Evidence of meeting #10 for Government Operations and Estimates in the 39th Parliament, 2nd Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was advisers.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

9:05 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Diane Marleau

We have a quorum and we have representatives from all of our parties here. I'm going to start by asking whether the committee minds if we move directly to witnesses for about an hour. They're already here and they're ready to make their presentations. I'd like to do that, if you don't mind.

I would like the witnesses, if at all possible, because you've been before the committee before, to perhaps bring us up to date on what's happened since the last meeting or what's been going on since we first found out about the serious challenges that there are with pay and benefits in the public service. It would give the members more time for questions. I'll ask you if that's okay with you.

You can go ahead and make your statement. We're at your disposal. But we'd like to get to the crux of the matter more quickly if we can, because we might only have an hour or a little more. We have a number of other motions we have to deal with.

Who's first?

9:05 a.m.

Jill Ronan Chair, Interdepartmental Compensation Consultants Committee

I'm Jill Ronan, compensation and team leader with DND and also a member of the Association of Compensation Advisors.

I'd like to start by saying good morning, Madam Chair and honourable members. We'd like to thank you for allowing us the opportunity to address you again today on the issues facing the compensation community in the federal public service.

We want to applaud this committee for the progress that has taken place to date as a direct result of this committee's attention to our issues. It was very apparent in the standing committee held on December 12, 2007, with the Canadian Public Service Agency that our employer has taken a proactive approach to moving forward with resolutions in some areas. While we applaud this progress, we have some areas of concern that require the attention and action on the part of our employer.

In order to keep our presentation as streamlined as possible and to ensure we do not inundate you with information overload, we have broken the issues into three key areas that were addressed by CPSA on December 12. They are capacit-building, technology and service delivery model, and the classification of the compensation adviser positions.

I would like to now introduce Michael Brandimore. He will present on the first issue, capacity-building.

9:05 a.m.

Michael Brandimore Interdepartmental Compensation Consultants Committee

Good morning. I'm Michael Brandimore. Madam Chair, honourable members, I would like to thank you for allowing me the opportunity to address you yet again on these issues.

What we derive from the presentation and discussion is that the mandate of the capacity-building group within CPSA is to recruit future compensation advisers and develop a national training program. The recruitment mandate certainly does not appear to be an issue, considering that 5,800 applicants were received. This resulted in 109 positions being filled as of this date. Out of these 109 new recruits, 60 were recruited and employed in the Department of Public Works, which would indicate that 49 went to other core departments.

It was further stated that statistics show that another 100 will be retiring from the public service in the next five years.

Our concern with these statistics is that they do not appear to include departures for other reasons, such as moving to other positions within the public service or promotions. This would definitely increase the numbers to be taken into account for human resource planning.

While this is encouraging, it does not in any way address the issue of retention. It has historically been shown that even in the best of circumstances the trainee programs result in up to 50% of trainees either failing the training program or departing for other positions. The real issue of concern is one of retention, and unless the issue of classification is resolved, shortages will continue to impede the success of any capacity-building initiative developed.

Again, although we applaud this capacity-building initiative, as Mr. Kramp so astutely pointed out on December 12, given that it takes up to two years to train these newly recruited compensation trainees, how could this dramatic improvement be attributed to them? Madame Bourgeois responded by stating, “We have a very dedicated community who have agreed to do overtime to resolve the issues.” And there are retirees who have agreed to come back to assist.

While we agree with Madame Bourgeois' statement, this has to be recognized as a very short-term initiative and not a two-year resolution while the trainees attain the required skills to fulfill the full functions. We're already seeing an increase in burnout situations at work, which is counterproductive, as it means we will lose skilled compensation advisers for yet another reason.

We also have some concerns with the statistics on the backlog within the core departments. As compensation advisers, we deal interdepartmentally on a constant basis, and many of the compensation advisers have stated that they were never asked to provide statistics and still have a fair-sized backlog they are dealing with.

We agree that these types of statistics are crucial to establishing that there are backlogs. However, unless these stats are as factual as possible, they can be more harmful than helpful.

9:05 a.m.

Chair, Interdepartmental Compensation Consultants Committee

Jill Ronan

Diane Melançon will now be presenting on the second key issue, technology and service delivery.

9:05 a.m.

