover. When questioned about this after the story broke in the media, Scheer refused to table the letters, saying that the Opposition could go find them on the Internet.

This is the parody to which the ancient and honourable office of Speaker of the House of Commons has been reduced under the Conservatives.

Democracy under the Westminster system depends more on trust, custom and convention than on formal rules. That makes it fragile, and as we are seeing, a government can run roughshod over it if it chooses to do so. Even the rule of law seems to have no effect, at least up to this point, as the cluster of scandals continues to bloom.

And so the shadows swirl, the fog descends, and dim shapes skulk in the ever-deepening dark. Is this our Parliament Hill? Or Bald Mountain?

Chris Aylward

Conservative accountability

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The headline says it all: “Conservatives defeat NDP bill to make PBO independent, accountable.”

The PBO is the Parliamentary Budget Officer, whom I have mentioned in a previous post. “Accountable” means that the PBO would have reported to Parliament, not, as is presently the case, to the Library of Parliament.

A little history: In 2006, Stephen Harper was first elected, in part because he promised the country a new era of accountability. He had a Financial Accountability Act passed in short order, but the follow-through was iffy. He tried to shoehorn long-time Conservative Party supporter Gwyn Morgan into the position of Chair of a new Public Appointments Commission that was supposed to screen out patronage appointments—somewhat ironic, to put it mildly. Those were the Conservative minority days, however, and the opposition parties nixed Morgan’s appointment. Harper abruptly scrapped the Commission, indicating his skin-deep attachment to accountability.

The first Parliamentary Budget Officer was Kevin Page. He tried with might and main to do the job he thought he’d been assigned, but ran into roadblocks at every turn. The Conservatives were hoping for a lapdog, not a watchdog. The Liberals didn’t like him either.

But Page was fearless. He went after the ballooning costs of the Afghan war, the F-35 jets, and a bunch of new prisons the Conservatives wanted. He challenged Finance Minister Jim Flaherty’s claim that Canada would be spared the effects of the 2008 global recession.

He acted, in other words, like the independent watchdog he thought he’d been appointed to be.

His reward? The Conservatives first tried to cut his budget—but retreated under threat. Then they tried to limit the scope of his reports. Finally they simply refused to give him the information he needed to do his job, forcing him to go to the federal courts. The case was dismissed on a technicality this past April, but Page won his main point.

(That information would have indicated where the current wave of departmental cuts would fall. Instead, countless federal public workers have been spending stressful months wondering if they are next.)

Now, this is a long backstory for what happened earlier this week. The Leader of the Opposition, Tom Mulcair, presented a Private Member’s Bill to make the office of the PBO a truly independent one. The bill would have made the PBO an officer of Parliament—like the Auditor General, for example, or the Chief Electoral Officer, or the Privacy Commissioner. The latter all report directly to Parliament, and are walled off from political interference.

This was supposed to be a free vote, but every single Conservative in the House voted against it. In fact the vote divided along party lines on both sides of the house. Opposition parties wanted an independent, accountable PBO. The Conservatives did not. And to add fuel to the flames, the committee presently looking at Page’s replacement includes Conservative government House leader Peter Van Loan’s Chief of Staff.

The Opposition, to its credit, has been fighting for an independent budget watchdog for some time. NDP finance critic Peggy Nash tabled a bill in 2011 that would have accomplished this. The Conservatives defeated it. Earlier this year, she raised a motion in the House to improve PBO independence and extend Page’s mandate until a suitable replacement could be found. The Conservatives sank that one, too.

While the government is presently proceeding to choose a tame replacement PBO behind closed doors, it is encouraging—in fact, it was a pleasant surprise—to learn that the government-appointed interim PBO, Sonia L’Heureux, is continuing to demand the missing information on the departmental budget cuts, armed with the court ruling in April. Whether she succeeds before a permanent PBO is found, however, is up in the air.

In spite of all the positive pressure for transparency, openness and accountability, the Harper government at this point still has the upper hand, as we have just seen by the vote tally on Mulcair’s bill—148-131. As always, it prefers to work in the dark, unimpeded and unaccountable. So here’s hoping the Opposition continues to keep the pressure on. After all, as the Conservatives once said, the public does have the right to know.

Robyn Benson, PSAC

Performing appraisals

| Link.


