Canada’s government moves to repeal law enabling it to unilaterally pass sick leave changes
The government of Canada has moved to repeal a law passed under the previous administration by which it could push through a new public service sick leave system without negotiating it with unions.
The Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) – the government body which serves as employer of the federal public service, announced on Friday that it had introduced legislation to repeal Division 20 of the Economic Action Plan 2015 Act.
The Act, also referred to as Bill C-59, provides authority for the government to establish and modify terms and conditions of employment related to the sick leave of employees, establish a short-term disability plan outside of collective bargaining, and modify the long-term disability programs in the core public administration.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) – Canada’s largest public sector union representing more than 170,000 employees – has welcomed the move, but said it had hoped for different proposals to reform the public service sick leave system.
A PSAC spokesman said: “We are pleased to see the government move to repeal Bill C59.”
But he added: “Given the Liberals’ election promises, we expected this government to bring forward a new bargaining mandate.”
Currently, if public servants are sick for more than 13 weeks, they are taken off the payroll and put onto long-term sick leave managed by a private insurance company; but those with good track records on sickness absence can ‘bank’ unused sick leave, deferring this shift to insurance cover.
Former Conservative Treasury Board president Tony Clement wanted to abolish such deferrals, predicting that the reform would save $900m (US$675m).
But the three largest public sector unions refused to negotiate sick leave, and were hopeful this government’s approach would change, given that new Liberal Treasury Board president Scott Brison promised a “golden age for Canada’s public service.”
The PSAC spokesman said that following last week’s collective bargaining negotiations between government and unions, “in fact there was little indication of a change in approach.”
“Treasury Board negotiators tabled a proposal similar to that of the previous Conservative government, that would replace our existing sick leave plan. It takes away existing rights and leaves members worse off.
Read more: Canada’s Treasury Board president Scott Brison promises action plan on mental health by March 2016
“The proposed short term disability plan would fall outside of the collective agreement and allow the government to make unilateral changes any time.
“We remain open to improvements on sick leave but we will not negotiate concessions or agree to any proposal that forces members to choose between losing pay or going to work sick.”
Treasury Board president Scott Brison said that “the Government has made a commitment to restore a culture of respect for and within the public service.”
He added: “We will bargain in good faith with the unions and look for opportunities to modernise the disability and sick leave management system.
“We will work with them to reach agreements that are fair and reasonable for employees and Canadians.”
The union also raised concern over another labour law it describes as unfair.
“The unconstitutional changes to labour laws governing the collective bargaining process under C4 remain a key issue.
“It is a mystery why the government is not repealing this legislation in light of the clear pronouncements made by the Supreme Court in the Saskatchewan Federation of Labour case.
“We will continue to move forward with our litigation and take all necessary steps to ensure that there is free and fair collective bargaining for the federal public service.”
A TBS spokesman said: “Bill C-4 contained a number of amendments that made some significant changes to the federal public service labour relations regime. For example, Bill C-4 merged the Public Service Labour Relations Board and the Public Service Staffing Tribunal into a new Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board.
“Organisational changes of this nature and other important considerations must be taken into account. A consultative process with our federal partners, including bargaining agents, will be put in place at the earliest opportunity to review the legislative provisions introduced through Bill C-4.
“The Government’s actions are underpinned by the firm commitment to bargain in good faith with federal public service unions. Our goal will always be to seek agreements that are fair and reasonable for employees and all Canadians.”
For up to date government news and international best practice follow us on Twitter @globegov