July 2014 Archives

Robyn Benson, PSAC

On négocie, oui ou non?

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La semaine dernière, l'AFPC s'est assise à cinq tables pour entamer les négociations avec le Conseil du Trésor au nom de quelque 100 000 membres. Au cours des mois précédents, le président du Conseil du Trésor, Tony Clement, avait annoncé aux médias qu'il supprimerait nos congés de maladie. Que c'était sa priorité. Mais à la table de négociation? Motus et bouche cousue. Pas l'ombre d'une proposition. Nous avons plutôt eu droit à un exposé sur l'invalidité de courte durée dans le cadre d'une soi-disant consultation et à une campagne de désinformation.

Le Conseil du Trésor semble avoir oublié les rudiments de la négociation collective. Il ne semble pas non plus se rappeler que les lois sur les relations de travail interdisent aux employeurs de modifier unilatéralement les conditions de travail négociables de leurs employés. Ces lois exigent, au contraire, des négociations en bonne et due forme avec les syndicats. C'est cette amnésie crasse qui a poussé l'AFPC à déposer une plainte pour pratique déloyale de travail devant la Commission des relations de travail dans la fonction publique et à sommer le Conseil du Trésor de mettre un terme à ses stratagèmes.

D'autres syndicats fédéraux signataires du pacte de solidarité lui ont emboîté le pas.

Notre programme est simple et transparent : nous négocierons dur pour améliorer la qualité des services publics et, par le fait même, la vie de tous les Canadiens et Canadiennes. Et nous revendiquerons fermement des conditions de travail justes et un niveau de vie décent pour nos membres.

Évidemment, la menace que fait planer le Conseil du Trésor sur les congés de maladie est au cœur des préoccupations de nos membres, et nos équipes de négociation agissent en conséquence. Pourtant, ce que propose le gouvernement est sans fondement aucun : il dénonce le « taux d'absentéisme » dans la fonction publique, alors qu'en réalité, il est comparable à celui du secteur privé. Les arguments du gouvernement ont aussi été vertement critiqués par le directeur parlementaire du budget dans son dernier rapport. Il a prouvé, entre autres, que le coût supplémentaire des congés de maladie payés n'a pas été significatif puisque les employés malades ne sont pas généralement remplacés.  Il revient à nos membres, déjà débordés, de prendre le relais.

Le gouvernement, pour sa part, soutient que le mauvais régime d'invalidité de courte durée qui remplacerait nos congés de maladie s'inscrit dans sa nouvelle stratégie de « mieux-être et de productivité ». Tiens, tiens. Selon le Conseil du Trésor : « Le gouvernement du Canada est engagé à améliorer le bien-être et le mieux-être de ses employés. Le bien-être et la productivité vont de pair, alors que le mieux-être de l'effectif permet de générer de meilleurs niveaux de mobilisation des employés, ce qui permet d'améliorer le rendement du milieu de travail. »

S'il y croit vraiment, le gouvernement doit passer aux actes, car, entretemps, nos membres croulent sous le poids des tâches qu'ils doivent cumuler, minés par le stress, dans un climat de coupes perpétuelles. Et comme si ce n'était pas suffisant, le gouvernement a récemment adopté des lois qui compromettent leur santé et leur sécurité. Malgré toutes ces atteintes à leurs conditions de travail, nos membres ne prennent pas plus de congés de maladies que leurs homologues du secteur privé, comme nous l'avons déjà mentionné.

Si l'employeur souhaite vraiment « de meilleurs niveaux de mobilisation des employés », pourquoi ne commence-t-il pas par régler rapidement les griefs les plus simples, là où il est manifestement dans son tort? Il sait que nous finirons par obtenir gain de cause. La guerre d'usure qu'il mène devant les tribunaux ne rime donc à rien, si ce n'est à retarder le règlement des griefs de plusieurs années et à gaspiller des centaines de milliers de dollars du trésor public.

