Thank you, Mr. Chair and committee members, for the opportunity to meet with you today.
Representing over 120,000 federal public service workers, our main focus is on internal staffing processes. In 2003, the Public Service Modernization Act, or PSMA, made changes to the Public Service Employment Act that were supposed to make staffing faster. While there are still complaints that the process is too slow, many of our members are more concerned about how arbitrary the process has become because of the PSMA changes.
Internal staffing processes need to be fair and appear to be fair, need to reflect the objectives of the Employment Equity Act, and need to provide appropriate career transition opportunities for our members. In the 2007 public service employee survey, when public service workers were asked if the selection process was done fairly in their work unit, 26% said no. Those numbers were even higher for equity groups, and as high as 40% for persons with disabilities.
In the staffing and non-partisanship survey report on the results for the federal public service released last week, 32% of the employees who responded said they felt the selection process in their work unit was not done fairly. Thirty-eight per cent did not agree that the staffing actions were carried out in a transparent way. Almost 54% agreed that appointments depended on who you know.
When the PSMA was enacted, the universally recognized concept of relative merit was replaced with a concept that is less fair and more arbitrary. Merit is now defined as someone who meets the essential qualifications of the position and any additional qualifications or needs that might be considered by the organization currently or in the future.
The PSMA gave front-line managers the ability to make appointments, and defined merit based on individual managerial discretion. Managers don't have to hire the most qualified candidate, only the candidate they think is the best. It is now acceptable to consider only one person for appointment. This has created the potential for abuse, and certainly the appearance of abuse, among our members.
Even layoffs are subject to the current concept of merit. This creates the bizarre situation where employees are made to compete for their own jobs. During the downsizing that occurred earlier this decade, the Public Service Commission was forced to quickly write guidelines to govern the process, which became known as SERLO, or the assessment and selection of employees for retention or layoff process.
The act also expressly encourages and facilitates delegation of the deputy head's authority to appoint to the lowest managerial level possible, creating serious accountability issues. Lack of accountability opens the door to arbitrary staffing decisions and, at the very least, the appearance of favouritism. The current new direction in staffing initiative is reinforcing that delegation to the lowest levels.
Another issue is that employees are often unaware of when staffing processes are taking place, in particular in the case of non-advertised and acting processes. The employer doesn't even have to post indeterminate positions. A hiring manager can decide that a particular person is the right fit for the position and therefore meets the definition and requirements of individual merit. This is neither fair nor equitable.
Non-advertised processes are often used when pools have already been created. Pools raise expectations that they will be used. However, it appears that managers have no obligation to use the pools they create. The task force on diversity and inclusion was told that members of equity-seeking groups qualify for positions after overcoming several barriers and then remain in pre-qualified pools at rates not proportionate with their numbers, with no recourse.
The recourse process itself is undermined and diluted by the PSMA. The Public Service Employment Act now encourages departments to create their own internal recourse mechanism, which results in a lack of consistency across the federal public service. The only informal recourse the Act requires is informal discussion. This allows unsuccessful candidates to talk with their manager about why they were not selected for appointment, or were screened out or not considered for appointment. However, informal discussion and mediation often appear to be dismissed by managers as a mere formality, and decisions are seldom reversed.
Beyond this, complaints to the Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board can only be filed in very limited situations. These include situations where candidates are not appointed as a result of abuses of authority in determining merit, in choosing between an advertised and non-advertised internal appointment process, or in not assessing candidates in their official language of choice. There is very little time in which to launch a complaint, even within these very limited reasons.
The formal complaint process has become increasingly more legalistic, cumbersome and intimidating. Our volunteer activists are often advocating against lawyers in a clear imbalance of power.
While the old system of appeal boards was far from perfect, it did provide for an independent third party to consider the effect of errors, irregularities and omissions in the selection process. It was informal and easily accessible. These characteristics are absent from the current staffing process and remedies are limited as well. For example, employees cannot be put into a position if their complaint is upheld.
It is also important to note that very few complaints dealing with disabilities or lack of accommodation during a staffing process are pursued, yet disability-related discrimination is consistently identified as significant. It often takes a year or more to issue decisions, which discourages employees from filing complaints.
Many managers underscore staffing decisions with information from performance reports where talent is one of the key criteria. Talent is a very subjective concept, and our members believe that the importance placed on it as a staffing criteria is unfair and unaccountable.
As a result of the new direction in staffing, organizations are expected to self-audit staffing processes. Many departments and organizations are still not equipped to do so. Too often, the audit analysis is framed to support existing staffing decisions. If audits were working, members would not be seeing what they view as clear abuses of the non-advertised appointment process.
Self-auditing results should be shared with local, regional and national unions through consultation. Analysis and creation of audit questions should include a union perspective, as well as organizational surveys of candidates, complainants and all staff. This is not occurring at the national level as much as it should. There are also a number of barriers to equity groups in the staffing process. The Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion noted in its final report the lack of confidence in the fairness of the process.
Barriers identified by employees, as reported by the task force, included: pre-qualified hiring pools, as I've already mentioned; right fit assessments, which they assert are being used to disqualify candidates who meet all other requirements; the absence of opportunities to discuss and resolve the difficult issues of bias and discrimination; the fear of reprisal that prevents employees from raising issues of discrimination and harassment; and finally, very limited remedies.
We have some recommendations.
The current law should be changed so that we are able to negotiate staffing. Collective agreement provisions governing staffing would actually increase the speed in which internal staffing processes would work by setting clear parameters and timeframes.
The speed of staffing could be increased if the definition of merit was changed to include years of service factors.
Internal staffing plans must be complemented by career transition training and mentoring plans. To this end, staffing plans must be discussed with the unions at the local UMC level well ahead of staffing processes. Currently, they are not.
The Public Service Commission should have the power to demand that departments have clear and transparent mechanisms for working with unions and members on staffing issues.
Centralized staffing oversight by the commission should be increased, so that more audits and studies can be done about the real causes of staffing discontent and slow processes. We also support the recommendations on staffing in the report of the Task Force on Diversity and Inclusion.
Finally, regarding complaints about slowness of external staffing, it is important to hire people who can provide the very best services possible, and this principle needs to be balanced against the time it takes to hire them. Staffing may take too long because of human resources capacity in departments. Despite all of the problems with the Phoenix technology, cutting staff was a big part in creating the problems. Hiring more staff is a big part of the solution.
You also need to look at what jobs are being staffed. If you want to hire tradespeople or labour inspectors, for example, federal government wages for these jobs are uncompetitive. We have been trying for years to address that discrepancy through wage studies and collective bargaining.
Thank you for your time. Ms. Kishek and I will address any questions you may have.