C-59: Clement’s hammer against federal government workers

by David Bush and Doug Nesbitt

The latest hack-and-slash budget implementation bill, Bill C-59, from Harper and his twitter-trolling President of the Treasury Board, Tony Clement, passed third reading in the House of Commons on June 9 and passed third reading in the Senate on June 22. Parliament was sitting longer hours in the stretch before the summer hiatus in order to push through this and other reactionary bills.

workers-rights-webA lot of ink has been spilled on the civil liberties-busting Bill C-51. But Bill C-59 has garnered far less attention, except for the part where it retroactively exonerates the RCMP for destroying gun registry data that was subject to an Access To Information request.

But in fact C-59 has just as serious consequences for workers as Bill C-51. It grants power to the Treasury Board to unilaterally write into collective agreements the sick leave and short term disability program (STDP) clauses of hundreds of thousands of federal government workers.

Tony Clement claims that the government wants to negotiate, but there is fear that the Treasury Board reps will simply use the law as a hammer at the bargaining table, saying “sign now, or live with something worse later.”

Sick leave
Clement claims there is $900 million to save for the taxpayers. But sick leave actually has a negligible cost, since most employers don’t “backfill” for those absent. Sick workers merely continue to draw the same pay while sick that they would have while working. Clement is counting it as a liability.

The sick leave proposal currently offered at bargaining tables would discontinue the banking of sick leave and reduce the number of days from 15 to 6. If a worker uses up their leave they must apply for STDP to kick in. But there is a one week unpaid “waiting period” built in. The deal is similar to what was forced on the Canadian Union of Postal Workers in the 2011 battle against the Tories – and the scheme is terrible.

Clement claims this plan is intended to address the real problem of newer workers not having sick leave banked. But collective agreements already include the possibility of an advance on sick leave for anyone who doesn’t have enough days banked. And there are many other alternatives that could be considered.

Solidarity pact
When the bill was first introduced in early May the Professional Institute of the Public Service (PIPSC), the Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE) and the unions with the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) strongly denounced the bill as bargaining via legislation. The unions signed a solidarity pact to fight concessions on sick leave and pursue a common negotiating strategy on the issue.

Protest at the PMO. Source: @GarthMullins
Protest at the PMO. Source: @GarthMullins

PIPSC President Debi Daviau stated, “Bill C-59 stacks the deck against unions at the bargaining table by granting Treasury Board the power to unilaterally impose certain terms and conditions of employment.”

Robyn Benson, the PSAC National President said, “we believe this is a violation of our rights under the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. If the government can do this to the federal public service, they can do it to anyone.”

The PSAC, the largest of the federal public sector unions, set aside $5 million in an emergency motion at their convention this spring to fight this encroachment on their members’ rights.

The Ballot Box and the Streets
However, as the government geared up to pass Bill C-59 it was the much smaller union CAPE which took the lead in organizing the Monday lunch-hour demonstrations outside the Prime Minister’s Office in Ottawa – demonstrations that have become bigger and bigger. While PSAC members and leaders were present at these weekly demonstrations, the union does not have a plan to get its tens of thousands of members into the streets against Bill C-59. The focus is remaining steadfast at the bargaining table and waiting for a Conservative defeat in the upcoming election.

While the Conservatives must be defeated in the next election, they still have to be challenged in the streets over C-59 (and numerous other issues). It is doubtful that a strategy that doesn’t seek to mobilize and activate the membership into taking action against Bill C-59 will be prepared to strike if and when the time comes. Nor is a membership that isn’t mobilized in the streets likely to defeat the Conservatives at the polls.

With tens of thousands of members living in Ottawa-area Tory ridings like Orleans, Kanata-Carleton, Nepean-Carleton and Ottawa West-Nepean, PSAC is one of the few unions in the country whose membership can be a decisive anti-Tory voting bloc in so many ridings. The PSAC could be a hammer against the Tories, but achieving this strength requires members in their thousands being steeled in the contract fight happening now.