En ciblant nos congés de maladie, le gouvernement continue à mettre de l'huile sur le feu. Nos membres en ont ras le bol. Si vous voulez vraiment « leur bien-être et leur mieux-être », Messieurs du Conseil du Trésor, faites quelque chose de positif. Assoyez-vous et négociez.




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Last week the PSAC sat down at five bargaining tables across from the federal government’s Treasury Board to start negotiating on behalf of more than 100,000 PSAC members. For months, Treasury Board President Tony Clement has been telling the media that his bargaining priority is to take away our sick leave provisions. But he didn’t bring his proposal to the table. What we got instead was a presentation on short-term disability insurance as part of a so-called “consultation” process, and false and misleading emails to our members in the workplace.

Perhaps the federal Treasury Board needs a refresher in collective bargaining and labour relations law. Employers cannot make unilateral changes to negotiable working conditions. They have to sit down at a table, exchange proposals and bargain. To do otherwise is unlawful. And that’s why PSAC quickly filed an unfair labour practice complaint with the Public Service Labour Relations Board, and have told Treasury Board to cease and desist playing games with the sick leave issue.

And now, in keeping with our solidarity pact, other federal unions are following suit.

Here’s our bargaining agenda, none of it hidden: We will negotiate hard to enhance quality public services to improve the lives of all Canadians. And we’ll take a strong stand to achieve fair working conditions and decent living standards for our members.

Treasury Board’s threatened sick leave takeaway is, of course, uppermost in members’ minds, and our teams will keep that front and centre. It’s a proposal based on no facts whatsoever: workplace “absenteeism” turns out to be no greater than in the private sector, and a devastating report just released by the Parliamentary Budget Officer showed that the incremental cost of sick leave has been negligible, because employees are usually not replaced when they are ill. Already overworked members are just expected to pick up the slack.

Meanwhile, the government claims that its deficient short-term disability plan, meant to replace our sick leave, is part of a brand-new “wellness and productivity” initiative. Well, let’s take a closer look at that. “The Government of Canada,” says Treasury Board, “is committed to enhancing the wellness and well-being of its employees. Workplace wellness and productivity go hand in hand as workforce well-being generates higher levels of employee engagement, in turn leading to better performing workplaces.”

But they just aren’t walking the talk. Our members are burning out, trying desperately to cope with the strain of doing the work of more than one person as the axe continues to fall. Then, just to ice the cake, the government recently downgraded employee health and safety rights. Even so, as noted, our members are still taking no more sick leave than workers in the private sector.

Does the employer really want “higher levels of employee engagement?” Then why not start by taking prompt action on no-brainer grievances, where the employer is clearly in the wrong. These can take years to resolve, and to what end? We eventually win them, but hundreds of thousands of our tax dollars are spent by the government, waging a war of attrition in the courts.

Going after our sick leave is just the latest example of making a bad situation worse. Our members have had enough. You want “wellness and well-being” in the workplace, Treasury Board? Then do something positive. Sit down and negotiate.

Robyn Benson, PSAC

Targeting workers

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Ever heard of a target benefit pension plan? It’s the latest thing!

What most of our members have now is called a defined benefits plan. You and the employer defer a portion of your wages until you start to draw a pension. It’s an amount agreed upon beforehand, through a formula, and includes indexing as well—which you pay for.

The other pension plan that you often hear about is called a defined contribution plan. You pay into the pension fund, but you receive whatever the stock market and interest rates will allow when it comes time to receive your pension.

Now we have a new concept: the “target benefit plan.” Under this system, your contributions may be capped, your promised benefit is not guaranteed upon retirement, and it can even be reduced after you have retired. The main point of target benefit pension plans is to shift the burden of risk away from governments and profitable corporations onto employees and retirees.

Funny. Sounds a lot like a defined contribution plan, eh?

The government claims that its changes will not affect the core public sector pension plans, under the Public Service Superannuation Act, the Canadian Forces Superannuation Act and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superannuation Act. But introducing them as a general option for the wider federal public sector—which will affect many of our members working in airports and Crown Corporations—is the proverbial thin edge of the wedge.