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While I can’t say the response to our Performance Review and Employee Appraisal contest has been overwhelming, I will assume that—like letters to the editor or to politicians—every one of them stands for a few hundred in a similar vein.

The stories submitted in the comments indicate that the system is, certainly in part, not working the way it was set up to do. That will not come as a surprise to anyone. At its best, the PREA is a means by which a manager works with an employee to set goals and objectives, and evaluates that employee’s on-the-job performance according to strict criteria, based upon the job description and mutually agreed-upon goals and objectives set for the previous year.

It is not intended to be a punitive exercise, but a constructive one. Properly done, it supplements, and summarizes, the feedback that a good manager gives to an employee on a regular basis. It does not demand the impossible, nor should it come as a shock. A PREA is a tool that, used with skill, can be beneficial to both manager and employee.

That’s the theory, but as our contributors have indicated, not necessarily the practice. Doing a PREA before making oneself aware of the employee’s job description is a no-no. Having the employee complete his or her own performance appraisal is a cop-out, and accomplishes nothing.

Reader “Susan” submitted one of the more detailed stories. She begins:

In last year’s PREA (yes, I did have one Mr. Clement!), I was told by an acting manager that discussion is not permitted, and that “giving feedback when receiving feedback is unacceptable.” End of discussion.

She then sketches out precisely how a bullying manager can misuse the process and thoroughly demoralize an employee. It’s hard to read, and not the least amusing, but she is clearly one of our two winners.

The second prize goes to reader “Saro,” whose entry was short and not at all sweet. It refers, not to a PREA, but to a performance appraisal given at the end of a contract. But I think readers would agree that it counts. “Surreal” might be the adjective that describes this tale:

I was asked to sign my assessment, the supervisor had a paper sheet over the body of the document and when I tried to remove it to read it, she pulled it back and said I wasn’t allowed to read it. So I signed it and left. Never did find out what was on it!!!! bahaha

“Bahaha” indeed. It’s hard to imagine a more maddeningly pointless exercise.

The PREA, in its current form, evaluates employees from a manager’s standpoint. But that’s really only half of the story, isn’t it? In an ideal world, structured feedback from employees would be just as useful, to help managers improve. Certainly the stories we received indicate deficiencies on that score. So, a “counter-PREA”? Why not?

In the meanwhile, my congratulations to the winners! Send a comment, which will not be published, with your name and mailing address, indicating the gift card you would prefer.


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What a brilliant way to kick off Public Service Week: end-run the collective bargaining process and implicitly accuse public workers of fraud at the same time.

Any wonder we’re not exactly keen on getting involved?

The government’s response to a just-released, mildly favourable report from the Public Interest Commission for our FB group (border security) is the same as it was a few weeks back: to circumvent the collective bargaining process and force a membership vote on its final offer. The PIC, whose report has been awaited for months, might as well have saved its breath. The government refused to meet with the PSAC even to discuss its contents.

Bad faith doesn’t begin to cover it. We’ve been trying to negotiate a contract for the FB group since 2011. The government’s strategy has been to delay, and delay again. It’s treated the PIC process as a joke, and now it’s just walked away. This isn’t merely a gesture of disrespect towards the bargaining team and the union leadership. It’s a flick of contempt for every single FB member working to keep our borders secure.

And the same week, Treasury Board President Tony Clement decided to announce the end of sick leave, suggesting that public workers are abusing the system.

Radical changes to the present system were contained in the budget, and we made our position clear at the time.

But now Clement has thrown down the proverbial gauntlet. He claims that “absenteeism” in the Public Service amounts to more than 18.2 days a year, and he wants to scrap the entire sick-leave system.

Even if that figure is accurate, the time off that is averaged includes long-term disability and worker’s compensation and unpaid sick leave, too. So someone away for a year, for example, recovering from injuries or fighting cancer, is lumped in with another person who might have taken no sick leave at all. Unpaid sick leave, used by only 5% of all federal public workers, includes long-term disability, and EI paid to workers who are waiting for those long-term disability benefits to begin.

We get a few bushels of Clement’s public sector-private sector apples and oranges as well. Provincial and federal labour standards do not require private employers to provide paid sick leave. Many do not. When a worker is absent due to illness, it’s just an unpaid work day, and doesn’t find its way into the statistics.