Diane Melançon Co-Chair, Interdepartmental Compensation Consultants Committee

We applaud our employer for the efforts being made to develop, first, systems that will streamline the transactional portion of our functions and, second, self-serve systems for managers and employees. What concerns us is the timing and the impact it will have on our positions.

Madame Jolicoeur clearly states that the current pay system is very limited in automation, and that, while Public Works Canada is continuing to work on the pay modernization project, the project approval has yet to be given. This community has been waiting for this new system for over a decade, and it would appear that it could take another decade to come to fruition.

Even if managers and employees have the capacity to enter transactions, they will require the verification of the compensation advisers to ensure accuracy prior to being processed through the pay system for payments. Pension modernization forms approximately 18% of the current functions of a compensation adviser. To state that all pension functions are being reallocated to a centralized pension team is somewhat misleading. The compensation adviser will still be responsible for commencing pension contribution, making changes, paying severance pay, and providing research documentation through the pension division to ensure that accurate benefits are received.

While it could be argued that these are pay-related functions, the relativity between pay and pension benefits is the reason that years ago these functions were developed from superannuation. Compensation advisers should still be trained in pension-related functions to understand the impact that pay administration has on the pension administration.

Technology provides tools that can streamline our work, but in no way can it address 70,000 rules and regulations coming from legislation, Treasury Board, unions, etc. It would appear that a decrease in the transactional portion of some of our functions would be offset by the increase in the advisory portion of our functions. There is no easy button in compensation benefits.

9:10 a.m.

Chair, Interdepartmental Compensation Consultants Committee

Jill Ronan

I'd like to present on the third key issue, classification.

As you can imagine, this is an issue that is near and dear to our community. The history of attempting to have these positions classified at an appropriate group and level was provided to your committee at the standing committee meeting in June 2007, and we do not want to take up your valuable time going over all of that. What we want to do is address the issues that were brought forth by CPSA at the December 12 meeting.

The key point that was made during that meeting is that Treasury Board has an agreement with the union, PSAC, to look at the PA group, program administration group, as a whole in respect to classification and not subgroups, and further, that technology and service delivery model may have an impact on our functions. PSAC has made it clear to our employer with the submission of the AS round table report that they do not agree that our group can wait until the PA group is resolved as a whole. In fact, they recommend immediate reclassification to the AS-4 level for our group. All evidence provided during the December 12, 2007, meeting indicated there are no clear timeframes on when technology and service delivery models will change the functions of the compensation advisers significantly.

Technology service delivery will address workload, and not the complexities of these positions. Workload is not a factor rated in our current classification system. These are the same arguments that were put forth by our employer four years ago, and they are still being used today. Classification of positions is based on the duties of your current position, not on what they will be four, five, ten years down the road.

The issue of separate employers, in which CSIS was used as an example, clearly shows the wage disparity within the public service for compensation advisers performing the same functions. This is a classic example of pay inequity. The human rights principle is that work of equal value should have pay of equal value. Our employer's response to this is that the separate employer has a different classification system and rating system, and therefore that is apt. This is completely illogical to us. It is almost saying that these separate employers' new classification systems cannot possibly be as accurate as Treasury Board's 40-plus-year antiquated classification system. The bottom line is, they have developed a classification system that recognizes the complexity of the compensation advisers today.

The salary difference is approximately $14,000, which would actually closely align our wage to that of the AS-4 group level within Treasury Board, which is what our union has recommended Treasury Board do immediately.

So if our union is willing to adjust the agreement they have made with our employer in regard to our group, and if separate employers have been able to capture the complexities of our functions, why is our employer not willing to act upon the recommendations that have been put forth?

In a statement referring to the classification history of the compensation adviser positions on page 15 of the minutes on the 12th of December, Madame Boudrias stated the following: “They”--referring to Treasury Board compensation advisers--“were all reclassified at the same time, because if we did not do that, you can imagine the issue we would have in terms of people moving from a department to another one to have a better job or a promotion or better salary level.”

That is in fact what is happening. Our most skilled compensation advisers are moving to places like CSIS and CSE, where the salaries are far better.

In a nutshell, our employer has stated two main impediments to dealing with the classification issues of our positions: the agreement they have with our union, and the impact technology service delivery will have on our job descriptions.

