Feds’ opening offer in contract talks an ‘insult,’ would put 90,000 bureaucrats in a virtual wage freeze: PSAC

Feds’ opening offer in contract talks an ‘insult,’ would put 90,000 bureaucrats in a virtual wage freeze: PSAC


By EMILY HAWS      DEC. 5, 2018

Meanwhile, contract negotiation talks are also slow-going between the Union of Taxation Employees and the Canada Revenue Agency, said UTE president Marc Brière.

PSAC national president Chris Aylward says the 0.75 per cent annual raise offered by the government during this bargaining round is an insult, on top of other contract implementation provisions. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew MeadeThe government’s initial offer to four of the core public service groups currently negotiating new contracts is an “insult” that would put them in a virtual two-year wage freeze, says Public Service Alliance of Canada national president Chris Aylward.

PSAC has asked for a 3.75 per cent raise, and while the 0.75 per cent economic increase put forward as a counter offer is higher than the previous government’s initial offer in the last set of contract talks, one needs to take everything into context, he said.

“What they actually tabled was a two-year wage freeze because as much as they’re saying it’s 0.75 per cent, they’re also saying no retroactivity pay, and a 365-day implementation period as of the date of signing,” Mr. Aylward said. “So even if we were to sign something today, we’d be looking at a year-and-a-half wage freeze, at minimum.”

What amounts to the government putting a “basically two-year wage freeze on the table is absolutely insulting after three years of the Phoenix debacle,” he said, adding the union isn’t accepting the offer.

Launched in February 2016, the Phoenix pay system has left tens of thousands of bureaucrats with incorrect pay. It’s been a headache for the contract negotiation process—because it doesn’t handle automatic pay changes well, contracts often need to be implemented manually.

The negotiations affect about 90,000 people including federal educators, administrators, and technicians through four groups: Program and Administrative Services (PA)—which represents the vast share of the 90,000—Education and Library Science (EB), Technical Services (TC), and Operational Services (SV).

The groups discussed group-specific issues Nov. 27 to 29, and issues common to all groups Dec. 4 to 6.

Last month, the groups tabled a 3.75 per cent annual increase as their initial offer. Inflation is expected to be at about 2.15 per cent this year, according to Statistics Canada and remain static throughout the four-year span of the contracts from 2018 and 2021.

In 2014, the groups started off with a three per cent raise ask, and settled in 2017 with a 1.25 per cent annual raise—a rate that was consistent across public service contracts. The previous Conservative government’s initial offer in the last round was 0.50 per cent annually, said Mr. Aylward. Contracts usually span a four-year term, with the previous bargaining round taking place from 2014 to 2018.

The government’s opening offer of “0.75 per cent is an insult within itself, but then to throw basically a two-year wage freeze on top of that… it certainly was unexpected within our team,” Mr. Aylward said, adding the government gave no rationale to PSAC for its offer.

The government normally has at least 90 days to implement the contracts after they have been signed, but longer timeframes have been negotiated for recent ones due to Phoenix, of up to 120 to 150 days. When the Trudeau government came to power in November 2015, none of the 27 contracts in the core federal public service—so-called because Treasury Board is the official employer—were signed.

Most of the deals were inked in 2016 and 2017, causing at least two years of retroactive payments to be processed. The time-consuming manual process has pay advisers retrieving data out of the old pay system and inputting it into Phoenix.

A spokesperson for Treasury Board President Scott Brison says restoring a culture of respect for Canada’s public service has been an ongoing commitment for the government. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

Farees Nathoo, a spokesperson for Treasury Board President Scott Brison (Kings-Hants, N.S.) didn’t directly connect the longer implementation date to Phoenix, but acknowledged in an emailed statement that Phoenix doesn’t handle automatic retroactivity well and that they are “doing everything we can to ensure agreements are implemented successfully,” he said.

“We are committed to identifying ways a future collective agreement could address these issues and compensate employees fairly,” he said, adding that restoring a culture of respect for Canada’s public service has been an ongoing commitment for the government.

It’s possible for the collective agreement to take a year to implement and have no formal retroactive pay, but still compensate employees with the negotiated annual raise through a one-time payment, for example. However, Mr. Nathoo refused to comment any specific proposals on the negotiation table.

“Out of respect for the bargaining process and agents, we cannot comment further at this time,” Mr. Nathoo wrote.

Overall, Mr. Aylward said that about six months into this bargaining round, there is little movement on issues. All four groups are seeking a paid 10-day domestic violence leave and an increased parental leave top-up, among other provisions along with group-specific proposals.

“Within the next two or three months, we’re going to have about 130,000 members represented at a bargaining table with this government and obviously, strength in numbers,” he said, adding members are fed up with pay issues.

The public service unions are also continuing to negotiate damages compensation stemming from Phoenix pay issues. A deal was thought to be close earlier this fall, but Mr. Aylward said he isn’t as optimistic now and didn’t have any updates other than that the process is ongoing.

Union of Taxation Employees tabling financial demands Dec. 3-6


UTE president Marc Brière says that there was no progress on talks during the union’s September and October meetings with CRA negotiators. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade 

In other bargaining news, the Union of Taxation Employees (UTE), which is a branch of PSAC, continues to negotiate a new contract with the Canada Revenue Agency.

UTE represents 25,000 CRA employees working in taxpayer services, debt management, and human resources offices in the department, among others. The latest contract expired in October 2016, and bargaining meetings started up in June 2018.

UTE president Marc Brière said during a Nov. 29 interview that the two sides met in June, July, September and October, but nothing “intelligent” happened during the September or October meetings, seemingly because the CRA negotiators came without a mandate.

“We were taken off guard in the sense of that they’re asking for concessions that they didn’t discuss, really. Like we’re talking about A and [they’re] coming back to want a concession on C, without even dealing with A,” he said. “They’re not bargaining with a goal of making any significant progress at all.”

The two sides are meeting again from Dec. 3 to 6, where Mr. Brière said the UTE would table its financial demands, including raises. While he couldn’t give specific details until it was tabled, Mr. Brière said it would likely be similar to the four PSAC group’s initial offer of 3.75 per cent.

CRA spokesperson Dany Morin said the department values and supports its employees and is committed to concluding a fair and reasonable collective agreement.

“The CRA will respect the communication protocol and not comment about the status of the current collective bargaining negotiations,” he wrote in an emailed statement.

Although the Program Delivery and Administrative Services group is not a core public service group and therefore negotiates directly with CRA, Mr. Brière said CRA’s moves are approved by Treasury Board.

When it comes to non-financial issues, Mr. Brière said the CRA call centres are under tremendous pressure, with employees on the phone sometimes more than 95 per cent of the time. Therefore, the union is asking for a reasonable regime with more breaks.

“They barely have the time to go eat and to go to the washroom. They’re basically exhausted,” he said. “So we’re asking for provisions to give them a bit more breaks because it’s taking a toll on a lot of people.”

There’s also an increasing amount of shift work and there is currently no rules around how it is scheduled, said Mr. Brière. Additionally, it wants the term employee rules to be equal to the rest of the public service.

Currently, if an employee is on contract consistently for three years in a core public service group, they automatically become an indeterminate employee. At the CRA it’s five years, said Mr. Brière.