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.