Thank you, Mr. Chair, for the opportunity to speak with the committee today about the Public Service Labour Relations Board. I'm accompanied by Mr. Guy Lalonde, the executive director of the board.
I'd like to begin by describing who we are and what we do. The board is an independent, quasi-judicial tribunal. We are mandated by the Public Service Labour Relations Act to administer the collective bargaining and grievance adjudication systems in the federal public service. We are also mandated by the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act to perform the same role for the institutions of Parliament.
Established on April 1, 2005, the board replaced the Public Service Staff Relations Board, which had existed since 1967, when collective bargaining was first introduced in the federal public service.
We provide three main services: adjudication, mediation, and compensation analysis and research services.
Our adjudication function sets us apart from other labour relations boards in this country. We are unique. We are one of the few bodies in Canada that combine both adjudication services—that is, we hear and decide grievances—and impartial third-party services in the collective bargaining process. That is, we certify bargaining agents, manage complaints, and deal with the conciliation or arbitration of labour disputes.
Through our mediation services, we offer timely, impartial services that help the parties reach mutually acceptable solutions to their issues. What I would like to mention that's not in my notes is that the jurisdiction we cover is from one end of the country to the other. Some 350,000 public servants fall under our jurisdiction.
Our compensation analysis and research service, or what we commonly refer to as our CARS program, responds to the government's need for an accurate, impartial comparison of federal government employee compensation and that of other employers across the country, both public and private. To date, we have put in place the necessary tools, processes, and systems to ensure that we are in a state of readiness to conduct surveys and studies.
The government itself recognizes the importance of this service in supporting the collective bargaining and compensation decisions in the public service and the future requirements of the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act. We will be able to provide these impartial compensation comparative analyses when the board receives appropriate funding for the data collection.
The government further expanded our mandate under the Budget Implementation Act of 2009, which transferred the responsibility for public-sector pay equity complaints from the Canadian Human Rights Commission to our board. As a result, we deal not only with complaints that were, or could be, filed with the Human Rights Commission, but also with those that may arise under the Public Sector Equitable Compensation Act when it comes into force. We are awaiting rulings in those matters.
We accept our various mandates, and indeed we have successfully confronted the challenges they have presented to us. The five-year review of the Public Service Modernization Act supports our position. The report describes the current regime as adequate, and that it provides an appropriate framework for people management in the federal public service.
I can also point to our 2010 Client Satisfaction Survey results, which demonstrate that our board has consistently met both its mandated responsibilities and its clients' needs—be it the Treasury Board, the Canada Revenue Agency or Parks Canada—or the various bargaining agents such as the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, the Canadian Association of Professional Employees, or the Union of Canadian Correctional Officers.
Our survey revealed that clients were satisfied with our ability to improve labour relations, not only in terms of the everyday work that we do but also with the quality of assistance, reports and tools that we provide. Specifically, about 80% of the respondents said they are satisfied or very satisfied with the PSLRB's services overall.
While we are progressing well in terms of meeting our mandate in clients' needs, we continue to find innovative ways to help us manage our robust and increasingly complex caseload. Since the beginning of my tenure in 2007, I have witnessed a steady increase in the volume of cases that are referred to the board. More than a decade ago, there were about 1,200 cases in our registry. Today, that number has grown to nearly 6,000. Rest assured, however, on average we are able to close about 1,500 cases per year, which is an excellent effort, but we need to go further and use analytics and strong case management tools to cater more specifically and efficiently to the needs of certain parties.
For example, I note that, of all the grievances currently before the Board, 55% have been filed by employees of the same occupational group. In other words, this equates to one grievance being referred for every three employees in that bargaining unit. Since over one-half of the board's workload has been filed by a single group, our board has established a special task force to address the particular needs of those parties. This includes grouping the grievances together, dealing with policy issues by priority—the latter of which provides a benchmark for dealing with similar grievances—and consistently appointing arbitrators or mediators who have experience with the parties.
As well, we are investing in a more robust and thorough case management system that will enable us to cross-reference cases and deal with similar cases in a similar fashion.
But we must do more than focus on closing case files. We continue to review, analyze, and streamline our adjudication and mediation processes to optimize our resources and enhance our efficiency. From the moment we receive a grievance, we move into proactive case management mode. Often this means we aim to resolve matters brought before us through mediation. There are three-quarters of our cases in collective bargaining disputes referred to mediation that are resolved through our mediation interventions. That's almost 85% that we resolve through mediation.
This success of our mediation program and the calibre of our mediators are also supported by our client satisfaction survey results.
We also seek to make our hearings as productive and efficient as possible, through the use of pre-hearing conferences in which procedural matters are dealt with, and by dealing with hearings through written submissions or early analysis of the underlying issues.
It goes without saying that our ongoing efforts are particularly important in the current economic environment. Although we weren't asked to identify specific reductions in the government's strategic operational review, we nevertheless took it upon ourselves to thoroughly examine our operations, identify efficiencies, and look for cost-saving measures where possible.
Of note, over the past few years we have engaged in partnerships with other independent federal tribunals. The board currently provides certain corporate services—IT, web, finance, compensation, and HR services, and use of its library—to the Public Service Staffing Tribunal, from whom you've just heard, and other similar smaller tribunals under formal shared services agreements.
I am pleased to report that we continue to enhance our efficiency in the daily management of our hearings. Only one adjudicator hears a case, without the support of staff, and he or she travels to a location near the workplace, which limits the need for the grievor and witnesses to travel. Other tribunals use three-person panels, but we rely on a single member. We also use the hearing rooms of the Federal Court, and other administrative tribunals, whenever possible to minimize our costs.
Throughout the years we have demonstrated a proven record of success that has resulted in an enviable reputation in the labour relations world. What sets us apart, I believe, is our unique role and mandate of independent adjudication, mediation, and compensation analysis and research that we uphold. To do so, we work closely with federal workplace parties and support their efforts. In fact, just this morning we met with our client consultation committee, composed of employer and bargaining agent representatives, to discuss among other things hearing postponements and their regulation, which are an unproductive use of the board's resources.
In conclusion, we have the necessary experience, dedication, and commitment to continue our work and to meet the challenges before us. Our ability to resolve labour relations issues in an impartial and efficient manner will ensure that the delivery of programs and services to Canadians is not compromised.
That concludes my remarks. I will be pleased to respond to any questions you may have.