September 2014 Archives

Robyn Benson, PSAC

Sickening

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Treasury Board has tabled its proposals to gut sick leave for federal public workers. If the government side prevails, many members will have to choose between going to work sick or staying home on no pay.

There are two massive takeaways proposed. The first is to abolish all banked sick leave that our members have earned to date. The second is to introduce a Short-term Disability Plan with an unpaid seven-day waiting period. If approved, STD would kick in at 100% of pay: after four weeks, that would drop to 70%.

Federal public workers would get five days to be used beforehand in case of illness. That’s one good bout of flu. After that, unless you want to stop income for you and your family—you go into work sick.

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If you have a more serious condition, and have used up your five days, you would be forced to give up a week’s pay right at the start. If you were to have cancer or another long-term illness, you would have to live on 70% of your income after the first four weeks.

To say this is unacceptable is to understate the case. Bluntly stated, the government wants to punish our members for getting sick.

We already know that foolish and inflated claims from Treasury Board President Tony Clement that federal workers are abusing sick leave have no merit—that is, if you believe Statistics Canada and the Parliamentary Budget Officer. When apples are compared to apples, federal public workers take less than a day more sick leave per year than equivalent private-sector workers. The cost to the taxpayer, furthermore, is marginal, because in most cases sick workers are not replaced—colleagues pitch in, or the work is waiting for them when they get back.

Whatever its motives, the Harper government is not basing its approach to sick leave on facts or common sense. What it is proposing would be harmful, not only to members who become ill, but to their colleagues working alongside them. How any of this is supposed to increase productivity in the workplace is frankly beyond me.

At this point I want to re-state the obvious. We aren’t going to win this fight at the bargaining table using good reasoning and fact-filled arguments alone. That’s not how it works. We all need to give solid, visible support to our bargaining teams—leaders, activists, rank-and-file members on the ground. All of us need to be heard, whether at Local meetings, town-halls, public demonstrations or radio talk-shows.

Meanwhile, if TB wants to discuss ways to improve the public service, they should talk to us. We have many proposals on the table that address ensuring quality public services and a healthier workplace.

Start your engines, everyone. It’s time.

Robyn Benson, PSAC

Mad slashing

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Freddy.jpg

Want to cut, cut, cut public services in Canada? Apparently you don’t need a plan, just sharp knives and an attitude.

In a nutshell, that’s what the latest report from the Parliamentary Budget Officer says. Read his key conclusions:

For fiscal years 2010-11 through 2012-13, no consistent statistically significant relationship exists between a department’s performance and its budget growth in the subsequent year.

The performance data for 108 organizations does not suggest that financial resources have been reallocated from low-performing to high-performing programs. Rather, low-performing programs were somewhat more likely, on average, to receive budget increases in the subsequent year than programs that met targets or did not present measurable performance data.


Um, what?

Let’s re-phrase. The government has been blindly cutting public services without the slightest regard for the effects. And they’re going to keep on doing it—another nine thousand jobs are on the line over the next three years. A total of 35,000 jobs will have been eliminated since 2010 by the Harper government, all told.

And, as in a splatter-flick, it’s not so much who is killed, but how much blood flows.

To call this irresponsible to Canadians is an understatement.

The Parliamentary Budget Officer has been unable to get detailed information about these on-going cuts since 2012. No wonder Treasury Board President Tony Clement refuses to be frank about them. From the evidence of this Report, it’s like he’s just been tossing coins to see who’s out and who stays. There’s no method here, only madness.

Here are just a few examples:

  • Lest we forget: Nine regional Veterans Affairs offices serving veterans in need across the country have been closed. We now have the lowest ratio of Veterans’ Affairs workers to veterans ever. Meanwhile, Harper has spent millions commemorating the War of 1812.

  • Bridges to nowhere: Road and bridges to our national parks will be improved—after Parks Canada services were cut, access to the parks was reduced, and environmental protections were gutted.

  • Searching for rescue: The government is now tossing a tax credit at search and rescue volunteers—after shutting down vital search and rescue stations in Kitsilano, BC and St. John’s, Newfoundland and Labrador.

  • Eat at your own risk: Harper has cut food inspection capacity for years, to dangerously low levels. Now it’s approved a small increase for new food inspectors. Flip-flop, or just a lack of forward planning?

  • EI, EI, ouch: Unemployed Canadians receiving EI benefits has dropped to the lowest level in Canadian history, thanks to stringent new rules imposed by the Harper government. At the same time, the government has made a few cosmetic “improvements” that will do nothing at all for the increasing number of Canadians trying to exist on precarious employment.

Were in good shape financially, as world markets have recovered after the 2008 recession. Harper could be putting money into a national childcare program, transportation safety in the wake of Lac-Megantic, and retirement security. Nope, not interested.

Cut, cut, cut. No matter what. No matter whom.

In this round of collective bargaining we’re on the front lines once again. We’re there to defend public services that benefit all Canadians. Because the last thing our country needs is more Freddy Krueger.

Robyn Benson, PSAC

Open Government

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Who supports the concept of “open government?” Why, Treasury Board President Tony Clement, of course. You mean you didn’t know?

Carol Goar of the Toronto Star nails the absolute hypocrisy here in one column. Follow the links and weep. Or laugh out loud.

It’s all there. Clement, refusing to tell Parliament where his cuts to the public service are going to land. Complaints to the Information Commissioner up 30% last year. Media barred from asking Cabinet Ministers questions. Clement again, abolishing the long-form census and slashing the budget of Statistics Canada, ensuring that not even the government has essential information for policy-making.

And this latest effort is—unbelievably—Phase Two of Tony’s “open government” plan.

The most obsessively secretive government in Canadian history is promoting openness? Isn’t that a bit like a meat-packing plant campaigning for vegetarianism—while doubling its production of cold cuts?

In any case, the most recent evidence running contrary to any normal definition of “openness” is an order handed down by Clement that directly affects our members. Briefly, he wants federal public workers, including us, to delete emails with “no business value,” which could include documentary evidence of government wrong-doing.

There could be personal reasons for Clement’s sensitivity on the subject of email. It was emails of his own, that revealed his diversion of $50 million to his own riding to build gazebos, parks and public restrooms. That money had been earmarked to enhance our border security during the 2010 G20 meeting in Toronto.

It took a provincial freedom of information request to get that one out into the limelight: Clement had sought to escape federal scrutiny by using his constituency office in Muskoka.

Better, perhaps, to have no email trail at all. Certainly the new order to delete emails could destroy draft reports and other records, some of which are currently accessible to the public under the Access to Information Act, which might otherwise be evidence of government malfeasance.

Our members are conscientious, ethical workers who labour under increasingly difficult conditions for a government that has nothing but contempt for them. Bad enough that our champion of “open government” won’t say where further cuts are going to land, keeping our members in stressful suspense. Now there is a distinct possibility that public workers may be forced to become accomplices in government cover-ups.

That may not be the case, in all fairness. Perhaps the new Email Management standard is just commonsense housecleaning after all. But given the Harper government’s record, our members, expected to serve the public with due diligence and honesty, need some serious clarification on this matter. Surely that’s the least we should expect of an open government.

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