A special thanks to federal government workers for helping craft this article

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5 thoughts on “C-59: Clement’s hammer against federal government workers

  1. Morna Ballantyne

    Reply

    Version without typos:

    It’s always good for those on the left to push unions to do more–especially more on-the-ground mobilization. However, this article does a disservice by not accurately recounting the efforts of thousands of PSAC members (along side members of other public service unions and allies) to organize members in the workplace (and outside) in opposition to Bill C-59. In fact this mobilization began long before the introduction of Bill C-59. PSAC has been building capacity and membership engagement in a concerted and organized way for the past two years. I could write pages on what has been attempted and my own analysis of the results. Of course these results could be better. The PSAC has identified strengths and weaknesses and is striving to do better. There are important obstacles in the way. But a strategy was developed and resources put to its implementation. The solidarity pact between 17 very different federal public service union is part of this strategy and signed long before Bill C-59. Criticism is good and healthy. But progressive analysis should also give credit (even to the formal leadership) where it is due. And it is also important to be factual . Thanks for this article and looking forward to more on the difficult and complex struggle underway in the federal public service.

  2. Morna I have to disagree completely with you on this.

    Bill C-59 passed in Parliament last week and passed Senate this week.

    Did PSAC have any information up on its website about when the bill was being debated in Parliament? No. In fact, the very day is was passed in Parliament, PSAC put up a release titled “EB team expresses opposition to Bill C-59 at bargaining table.” Which firmly underscores what this article says about PSAC’s strategy – bargaining table, ballot box & court challenge, but no grassroots response from mobilizing members. The same old “your union will fix this problem for you” mentality.

    Did PSAC have any information up about when the bill would be debated in Senate? No information whatsoever.

    PSAC members wanted to participate in actions to try to stop C-59 but the scant direction they received from their union was too little, too late.

    PSAC has to do better than this.

    If this is what “building capacity and membership engagement in a concerted and organized way for the past two years” amounts to, it should be back to the drawing board for PSAC.

    1. No to belabour the point, but the anti-union Bill C-377, which PSAC rightly condemned in 2013 and 2014, is being debated in the Senate as of this writing. There is every chance that it can be blocked there again if enough Senators take the necessary action this week.

      http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/conservative-senator-urges-defeat-of-union-disclosure-bill-c-377-1.3122888

      Where is any call to action from PSAC to its members, right when the Bill has the best chance of being defeated?

      Nothing about this on PSAC’s Twitter feed this week.

      Nothing about this on PSAC’S Facebook page this week.

      Last mention of C-377 on PSAC’s website was last October.

      Is this the kind of capacity-building and membership-engagement that is allegedly been happening for the last two years @ PSAC?

  3. The bill was going to pass anyway in a majority government. I believe the union’s efforts are better spent mobilizing members on issues that will actually make a difference, which PSAC is doing. Such as getting information out about the issues, getting people out to vote on October 19, etc.

  4. Full disclosure: I’m a CAPE activist and was one of those pushing the Monday pickets. While I do want to acknowledge that the solidarity pact is much older than bill C-59, it is not action oriented. There is no joint mobilization strategy of mass pressure from below, which is desperately needed and which CAPE has been asking for. I was very disappointed to see that PIPSC and PSAC, while not discouraging their members from participating, did not build the Monday pickets in Ottawa, specifically against C-59, as a priority. I think one result was that C-59 was under-reported and went nearly unnoticed, even by our own members.

    The mobilizations on the 19th of each month have been good and important, but their focus is the election – that’s why the 19th was chosen in the first place. The election is not the panacea we might wish it could be. I realize there are several fears at work here – fear that members will not respond to a call for action, fear that the public will not sympathize – and the overall chilly climate for political action and political statements does not help. But I believe, along with others, that we absolutely must start breaking these fears down, for ourselves and our members, if we don’t want to lose everything over the next two to three bargaining rounds.

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