The pressure is also on, where there is no paid sick leave, for workers to come in to work sick. A study in the US concludes that the costs of doing that are substantial—longer recovery times, lower productivity, and a higher likelihood of workplace accidents. That’s the environment in much of the private sector, which Clement insists on comparing favourably to the federal Public Service.

Doing more and more work with fewer and fewer people, not to mention the thousands of “affected” notices hanging over the heads of federal public workers, has been taking its toll—about half of current sick leave claims are due to stress, depression and anxiety. Health Canada, which manages the federal government’s Employee Assistance Plan, reported a spike in calls when the current wave of cuts was announced. “Survivor guilt” also plays its role in what has become a toxic work environment for many.

Finally, Treasury Board itself concedes that a key factor in the rise in days off for sickness is the ageing Public Service demographic. On average, public workers are significantly older than those in the general workforce, and are statistically at higher risk for illness and disability.

But rather than look at the causes, Clement prefers to blame the victims.

Some journalists, meanwhile, are acting like government stenographers. They repeat the “18 days” number uncritically. And they unquestioningly refer to the “$5.2 billion liability” allegedly created by banking sick leave—as if every single day of it were going to be claimed. Here, for example, is Greg Weston:

According to one informed estimate, public servants are currently sitting on about $5.2-billion worth of accumulated sick leave, a potential tidal wave of future absenteeism.


“Potential tidal wave?” That’s not how the current system works, and Clement and his media cheerleaders know it. Managers who suspect abuse can, and do, demand medical certificates. Many public workers don’t come close to using up their banked sick leave, which vanishes upon retirement. But, as a form of insurance, it is there for those unfortunate enough to come down with serious long-term illnesses.

The system Clement wants to replace it with would reduce salary for those incapacitated to 70%. Sick leave days would be drastically cut back, and very few of them could be carried over from one year to the next.

The man who diverted nearly $50 million from border security to build gazebos and beautify parks in his own riding, now presumes, in effect, to lecture public workers on personal accountability. He suggests a need for “active case management” to catch alleged cheaters:

Clement said the more active case management will include more followup with workers who are off to ensure they are getting the appropriate support. But it will also help catch those who are trying to cheat the system.

“In any cases of unwarranted absenteeism, we’ll be able to track that a lot better and make sure people are not taking advantage of the system,” said Clement.


Does he believe that this scapegoating of the sick will draw attention away from Duffygate, Harpergate, and all the other scandals in which the Conservatives are presently drowning?

Sick leave is our line in the sand, and the Harper government had better be prepared for the huge backlash that awaits it if it presses on. To repeat: we are not trading, it, selling it, swapping it or giving it away.

Meanwhile, while cuts continue, the collective bargaining process is trashed and sick leave is on the chopping block, we are invited to join Public Service Week festivities. Adding insult to injury, it seems, is how the government prefers to celebrate it.

We’ll take a pass, thanks. We have work to do.

[Photo: Larry Wong/Postmedia News]

Chris Aylward

Photoshopping the G8

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From Northern Ireland comes this sad, instructive story that illustrates perfectly what is wrong with the current austerity fad. Representatives of the richest eight nations in the world—including Canada—are meeting in Enniskillen, in County Fermanagh, and they’ll be driving past bankrupt shops that are pretending to be doing well by displaying fake storefronts. And, ironically enough, the government there is paying to construct this latter-day Potemkin village.

Austerity is the notion that a badly-performing economy is best healed by measures that make it work even worse—a kind of economic homeopathy. It’s Depression-era thinking: when the economy contracts, stop spending money.

After two or three years, it’s abundantly clear that austerity has provided useful cover for what Nobel prizewinning economist Paul Krugman refers to as “the obviously intense desire of policy makers, politicians and pundits across the Western world to turn their backs on the unemployed and instead use the economic crisis as an excuse to slash social programs.” But austerity hasn’t remotely achieved its declared aim of repairing economies, in part because it was based on a spreadsheet error.

Northern Ireland, indeed the UK as a whole, is suffering badly from austerity measures. Down south, in the Republic of Ireland (Eire), austerity has been ruling the roost as well, with similar results—so self-defeating, in fact, that Eire’s largest business group, and the centre-right Fianna Fáil party, have called for an end to this failed experiment.

The official line from slash-and-burn governments has been that debt is bad, in and of itself. OK, do you have a mortgage, or know anyone with one? Where do you think the housing market would be, not to mention homeowners, if mortgages—substantial but manageable debts—didn’t exist? How many homeowners would there even be?

