Evidence of meeting #56 for Government Operations and Estimates in the 39th Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was classification.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Bibiane Ouellette  Clerk of the Committee , Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates
  • Susan Louis-Seize  Association of Compensation Advisors
  • John Gordon  National President, Public Service Alliance of Canada
  • Diane Melançon  Association of Compensation Advisors
  • Michael Brandimore  Association of Compensation Advisors
  • David Orfald  Director of Planning and Organizational Development, Public Service Alliance of Canada
  • Margaret Jaekl  Classification Officer, Public Service Alliance of Canada
  • Rob Walsh  Law Clerk and Parliamentary Counsel, House of Commons

June 7th, 2007 / 3:40 p.m.

John Gordon National President, Public Service Alliance of Canada

Thank you, Madam Chair and members of the committee, for inviting me here.

When I appeared before this committee on March 29 of this year to address issues related to recruitment, retention, and hiring practices of the federal government related to employment equity, I and my colleagues had an opportunity to address a number of issues that impact on the compensation advisor community.

I did this in response to interventions from the chair, a chair who was then and I hope is now frustrated and angry that successive governments have their priorities wrong when it comes to the appropriate classification, recruitment, and training programs for its compensation advisors.

Madam Chair, on March 29, you said, “Obviously we have to do something, because people aren't going to work for us if we can't pay them.” My predecessor said pretty much the same thing at the PSAC national triennnial convention in both 2003 and 2006.

I sincerely hope that the attention given to this issue by this committee will ensure action and allow me to stand before the 2009 PSAC convention and say that the government has finally got it right and has provided its compensation advisors, among others, with an appropriate and justifiable classification.

During our appearance on March 29, we said that the fundamental underlying problem faced by compensation advisors is that they are improperly classified, that their classification standard dates back to 1965—that is, it hasn't been updated since then.

The nature of their work has changed significantly over the past 42 years. The complexity and the files, myriad regulations, and legislative provisions have increased dramatically, yet changes to the classification of compensation advisors have not kept pace with the program and regulatory changes. Where's the justice in that?

I should tell you that I had an opportunity to raise the issue directly with the Treasury Board president, Vic Toews, on April 16, which was subsequent to my appearance before your committee. I have to say in fairness to the minister that he expressed concern over this issue, but time will tell whether his concern will translate into timely and appropriate action.

Your specific interest in this file, as well as the union pressure and individual representations to the minister and departmental officials directly from compensation advisors, is the best way to ensure speedy action.

I say this because classification issues historically take years to be resolved, and for whatever reason, the government does not have the capacity to move many classification files to completion at the same time.

For example, when my union and the Public Service Human Resource Management Agency of Canada agreed to a comprehensive classification process for the PA group a little over a year ago, we knew full well that some other federal public sector groups would have to wait for their legitimate classification issues to be formally addressed. That was the right decision, despite the negative consequences, because the PA group is the largest in the federal public sector. It is in many ways the most complex, and it includes compensation advisors.

I would say as well that the previous government acknowledged the extent of its classification problem, at least in part, when it earmarked fully $1 billion to correct existing classification problems. A measure of the failure to connect the extent of the problem with timely corrective measures and to engage meaningfully with PSAC on important related initiatives, such as policy renewal and how we can better move the labour relations and human resource communities forward, is the fact that very little of this money has been spent; in other words, the money remains on the government balance sheet and not in the pockets of the workforce, where it rightfully belongs.

In a submission to your committee, the Treasury Board's compensation advisors said the Treasury Board's solution to a centralized pension service in Shediac, New Brunswick, is a solution they do not believe will fix the problem. I would like to comment on that issue as well.

I should say at the outset that I, as well as other federal public sector union presidents, have been briefed on the government's proposal. I agree with the Treasury Board's compensation advisors that the planned transformation of pension administration will not fix the problem, but I have to say that in many ways it is a step in the right direction. The fact of the matter is that the pension administration system is broken, and centralization of the function in Shediac makes sense.

That said, this centralization will have a considerable impact on the compensation advisors community, an impact that I do not believe has been fully factored into the government's planned transformation of the pension administration. Moreover, there is a real concern that the transformation of the pension administration is motivated as much by employment reductions as it is by improved client service. This too needs to change.

I would also point out, as did the Treasury Board's compensation advisors, that employees, like all Canadians, do not consider 1-800 numbers and web self-services to constitute an appropriate level of service. This system is seen by government as an expected benefit from the pension administration transformation. Yet the same government must appreciate that its attempt to implement a similar client service model at Service Canada has been plagued by client alienation, dissatisfaction, and resistance, particularly from seniors. I am not a Luddite, and I believe that there are significant benefits from the use of tools such as 1-800 numbers and web self-service systems, but they are tools to assist the process and cannot replace focused face-to-face communication between pension and compensation experts and the people who have pension and benefit questions or who are in need of an analysis of their options.

So to sum up, the government has inherited a pension benefits and pay administration system that is antiquated. It has inherited a system in need of a complete overhaul. It has inherited a system that undervalues considerably its compensation advisors' workforce.

While it is not an issue that is on the public's radar screen, it is an issue that the government has both an obligation and an opportunity to fix, and my members will take your action on this file into consideration when they next have an opportunity to vote.