This so-called “hybrid” plan is both unnecessary and unwise. Secure defined benefit plans are in no danger of going under. The picture grows brighter by the day, in fact, as investment returns and long-term interest rates are growing. Pension funds were already rebounding last year, and continue to do so. Air Canada, for example, reported a pension fund deficiency of $3.7 billion in 2013—which was entirely eliminated by this past January.

But the government seems intent on pressing on, and is already preparing legislation. Consultations with stakeholders were over in 60 days, a very short period indeed when so many stand to be hurt. Not only do target benefit plans eliminate the security of a defined benefits plan, which is bad enough; they also remove any incentive for employers to provide them. (The PSAC consultation brief may be read here.)

But there’s also a wider problem: nearly two-thirds of Canadians have no workplace pension plan at all. Even adding together the CPP/QPP, Old Age Security and (for those who qualify) the Guaranteed Income Supplement (GIS) is too little for many retirees to live on. Hacking away at government pensions only makes a bad situation worse.

One obvious solution for Canadians as a whole is to increase the CPP/QPP. The PSAC has been working with the Canadian Labour Congress for some time to press the government to double those benefits, increase the GIS and establish a national pension plan insurance fund. But CPP/QPP reform ran into a federal brick wall last December, after years of work building a reform consensus among Canada’s ten provinces and three territories. This government simply doesn’t care.

It goes without saying that we’ll organize to resist the government’s proposed changes. But every Canadian deserves a secure and happy retirement, and that, too, is worth fighting for. As the saying goes—we are all affected.


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Ten years. A decade of struggle for Fiona Johnstone—for the basic right to achieve a work-life balance through reasonable accommodation by her employer, the Canadian Border Security Agency (CBSA). They didn’t want to do it, even if they had no good reason not to. But with unwavering support from her union, she fought back and she won.

The issue boiled down to this: Johnstone worked full-time, and asked for a fixed shift from CBSA so she could arrange childcare. CBSA said no, unless she agreed to be part-time. That would have affected her pension, opportunities for training and promotion, and obviously her take-home pay. CBSA didn’t even try to argue that the requested fixed shift was an unreasonable demand on the employer. It just refused her request, and stuck to its refusal for years, no doubt hoping to wear Johnstone down. If that was the strategy, it was an unsuccessful one.

Her complaint before the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal—discrimination based on family status—led to her first win. The Tribunal stated that “an individual should not have to tolerate some amount of discrimination to a certain unknown level before being afforded the protection of the [Canadian Human Rights]Act.” The employer undertook no analysis, but simply claimed that it would suffer undue hardship if it allowed Johnstone her fixed shifts. The Tribunal found that CBSA had acted willfully and recklessly, ordered it to pay lost wages and benefits, and, in addition, awarded Johnstone $35,000 in damages.

The CBSA responded, not by making things right, but by appealing to the Federal Court of Appeal. In May of this year, the court upheld Johnstone and had this to say:

Many parents will be impeded from fully participating in the work force so as to make for themselves the lives they are able and wish to have. The broad and liberal interpretation of human rights legislation requires an approach that favours a broad participation and inclusion in employment opportunities for those parents who wish or need to pursue such opportunities.


And finally, after a few weeks’ delay, the CBSA threw in the towel on June 26.

Well done, Fiona! It was a fine victory that will have wide effect for many parents.

And yet, as pleased as I am personally with this outcome, I’ll admit to some on-going frustration. This shouldn’t have taken ten whole years to resolve. The employer had no good reasons to oppose her request in the first place, but fought on blindly, will all of its resources. And in the federal Public Service this is nothing new. Remember Lorraine Martin, stranded by a massive volcanic eruption in Iceland, and penalized by her supervisor in the Department of Veterans Affairs? That one took four years to be put right.

The federal government, our members’ main employer, seems to have a policy of saying No just for the sake of exercising power and control, without regard to the rightness or wrongness of its case. They keep losing, just as the government itself has been doing recently—but at such great cost to everyone. Try to imagine a Public Service where these issues are resolved quickly, and in good faith. An impossible dream?

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