The union has removed the first impediment by recommending that the employer reclassify these positions to the AS-4 level immediately. And in regard to the changes that may occur in our job descriptions as a result of technology service delivery, they have not come to fruition over the last four years, and based on the evidence provided there's no clear timeframe on when they will. The complexity, responsibility, intellectual effort, and demands required of our functions are neither properly recognized nor compensated. This is a major component as to why there are staff shortages, backlog, and retention problems. The development, recruitment, and, most importantly, the retention issues will not be successful unless the classification issue is resolved.

We are respectfully requesting that this committee continue to exert their influence, to have the President of Treasury Board work with the Canada Public Service Agency and the Public Service Alliance of Canada to resolve the classification issue of the compensation advisers' positions within the federal public service.

In closing, we would like once again to thank the chair and the honourable members for their continued efforts on our behalf.

9:15 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Diane Marleau

Thank you very much.

Do you have somebody else who wants to make a short statement?

9:15 a.m.

Patty Ducharme National Executive Vice-President, Public Service Alliance of Canada

Thank you, Madam Chair.

I'm Patty Ducharme. I'm the national executive vice-president of the PSAC. The Public Service Alliance of Canada is a union that represents the pay compensation advisers who work for the Government of Canada, making sure that your staff, the public servants of Canada, are all paid in a timely fashion.

I want to thank the chair and the members of the committee for inviting us to appear before you today on issues facing the compensation system in the federal government. As the national executive vice-president of the PSAC, I'm particularly pleased and proud to appear here alongside our members who directly deliver compensation services for the federal government.

I want to reinforce comments that were made by the employer when they appeared before you on December 12, 2007. The compensation system relies on an extremely dedicated and committed group of federal workers. Day in and day out the 1,400 PSAC members who perform these duties show their determination to do a difficult job under extremely difficult circumstances.

A further indication of their dedication and determination is the willingness of these members to take the time to come before you today and present their detailed understanding of the problems the government is having paying people on time. I want to draw the committee members' attention as well to the gallery. The gallery is filled with PSAC members who are compensation advisers in government departments, and they're here supporting representatives of their community and their union. This is a very significant issue for this community.

As the union representing these dedicated public service workers, I want to emphasize that we share their frustration at the failure of the employer to adequately address the problems facing the compensation community. Yes, it is positive that government has a number of initiatives under way, under areas such as training, recruitment, and technological improvements, but their own consultation process with managers and front-line workers recognizes that there are classification problems underlying the problems facing this community. We have found that the employer is completely unwilling to work with the union in addressing the classification issues for this group.

We had a consultation session last June with the Canada Public Service Agency to talk about the issues affecting this community, where agency officials clearly laid out a number of positive capacity-building initiatives, but the representatives had virtually no mandate to discuss the issue of classification.

Last summer we followed up with a letter to Rick Burton, the vice-president of the CPSA, asking to meet on the specific issue of classification, and he was unwilling to do so.

Earlier this month we wrote to Nicole Jauvin, the president of CPSA, once again asking for a willingness from the employer to sit down and come up with an interim solution to address the retention problems that come from classification of the compensation advisers at the AS-2 level. We still don't have an answer from Madame Jauvin, but I expect we will get the same one Madame Boudrias gave this committee in December. In response to a question from MP Mark Holland about the employer's willingness to undertake short-term measures to address the classification issues, she replied: “So we have an agreement with PSAC that we will be looking at the entire PA group.”

She asserted, as has Rick Burton before her, that the broader PA reform project is the solution to the AS classification problem. We need to be clear. The agreement about undertaking a classification review exercise for the PA group was something first announced by the employer on May 8, 2002. This was not negotiated with the PSAC. The employer believes it has a unilateral right to classify and has never agreed with any bargaining agent to jointly develop a classification standard in the federal public service.

In April 2006 the PSAC, Treasury Board, and PSHRMAC did agree to issue a joint statement indicating their willingness to commit to the project of classification reform for the PA group. Specifically, that agreement involved commitment to a first phase of six to eight months, during which our respective representatives would meet to map out a process and timeline for a new PA standard.

The first phase never occurred. More than 20 months have passed since the PSAC and the employer signed that joint statement. Madame Boudrias more or less admitted this when she said to you last month that the work hadn't yet been started.

