Robyn Benson, PSAC

Public Service Weak

RP PSW.jpg

Public Service Week should be an occasion to celebrate the work that our members do and the high standards of service that they have always met. But for many years this has not been the focus of the week: instead, it’s been an opportunity for governments to boast about these achievements as though they’d done it all themselves.

But it gets worse than that, when the people actually doing the work are belittled, harassed and under constant threat of layoff, the right to refuse dangerous work has been whittled away, and “collective bargaining” is negated by legislation—like Bill C-59, which allows the government to take away our sick leave unilaterally if we don’t knuckle under at the negotiating table. It’s not much to celebrate when services to the public are being slashed, including to some of our most vulnerable citizens.

A just-released report on the state of democracy in Canada indicates how badly our Public Service has deteriorated under Harper:

The ability of public servants to fulfill [their] important mandate has been greatly restricted in recent years. Large-scale budget cuts have limited the ability of key departments to provide timely, thorough and comprehensive advice. New public service codes of conduct have added a chill, dissuading public servants from offering independent advice or speaking publicly for fear of being seen as partisan or disloyal. [pp.19-20]

Our Public Service was once a model for the world: South Africa, for one, after it became democratic, looked to our country for guidance on how to build a modern, progressive public service. Who would consider doing that now? The Public Service under Harper is tattered and torn. Just ask a veteran or an EI claimant.

This all explains why, instead of celebrating, our members and those of other federal public service unions were rallying against C-59 outside Stephen Harper’s office. Among the speakers was Rosa Pavanelli, General Secretary of Public Services International, which represents 20 million public service employees worldwide. She brought a message of solidarity (see photograph, above), before taking part in an important conference on democracy, where she addressed Canada’s violation of international labour conventions.

That conference attracted a number of intelligent, progressive thinkers from around the globe to discuss such issues as “austerity” and the funding of public services. One could say that democracy came to Ottawa this week.

We’re also back at the table, with the bargaining teams demanding respect and determined to obtain a fair contract for the members, come hell or high water.

We’re getting political, they say. You betcha. “Getting political” means that we care about quality public services. It also means getting involved, like so many other citizens, in the electoral process. We’ve got to turn things around.

When you think about it, maybe this week has been reclaimed by public service workers after all. Now let’s reclaim our country.

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This page contains a single entry by Robyn Benson, PSAC published on June 19, 2015 10:33 AM.

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