The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) is calling on Treasury Board to immediately impose a moratorium on program and budget cuts at Veterans Affairs Canada.
“We say to the government: no more cuts at Veterans Affairs until an independent assessment can determine whether the department is still able to deliver on its mandate,” said Robyn Benson, President of PSAC.
This call for an independent assessment was tabled in bargaining between the Union and Treasury Board on Wednesday.
PSAC’s bargaining team for the Program and Administrative Services bargaining unit (PA group) represents more than 70,000 members, including approximately 1,592 employees at Veterans Affairs Canada. They tabled this demand after learning that Veterans Affairs offices are now so short-staffed that there is a backlog of six to eight months in providing requested services to veterans.
“What we hear consistently, in talking to our members at Veterans Affairs, is that there is a huge disconnect between the public image portrayed by the Harper government – that it will take care of veterans and is providing for their needs – and what employees who work at the department are actually able to deliver,” Benson added.
Under the Harper government’s Deficit Reduction Action Plan, a total of 1,255 Veterans Affairs employees have received “affected” notices since April 1, 2012. Treasury Board’s own data shows that between 2011 and mid-2014, the department has lost more than 900 full-time-equivalent jobs.
As well, despite widespread opposition, the government shut down nine Veterans Affairs offices last year that provided crucial front line services to thousands of veterans across the country. Those closures and other cuts at Veterans Affairs have left Canada with the lowest ratio of Veterans Affairs workers to veterans ever. The department has lost more than 900 jobs – 24.6% of its workforce – since 2010. That means veterans are waiting longer and travelling further for the services they are entitled to and need.
According to the Union of Veterans Affairs Employees, a component of PSAC, the department has not replaced a single employee who has retired or resigned in the last two years.
“The consequences are very sad,” said Carl Gannon, President of UVAE. “Our members are telling us that veterans are dying before they receive services or the equipment they need.”
“The department is not spending the money required for neither for the timely delivery of services to veterans, nor for the proper functioning of equipment, nor for the safety and security of its staff,” Gannon concluded.
Client Service Agents, who are normally the first point of contact for a veteran seeking services from the department, typically have very high caseloads of 750 to 1,200 veterans each.