Our own economy was not hit as badly by the 2008 recession as a number of European countries, so the austerity measures of the Harper government have not been deep enough to cause riots in the streets. But the same blinkered thinking is in play, as public sector jobs are slashed by the tens of thousands and social supports for the poorest members of society are kicked away.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, meanwhile, vows to “slay the deficit,” assuming we’ll all agree that deficits are bad, too. Once again, Krugman is having none of it—and neither should we.

A commentator from the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives points out the obvious:

So we now have a country that in constant dollars is far wealthier than it was in the mid-70s, but one that somehow allegedly can’t afford to improve or even maintain the social programs we managed to fund with far less national income four decades ago.


He goes on:

The share of its GDP that Canada devotes to social spending has dropped steadily and when last measured stood at just 16%, a dismal 22nd out of 30 OECD countries. The average OECD nation spends about 23% of GDP on its social programs, and some countries, such as Sweden and France, spend as much as 27%.

Clearly the problem in Canada is not one of revenue insufficiency, but of revenue maldistribution. The underfunding of Medicare and other social programs has been a matter of choice, not necessity. The money is readily available - or could be made available - for any project or program that is considered important enough to deserve it.


Such as F-35 jets. The scandal of huge cost overruns forced the abandonment of that scheme last December, but the Harper government is still very much in the market for a fleet of warplanes. No austerity there.

In the meantime the government’s announced intention to collect outstanding taxes from wealthy corporations is more for show than anything else. Uncollected taxes stand at $100 billion, with another $88 billion squirreled away in offshore accounts—but the government is cutting jobs by the hundreds at the Canadian Revenue Agency.

The long and the short of it is this. Austerity has proven to be a convenient alibi for conservative governments to do what they have always wanted to do anyway—cut social spending, gut the public sector, and allocate revenues according to their own priorities and values. The results have been disastrous.

“We pretend to work and they pretend to pay us,” was the cynical comment of workers in the old Soviet Union. Now, in a little village in Northern Ireland struggling to exist under modern capitalism, it’s “We pretend we’re well-off while you pretend you’re fixing the economy.” The government there paid for the facade, and ours is paying for a more expensive one— the “Economic Action Plan” advertising blitz. Maybe it’s time for everyone to stop pretending.

Julie Docherty

What has happened to our country?

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HarperCanada.JPG

Even now, with all we’ve been through with the federal Conservatives, I was still shocked by this recent news. Buried deep in the pages of the government’s budget implementation bill, C-60, is a provision that effectively gives it the head seat at the CBC management table.

The clause allows cabinet to have final say on salaries, working conditions and collective bargaining positions, and obliterates the arm’s length relationship stipulated by the Broadcasting Act.

Also captured in the attempt to manage news, public discourse and information, are the Canada Council for the Arts, the International Development Research Centre and the National Arts Centre.

News, research and the expression of ideas through art are powerful catalysts for challenge and change in any society; or, to put it another way, they can be dangerous to a sitting government with unpopular ideas.

North of 60, we’ve seen the triumph of right-wing ideology, the expression of which is found in federal budgets, omnibus bills and eager-to-please territorial governments that lack the desire or courage to stand up for Northerners. The combination of these forces has given power to the dangerous notion that resource development, big corporations and privatization come before the needs of the people who live here.

Last summer when the Prime Minister took his yearly jaunt through our territories, we joined with the Union of Northern Workers, Nunavut Employees Union and Yukon Employees Union to issue open letters in the media that garnered national attention. We reminded the government that the North is more than just a resource extraction site for oil, gas, and mining companies, many with ruinous practices whose legacies will be felt far into the future.

More than 100,000 people reside here, we said, and we rely on strong programs, public services, good jobs and a healthy environment. But there has been no action. Instead, there has been only minimal support for people but maximum marshaling of public resources, tax dollars and legislative initiatives to prompt a bonanza for the business sector.

April’s Labour Market Bulletin states that youth unemployment stands at nearly 27% in Nunavut. That is scandalous.

Food, housing, poverty and lack of access to basic services are endemic to all three territories. Workers who deliver crucial public services are disappearing, as are the services we provide. Privatization looms large and so does the expectation that individuals will dig deep into their pockets if they want access to what previously existed in the public sector.

