PSAC-UNDE: government misses the mark for one fifth of Canada’s defence team

Minister of Defence Anita Anand tabled a report to Parliament on culture change reforms today in response to an external review of sexual harassment and workplace toxicity that has harmed thousands of military and civilian members over successive decades.

The 18,000 civilian defence workers represented by PSAC-UNDE—or one fifth of Canada’s defence team—were not the focus of the review or the announcement by the Minister.

While we are pleased that all recommendations will be implemented, we agree with Mme Justice Louise Arbour that the military is “dragging their feet.” We are left with unanswered questions, again: what is the plan to support civilian workers who are also harmed by toxic workplaces?

The military can’t function without civilian workers – they should not be treated as an afterthought

Civilian workers on military bases are critical to the operation of the military. They fuel aircraft, maintain grounds and infrastructure, handle administration and information technology, procure equipment, provide firefighting services, and countless other essential roles.

“The military cannot police itself – we know this. Members want to see decisive action and the same commitment that they bring to their workplaces from their employer,” said UNDE National President, June Winger. “What happens to Canada’s armed forces directly impacts the public service workers who work alongside military members. These are not separate workplaces; civilian workers cannot be an afterthought.”

Workplace harassment — regardless of workplace — is unacceptable

Improving working conditions at the Department of National Defence must coincide with a serious review of the practice of hiring former military members for civilian roles. Without appropriate support for mental health injuries sustained while in the military, all workers are at risk of further injury. All managers must have appropriate training for managing a public sector workforce.

“We’ve now seen several reports calling for real changes to Canada’s military without the government taking the necessary steps to improve workplace conditions and morale for civilian workers who drive this country’s military,” said PSAC National President Chris Aylward. “While Justice Arbour’s recommendations may make changes for members of the Canadian Armed Forces, we see little in the Minister’s report indicating things will get better for civilian workers.”

The department must put robust measures in place to protect civilian employees. Given that the Chief of Defence staff has indicated that some military work will likely move into the civilian service to compensate for reduced recruitment, this need is even more urgent.

PSAC-UNDE will continue to vigorously defend the right to a safe and healthy workplace for civilian defence workers and all members of the Canadian armed forces.

Discussions of sexual harassment, abuse, and workplace harassment can lead to difficult emotions and reactions. If you are seeking help, there are resources available.


December 14, 2022