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News : PSAC Calls for Halt to Service Canada Job Cuts
Ottawa, ON, Canada, June 17, 2015 -- The Public Service Alliance of Canada tabled a new demand at the bargaining table Wednesday for a moratorium on job cuts at Service Canada’s pay and processing centre until an independent probe determines whether it can deliver services with existing staff.
The union made the proposal at the latest session of talks with Treasury Board negotiators for its largest group of nearly 80,000 program and administrative staff after documents obtained under Access to Information revealed a backlog last year of 253,800 employment insurance claims that didn’t meet the 28-day processing deadline.
The government promised in December to hire an additional 400 employees to eliminate a backlog then of more than 300,000.
PSAC has made several unusual demands in this round of contract talks that are outside the normal scope of bargaining. It made a similar proposal for the creation of a joint labour-management committee to examine mental health in the public service, to which Treasury Board President Tony Clement agreed. In fact, it is the only significant win so far in this contentious round of bargaining.
The EI proposal is very similar. PSAC is seeking a memorandum of understanding to stop further cuts and launch an independent investigation to determine if Service Canada can live up to its mandate.
Among the issues the union wants reviewed are the waiting period for processing EI claims, income security applications, the response times of call centres and walk-in offices, and any other factors that could affect the timeliness of payments and the health of employees.
PSAC members work in Service Canada offices and staff the phone lines. They are typically the first contact when Canadians are trying to fill out an EI claim or find out why their payments have been delayed.
Many work in call centres, which come with major human resource challenges. Morale can be low, employees are stressed and unsatisfied because they have little control over their work. PSAC said the workers in the EI call centre have 10 seconds between calls.
The working conditions of these centres has been a big issue for PSAC and the union may press for some improvements.
PSAC president Robyn Benson said the union’s members have to face both the pressure of the backlog and Canadians who are waiting for their EI payments.
"Our demand at the PA table is designed to ensure that all Canadians receive timely access to a crucial public service," said Benson.
"PSAC members work directly with the Canadian public and are just as frustrated about the Service Canada backlog as the people who are being forced to wait weeks, even months."
This is PSAC’s first bargaining session since the Conservatives announced in its budget that it had booked $900 million in savings this year because of its plans to get rid of much of the 15 million days of unused sick leave accumulated by employees. Sick leave, which the government wants to replace with a short-term disability plan, is the hot-button issue in the ongoing round of bargaining with the 17 federal unions.
In the same budget, the union was similarly outraged that the government used $1.8 billion in surplus EI funds to help balance the books.
Marco Angeli, president of the Canadian Employment and Immigration Union, said employees are frustrated with their jobs. People can wait on the phone for up to three hours before they reach an agent, and there are cases of claims taking up to eight months to process.
"The $1.8 billion taken out of the EI program by the Harper government in the April budget to balance the budget should have been used to hire people to process claims in a timely manner," Angeli said.
PSAC says the delays are compounded by the changes in eligibility that made it harder than ever for unemployed Canadians to get EI. By 2013, the proportion of employed receiving EI benefits slipped to 37 per cent.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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About Public Service Alliance of Canada:
The Public Service Alliance of Canada is a union that represents more than 170,000 workers in every province and territory in Canada and in locations around the world. Our members work for federal government departments and agencies, Crown Corporations, universities, casinos, community services agencies, Aboriginal communities, airports, and the security sector among others. PSAC is headquartered in Ottawa with 23 regional offices across Canada.
About Service Canada:
Service Canada provides Canadians with one-stop, personalized access to Government of Canada services and benefits.
Published: Thursday, June 18, 2015