Again, I thank you very much, Madam Chair, for inviting me here to give you a presentation.

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Diane Marleau

What can I say? This is something that's important to me and to all of us. I don't think there's any one party in this room that cares more about making sure that people get paid, because we're all caring about that issue. The problem is that we're having a difficult time getting the kind of information that we need. That's really the issue here.

I'm going to go to Madame Melançon now.

There are such things that we'd like to know. Which are the departments that have the most problems? We haven't been able to find that out yet. That's one question. There are other questions that I'm not sure the association can answer. Those are some of the issues we're wrestling with.

Madame Melançon, go ahead, please.

3:45 p.m.

Diane Melançon Association of Compensation Advisors

Madam Chair, I have such a cold right now. Do you mind if I ask Michael to speak in my place?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Diane Marleau

Absolutely not.

Go ahead.

3:45 p.m.

Michael Brandimore Association of Compensation Advisors

Was it the departments, specifically, that you were asking about?

3:45 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Diane Marleau

We want to know what's been happening. I have heard from people across the country that there are some problems just about everywhere. The Deputy Minister of Public Works and Government Services told us that at one point there were over 2,000 in the backlog. They had caught up about 1,000. I don't know what point they're at now. They may have caught them all up. I don't know.

But we are also interested in knowing where the biggest problems lie. It would be nice for us to know, because maybe we could call those departments before us. Is it the departments with the new systems? Is it the departments with the old systems? Because we did get Treasury Board to explain to us, last Tuesday, that there were two different systems. Where the biggest problems are would be a good start.

I'm sure you have a prepared statement, and I would like to hear what you have to say as well.

3:50 p.m.

Association of Compensation Advisors

Michael Brandimore

Well, I'm fine with trying to answer that one, because I think a lot of our prepared statement has been addressed, and I don't want to reiterate the same things. But one of the impediments to the reclassification, of course, has been service delivery models. It appears that instead of reclassifying the expertise we have, a way of circumventing that is to come up with how we deliver our service.

You are correct when you say there are two. There's one that is current, which is what most departments have; and one that is called activity based, which is the newer model. It takes responsibility away from individual compensation advisors to oversee your account, and what it does, in essence, is to set it up so that your account is handled by as many compensation advisors as there are. If you are getting a promotion, that will go to someone who is doing promotions. If you're getting acting pay or if you're retiring, it will all be very relative to a specific activity, and it is indeed these departments that are causing the greatest number of problems.

The moment you remove responsibility from the compensation advisor, it's a slippery slope to chaos, because now if you have any questions about your account, who do you even address it to in the compensation community? It also takes away expertise overall, because a couple of years down the road, as people are moving on with their expertise and retiring, you will have people who, if a complex issue were to be examined in your account, such as an issue with a T4 that was just not balancing out—Who do we give that to, if no one's done T4s and no one has the overall global knowledge, because all they've done are little bits and pieces of our job overall? So it's caused huge backlogs and chaos, with different people working on the same things.

It's also put people in a situation where, because of the huge backlogs, it's become a health issue. People are working six days a week and still can't keep up with the huge backlogs, so they are leaving. It used to be that compensation advisors could move from one department to another, based on anything from the job being closer to where they lived to their feeling that people were treated better at one job than another. Now fully trained compensation people are leaving; they're not going to compensation jobs in other departments. They're getting out and saying “I'm not going to do this job with this responsibility and this much pressure—given the complexity of the knowledge that's required—for this kind of money.”

So it is the departments—And you did mention one of them, Public Works, and there are CRA and Stats Canada. And DND is in a delivery model that straddles the two at the time but is trying to go to this activity-based model, and we've put up a huge struggle with management to say why this won't work.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Diane Marleau

How about Human Resources? Are they on the old system or the new one?

3:50 p.m.

Association of Compensation Advisors

Michael Brandimore

Human resources really hasn't changed very much. It's really the functions of the compensation advisor, or the breakdown of their functions in delivery models. How we get things from the other aspects of human resources really hasn't changed.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Diane Marleau

No, what I meant was Service Canada. It's not a department yet; I still call it Human Resources Canada.

I'm talking about Service Canada. Do they have the new system?

3:50 p.m.

Association of Compensation Advisors

Michael Brandimore

I think they do.

3:50 p.m.

Association of Compensation Advisors

Diane Melançon

I think they do. I'd have to double-check, but I think they also do—

3:50 p.m.

Association of Compensation Advisors

Michael Brandimore

I think so as well.

3:50 p.m.

Association of Compensation Advisors

Diane Melançon

—so they're going to have problems also.

And as I say, when you have a compensation advisor who has expertise in all the domains or at doing everything—retirement, transfer of a position, a promotion, or anything—and they are told, from now on all you're going to be doing is promotions, that's it, that's all, they leave those departments. They go to departments where they can do all of the duties they're normally expected to do. So they don't want to lose expertise.

3:50 p.m.

Liberal

The Chair Diane Marleau

Now I'm going to ask you a question, and you may not know the answer.

Was there a study done somewhere before they started this, and who would have done that study, if you know? If you don't know, I'll ask somewhere else.