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.