Bargaining: Government doubles down on concessions and unfair wages

At the Public Interest Commission (PIC) hearings held between December 4 and 7, the government doubled down on numerous regressive positions it had taken during talks to renew collective agreements for over 90,000 PSAC members under Treasury Board. These include wage increases below inflation and the weakening of parental leave as well as job security provisions contained in the Workforce Adjustment Appendix. 

While the government’s proposals were made for the Program and Administrative Services (PA) bargaining unit, many are considered common issues that can also be expected at other bargaining tables in the coming months. 

You can read Treasury Board’s full submission here, but we’ve highlighted the government’s most egregious positions below. The union is also disappointed that the government, with all the resources at its disposal, refused to provide a PIC submission in both official languages. PSAC’s full PIC submission is available in English and French

PSAC is firmly committed to pushing back against all regressive government proposals and will continue to mobilize our membership through increased job action, up to and including a strike. 

Unfair wage proposal backed by Harper-era research 

The government is proposing wage increases of about 7% for the 2018-2021 period. This is below inflation, which is projected at about 8% for the same period. In order to meet inflation, the government wants us to forgo an additional 1% market adjustment meant to raise salaries for specific groups that are below industry averages, and instead use that 1% to increase the overall wage offer. 

To be clear, we won’t accept any offer that doesn’t keep up with the rising cost of living while also addressing group specific market adjustments. 

Further, the government defended its position with research originally commissioned by Stephen Harper’s government in 2014 that claims workers in the PA unit receive total compensation that is competitive with the private sector. 

However, the government’s research compares apples to oranges and is therefore unreliable. For example, the government does not reveal whether the private sector workplaces it used as comparators are unionized. Neither does it reveal if those workplaces are pay-equity compliant. These figures commissioned by the Harper government to engage in wage suppression have long been debunked. 

Absurdly long implementation deadlines 

The government is seeking significantly longer timelines for implementing the terms of a new collective agreement. While the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations Act provides a window of 90 days for contract implementation, PSAC agreed in good faith to extend this to a generous 150 days during the last round of negotiations in view of the challenges presented by the Phoenix pay system. 

For the current round, the government is seeking a 180-day implementation period for all employee files not requiring manual intervention. And for those requiring manual intervention (e.g., those involving acting assignments, maternity or parental leave or leave without pay for other reasons), the government is insisting on a whopping 560-day implementation period. 

PSAC rejects this and is deeply concerned by the government’s apparent inability to implement new contract terms within timelines set under law. They have had four years to hire and train the necessary staff to mitigate Phoenix delays. The union has already asked the Labour Board to order the government to pay damages to members for previous contract implementation delays. 

Weakening of parental leave 

PSAC has proposed that members choosing the newly extended 18-month parental leave option receive a 93% top-up for the entirety of the leave period (i.e., combined maternity and parental leave lasting 18 months). Currently, members opting for the extended parental leave option receive a 93% top-up for the first twelve months (i.e., combined and maternity and parental leave), followed by an Employment Insurance payment of 33% of their salary for the next six months of parental leave.  

However, the government is insisting on a new formula that would provide members taking the extended parental leave with only a 55.8% top-up for the parental leave period. This is a major concession and a stunning proposal from a “feminist” government that claims to support improved work-life balance. For example, a CR-04 with an annual salary of $51,518 would see an income reduction of roughly $7,000 or 17% over the parental leave period. 

Furthermore, it is not reasonable for new parents to live on just 55.8% of their income for 18 months. In practice, the government’s proposal will prohibit single parent or single-earner families from accessing the extended leave option and only appeal to families where one parent earns a very high income. 

Barriers to accessing domestic violence leave 

While the government has agreed to PSAC’s proposal for 10 days of paid domestic violence leave, it wants to give managers the right to ask for documentation proving reasons for the leave.  

Being a survivor of domestic violence is a traumatizing and stigmatizing experience, which often results in victims not reporting incidents to police or other authorities. Requiring survivors to seek and share documentation can subject them to further stigma and fear as well as threaten confidentiality. 

Moreover, the government does not specify what exactly would be considered acceptable documentation, leaving interpretation to the whims of managers. Taken together, the government’s proposals will have the effect of dissuading survivors from accessing the very leave provisions the government claims to support. 

Forced long-distance relocations 

PSAC has sought to improve Workforce Adjustment (WFA) provisions to clarify the current definition of a guaranteed reasonable job offer (GRJO) where a relocation is involved. Our proposal seeks to ensure that when an employee is deemed to be in surplus, a guaranteed reasonable job offer (GRJO) is made within a 40-kilometer radius. Should such an offer not be possible within this radius, an employee would have access to the three standard WFA options (i.e., year of surplus priority, transitional support, education support). PSAC also proposed to recognize years of service in a WFA situation, so that those with seniority are prioritized for alternate positions. 

In contrast, the government wants to open the door wide to relocating workers in in the event of a workforce adjustment by expanding the boundaries of the relocation to well over 100 kilometres in some instances. This would create situations where workers would have to either uproot and move their families or lose their jobs without access to the three WFA options. Additionally, the government’s proposal adds unnecessary conditions on retraining and weakens salary protection for affected employees. 

Group-specific concessionary proposals 

The government also presented various concessionary proposals specifically affecting members in specific groups:

Program and Administrative Services (PA)
Education and Library Sciences (EB)
Technical Services (TC)

Read the submissions to the Public Interest Commission:  

Public Service Alliance of Canada’s submission  
Treasury Board’s submission 

Topics: 

Employers: 

December 17, 2019