As the Conservatives try to force a dramatic reshaping of our country, our entitlements, our work and leisure lives—and our ideas about society—the labour movement will stand in its way. We are a powerful force, made even stronger by the PSAC’s campaign against cutbacks.

Every member has a vital role to play in this, and the maximum efforts of every committee and council are crucial to ensure that Canada remains a country of equality of opportunity, and of hope. Let’s not let things slide until it’s too late.

Robyn Benson, PSAC

One Big Union

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UNIFOR.JPG

I would be remiss if I didn’t say something on this blog to congratulate CAW and CEP on their recent merger. 300,000 members is a lot of muscle. Private sector workers can sure use the strength.

I see the naysayers are already at it. Since the new union hasn’t actually done anything yet—the merger won’t actually be in effect until Labour Day—its name, UNIFOR, is being criticized for lacking “emotional magic.” Forgive me, but like “Canadian Autoworkers?” “Communications, Energy and Paperworkers?” Er, “Public Service Alliance of Canada?” No offence to anyone, but… :)

What’s in a name? It’s what the new union does that will count, and its actions will inject that emotional magic into UNIFOR. The unionization rate in the private sector is presently 18%, more or less, so there’s really nowhere to go but up.

Like PSAC, UNIFOR represents a wide variety of workers and workplaces, and the challenges will be many—but the leadership of both unions is well aware of that.

It’s not that they’re starting from scratch, after all. The founding unions have quality leadership and a lot of accumulated knowledge and experience, all of which will guide the new union through the transition and into the future.

In the meantime, I wish UNIFOR all the best, and I look forward to working with the new union at the Canadian Labour Congress and elsewhere. Solidarity forever!

Robyn Benson, PSAC

More on performance reviews

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Yesterday I let fly at Treasury Board President Tony Clement, the media, and a professor for good measure, on the subject of annual performance reviews, or as they are called in the federal public service—yes, we really do have ‘em—Performance Review and Employee Appraisals (PREAs).

Reading the article at this link, and this one, I learned to my mounting horror that there was no employee evaluation system in place for public workers until Clement came along; that not enough of those workers are being fired for incompetence because, well, he just knows, is all; and that unions have no business defending their members. I thought I’d stumbled into a parallel universe for a moment.

But it was just Harper’s World. Another day, another bizarre go at the federal public sector.

So I was irritated, and I guess it showed. It’s rare, at least in my experience, for such easily-challenged assertions of fact to be greeted so uncritically by the media. I mean, come on. I almost lost my trademark sense of humour.

But “almost” is, thankfully, the key word. And so today it’s time for a little fun, even if this latest attack on federal public workers and their unions is, as noted, no laughing matter.

We invite readers, whether union or non-union, federal public sector or not, to tell us your worst/funniest/most surreal performance appraisal story. We know there’s a healthy supply of them out there. We could tell some ourselves, but this contest is closed to union officials and staff. So leave yours here in the comment section, and take all the space you need.

Next week a panel of distinguished, impartial judge will select the two best entries. I’ll share with you some of the feedback, and I’ll award the top two a $50 gift certificate for iTunes, Amazon Play or BlackBerry.

“Why are our dues going to…” Stop right there. This is personal money, bucks I’ll gladly spend for a few good tales. Heck, wouldn’t you?

The floor is open.


Dilbert.JPG

To hear Treasury Board President Tony Clement tell it, federal public workers have never had their work performance evaluated before. He knows his audience, and that’s not the workers who are more than familiar with the Performance Review and Employee Appraisal (PREA) system that’s been in place since the year dot.

And the media have swallowed this bilge whole:

While the government already assesses performance of senior bureaucrats, there is no government-wide program to review lower-ranking employees.


Newsflash: federal public sector workers have always had their work evaluated annually by their supervisors. Gosh, here’s a report from the Auditor General about the process—dated 1982. And one can almost hear the hand-wringing.

Our findings reveal that present performance review and employee appraisal practices in the public service are not perceived as fully accomplishing their intended purposes. All departments audited have policies, forms and procedures in place, and some have devoted considerable effort over the past few years to ensure that their systems comply with the Treasury Board policy. Nevertheless, the credibility of performance review and employee appraisal in the public service is questionable; a considerable number of employees are critical about the uses and value of the process.

