Canada’s Scott Brison warns negotiations with unions must be ‘realistic’

By on 02/02/2016
Scott Brison is president of the Treasury Board

Canada’s Treasury Board president Scott Brison has warned that negotiations must be realistic as his department meets with public service unions this week to discuss wages and other employment terms.

This is the first time unions start the bargaining process with the government since the Liberals came to power in last October’s general election.

The negotiations between workers and the previous Conservative government were rife with controversy and conflict.

But, this government’s promise to restore “a culture of respect for and within our public service” has prompted new optimism among federal unions.

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Robyn Benson, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada – the biggest of the 18 federal unions, said the PSAC “expects the new Liberal government to live up to its commitments to respect our Charter right to free collective bargaining and to restore the public services our members provide.”

But in a sobering statement, Brison said this week that “as a government, we have a very tight fiscal situation, which we inherited from the previous government.”

“As such, our ability to invest in jobs and growth requires us to negotiate realistically,” he added, according to the Ottawa Citizen.

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With the economy growing at a much slower rate, which means lower government taxation revenues, this government has “very little economic room to manoeuver,” Ian Lee, assistant professor with Sprott School of Business at Carleton University, wrote in an analysis for Global Government Forum.

The biggest point of contention between the previous government and unions were reforms to the sick leave system proposed by former Treasury Board president Tony Clement.

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.

Clement pledged to abolish such deferrals, predicting that the reform would save $900m (US$675m).

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As the three largest public sector unions refused to negotiate sick leave, the government introduced and passed a bill granting it the unilateral right to adopt the new system.

Brison stops short of revealing what his proposals to unions will be.

However, Trudeau signalled a review of the system before the election, when he wrote in an open letter to public servants that “the Harper Conservatives have not justified why they plan to make changes to public sector sick leave” and that his government “would review the bargaining mandate.”

He said that “responsible government must respect the union negotiation process and finalise its financial plans upon completion of negotiations – not at the beginning”, adding that his party “is committed to bargaining in good faith with public sector unions” and to “supporting and protecting workers’ rights.”

For up to date government news and international best practice follow us on Twitter @globegov and @Winnosa

See also:

Canada’s new prime minister pledges to review sick leave plans

Canada’s Trudeau ‘must provide clarity on role of public service’ – says think-tank

Interview: Janice Charette, Clerk of the Privy Council and Secretary to the Cabinet, Government of Canada

About Winnie Agbonlahor

Winnie is news editor of Global Government Forum. She previously reported for Civil Service World - the trade magazine for senior UK government officials. Originally from Germany, Winnie first came to the UK in 2006 to study a BA in Journalism & Russian at the University of Sheffield. She is bilingual in English and German, and, after spending an academic year abroad in Russia and reporting for the Moscow Times, Winnie also speaks Russian fluently.

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