In our view, it is quite unacceptable for the employer to hold out the PA classification reform as a solution to the classification issue that underlies the problem facing the AS compensation advisers. There is no evidence the employer has invested the kinds of resources and energy needed to achieve PA reform in the short term, and the problem facing the AS compensation advisers is an immediate and urgent one.

Interestingly, while telling you last month that the PA classification reform is a solution to the AS problem, later in her testimony Madame Boudrias said, and I quote, “We won't wait for the big review of the PA group to do something”, suggesting that perhaps they are prepared to take an interim step. This is positive, but as yet there is no evidence from any of the contact between CPSA and PSAC that they are willing to work together on a solution, what they might be considering, and what kind of timeline they're actually considering.

In the meantime, the problems the government is having paying people on time continues. There was an article in La Presse about a situation at the Shawinigan tax centre where 200 federal public sector workers, your employees, were facing problems in getting paid in a timely fashion.

The fact that many separate employers have found ways of reclassifying compensation advisers and paying them at significantly higher rates is an indication of the need for a short-term solution. It is also an indication of a further retention problem that the Treasury Board and the CPSA will face. Unless they act now to close the gap, Treasury Board will lose even more valuable compensation advisers to these separate employers.

In closing, I would like to once again thank the members of the committee for giving attention to the issues facing the compensation community. We'd be happy to answer any questions you have, which may help you in your future deliberations.

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

The Chair Diane Marleau

Thank you very much for your presentations.

Now we'll move to Mr. Holland.

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Thank you, Mrs. Chair.

Thank you to the witnesses. Thank you as well to the compensation advisers who are gathered here today, not only for your presence but also collectively for all the work you do on behalf of Canadians and the public service.

Obviously I'm very concerned, both by this issue and also the ramifications of it for people being paid on time. What I'm hearing today is a lot of frustration. There's a sense you're simply not being heard, and things that should logically be dealt with are not. Certainly I think it'd be fair to characterize this as at an impasse; you really don't feel your issues are being heard.

In my opinion, we almost heard two parallel conversations. On the one hand, we heard from Treasury Board, which felt these issues were being moved forward or there was common ground. We're hearing today, I think, this isn't the case. I'm summarizing and I'm seeing nodding heads, so that would be correct.

Let me start by what this committee can do. What would you like to see this committee do in the way of recommendations, actions on this to help bridge this impasse? Ideally, as you come before us today, what are the actions you would hope the committee would undertake?

9:25 a.m.

Chair, Interdepartmental Compensation Consultants Committee

Jill Ronan

In a nutshell, we're attempting to have this committee influence Treasury Board to step up to the plate. Even if it's a short-term solution while the long-term resolution is being put in place, it should be done now, without waiting any longer. The backlogs may have been improved slightly, but they're certainly not dealt with. They're still there, and they're going to continue.

It will take a considerable amount of time to develop the technology to reduce workload. Let me stress that this is about reducing workload. It won't reduce the complexities of the job. It will also take time to train new compensation advisers. Madame Boudrias admitted that they were behind the eight ball, that they were five years late in starting. I give her credit for acknowledging that. The bottom line is that it happened and we're in that position now.

We are not naive enough to believe that if we were classified tomorrow all the problems would disappear. We're trying to say that unless the classification issue is dealt with today, the shortages will increase. We could slow down the train if this issue would just be dealt with.

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

That's fair. I think the committee will be looking at this in its deliberations.

If we were able to see a resolution to the classification issue, how long would it take? You said all the problems wouldn't disappear overnight, and that's a fair statement. I think we understand that. But how long do you think it would take to get things into a manageable position if we were to act?

9:25 a.m.

Chair, Interdepartmental Compensation Consultants Committee

Jill Ronan

I would be hard-pressed—I think any of us would—to answer that.

9:25 a.m.

Liberal

Mark Holland Ajax—Pickering, ON

Ballpark--I'm not looking for an exact time, just a range.

9:25 a.m.

Chair, Interdepartmental Compensation Consultants Committee

Jill Ronan

I'll just give you a small example of how it could work. This month, we in DND are losing three fully qualified compensation advisers to other positions, because of the classification issue.

I think we would see an improvement far sooner than the technology will take to develop, and far sooner than waiting five years for them to increase the number of trained compensation advisors. I think you would see an improvement fairly quickly.