by Robyn Benson
From July 8-10, 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.