Employees want to know what is expected of them and how well they are doing in their jobs; however, the present systems do not adequately provide this kind of feedback. This is of concern in view of the fact that the primary purpose of performance review and employee appraisal is to help employees to improve their job performance and develop their skills through ongoing discussions about the work expected and the results accomplished. It is significant that over one-half of the public servants surveyed during this audit said that they did not receive enough information from their supervisors about their performance. It is equally significant that 64 per cent stated that the performance review and employee appraisal process has little or no effect on the way they do their jobs.


In other words, the efficacy of the PREA process has been questioned for decades, but not its existence. And it may surprise some—especially the ones who have been taking Clement seriously—to learn that unions have no problem at all with a feedback system that actually allows employees to improve on the job.

People should know that the functioning of the appraisal process is not covered by collective agreements. Performance reviews are not grievable to a third-party tribunal. And the same system applies to managers and to public workers alike.

This system is not now being implemented by Tony Clement. Warts and all, it’s been around as long as most people can remember.

But as the excerpts from the Auditor General’s report more than thirty years ago indicate, the system isn’t infallible by any means. It can be useless as a tool in the wrong hands. And it can be used by abusive managers to punish employees they dislike. The debates about the usefulness of these reviews have raged on for decades.

Clement figures the system isn’t working, however, not on the basis of performance or productivity measures, but because not enough people are being fired.

He said most Canadians are stunned that an employer as large as the government didn’t have a systematic way to track performance “and so they should be.” The number of employees dismissed for incompetence or misconduct over the years is relatively stable and much lower than in the private sector.

The dismissal rate for unsatisfactory performance in the private sector is between five and 10 per cent of the workforce compared to 0.06 per cent in the public service. In 2011, for example, the government sacked 54 employees for misconduct and 99 for incompetence.


This sort of stuff impresses the benighted, but stop and think for a moment. What is being compared here? The federal public service has relatively sophisticated recruitment and retention strategies, and stringent basic requirements for jobs. Getting into the public service is no cakewalk. The private sector, however, comprises everything from Mom and Pop stores to IBM. Hiring can range from off-the-street to rigorous. Clement isn’t comparing apples and oranges: it’s apples and tutti-frutti.

Can we seriously measure the productivity of departments by the rate at which they fire people? Clement thinks so. It just can’t be that federal public workers generally measure up. No, can’t be. That’s a Conservative article of faith. Who needs evidence?

But in any case, those numbers need a closer look. In the non-unionized part of the private sector—which is most of it—many workers (in the low-wage service sector, for example) are unlikely to have the means to launch an expensive wrongful dismissal suit on their own. Unionized workers in both the public and private sectors have access to representation that allows an unfair firing to be challenged without cost to themselves. A further point: during the grievance/arbitration/adjudication process, a fired worker may agree to resign instead, further skewing the statistics.

Of course, the “experts” can be counted upon to weigh in. Here’s public administration academic Donald Savoie:

“Public service unions have a lot to answer for in terms of performance. They haven’t been a force for improved productivity. I have never seen a union go to the wall in the name of productivity. They go to the wall for a better deal for their members and to protect their interests whether justified or not. And that is a lot to answer for.”


It’s hard to know where to start with such ivory tower ignorance, but let’s take a stab at it. Productivity is a function of good management. Unions have little or no say in the matter. Workers are assigned tasks and are expected to carry them out. The usefulness of those tasks, and their relationship to other tasks, is a management responsibility.

If an individual worker’s competence or capacity comes into question, the union is there to ensure that the process is fair, and to advocate for its members. I wonder if Professor Savoie would argue that defence lawyers “have a lot to answer for” because they get accused clients off. Surely our members should have the same rights as an accused to a competent defence.

If the evaluation process is imperfect, and it likely is, why not approach the problem positively instead of simply suggesting that not enough people are being tossed into the dustbin? Could it be that lack of managerial direction, or other factors, including personal animosity, play a role in the alleged incompetence or incapacity of an employee? That’s what unions are there for, in part—to ensure a fair shake for members in the workplace.

We’re happy to “answer for” that. But our advocacy role is also required by law. Has Savoie never heard of the duty of fair representation? That’s Unions 101, Professor. Look it up.

While on the topic of performance reviews, by the way, would it be cheeky to suggest that such a system be in place for, say, Senators? Or senior Conservative-appointed officials?

Maybe too much to hope for.

About this Archive

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