Joint committee calls on Canada’s government to create centre of expertise on mental health

By on 10/06/2016 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Robyn Benson, national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, welcomed the Task Force's report.

Canada should create a centre of expertise on mental health, according to a joint committee of civil servants and public sector union representatives set up by the previous government.

The Mental Health Joint Task Force was set up by the previous Conservative government and the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), which represents more than 170,000 officials, in March last year after an employee survey released in February found that 19% of public servants had experienced harassment in the workplace.

The task force published its first report last December in which it made 11 recommendations to achieve a “shift from a primarily output-focused environment to one that is more people-focused” and “humanise” government as a workplace.

While the group says progress has been made since then, it said in its second report published earlier this month, that more needs to be done to advance mental health in the public service.

Its call for a single centre of expertise to “help guide organisational alignment with the National Standard” – a free document published jointly by the Ministry of Labor and the Mental Health Commission of Canada in 2013 to provide employers with tools to deal with workplace depression, mental illness and other psychological issues – is not a new one.

The centre was among recommendations of the task force’s first report, which prompted Scott Brison, the minister responsible for Canada’s public service, to promise a government action plan by March this year setting out how the government will implement the force’s recommendations.

However, no plan has been published yet.

Brisons’ office told Global Government Forum that the government “will soon bring forward a workplace mental health strategy that will build from the work of the Joint Task Force to advance and protect the psychological health and safety of employees.”

The strategy, the spokesperson added, “along with our continuing work with stakeholders, including bargaining agents, will help us build a healthier, more respectful and supportive work environment.”

The government is also working on the creation of a mental health centre of expertise.

The Government will continue to work with public sector unions to improve how we address mental health issues in the workplace.

The committee said in its report that “current legislative requirements and enterprise-wide committee structures are not well known or fully utilised;” that there is a “lack of accountability and oversight to ensure that organisation-specific committees are in place and that they are able to fulfil their mandate”; and that many federal organisations had indicated that they are ill-equipped to align with the National Standard.

To support enterprise-wide alignment with the National Standard, it said, the government should “hold deputy heads accountable for establishing, staffing and overseeing organisational OHS committees, ensuring that the committees are trained and equipped to fulfil their mandate” and “create a single centre of expertise to provide support to organisations.”

The centre’s responsibilities would include providing a roadmap for alignment to the National Standard; provide “immediate expert support and guidance”; establish a “best practice repository”; develop a “whole-of-government communications strategy” and identify “factors and gaps that may affect the psychological health and safety of the workforce.”

The centre would be co-governed by public servants and union representatives; have “a central, regional and virtual presence”; a “mandate that can evolve based on the needs of stakeholders within the federal public service”; act as a neutral arm’s length body and receive “dedicated, long-term funding from the Treasury Board.”

The report has been welcomed by PSAC, whose national president Robyn Benson said: “The release of the Joint Task Force’s second report demonstrates our shared commitment to the important issue of mental health in the workplace.

“The Public Service Alliance of Canada believes the next steps will be crucial as we seek to implement concrete strategies to promote better workplace practices when dealing with mental health issues.”

Brison said in a statement published last week: “The government is committed to restoring a culture of respect for and within the public service.

“We will continue to work with public sector unions to improve how we address mental health issues in the workplace.

“The recommendations by the Joint Task Force will contribute to healthier workplaces for federal public servants across Canada.”

Click here to read the full report


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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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