Federal budget a mixed bag for USGE members

Ottawa: Tuesday’s federal budget was a mixed bag for USGE members. The federal government signaled its intention to follow through with its plan to make significant changes to the federal public service’s sick leave program, regardless of the outcome of the collective bargaining process.

The proposed changes to sick leave mean that public servants will have access to far fewer sick days per year and no unused days will be banked in the event of a future illness. The federal government is justifying this measure as a means to help it balance the books, even if it has to legislate it.

Stan Stapleton, President of USGE, says that resolution on sick leave must be achieved through the collective bargaining process, not the federal budget.

“Clearly, bargaining in good faith means that both sides have the opportunity to come to a satisfactory agreement about fundamental working conditions. We will be underscoring that to Members of Parliament on all sides.”

USGE represents fifteen thousand federal public servants who work for Correctional Service Canada, the RCMP and some smaller departments including the Department of Justice, CSIS, and the RCMP Complaints Commission.

“Our members are integral to the public safety of Canadians in communities across the country. We work very hard each and every day to support the eventual re-integration of nearly 22,000 thousand offenders into countless towns and cities. We are parole officers, program officers, teachers, institutional support workers, trades people and cooks. Sick leave is a necessary part of a job that demands a high degree of contact with hundreds of individuals who have complex behavioural and physical needs.”

Several thousand other members of USGE work within the RCMP in support of policing operations in areas as diverse as detachment services, laboratory services, marine enforcement, highway patrol, financial markets enforcement, court services and custodial services.

“Canadians are counting on us to ensure their neighbourhoods, their roads and marine ways, and their courtrooms are safe. Our first priority as federal public servants is keeping folks out of harm’s way.”

Stapleton questioned the amount of savings the federal government could reap from changes to sick leave. “I am not convinced that the savings the federal government has projected in savings from sick leave even add up,” he noted. Whatever the plan, the federal government would likely bear full costs of a private one that would administer short and long term disability leave. 

At the same time, USGE notes that the federal government is investing $27 million over five years, starting in 2015–16, to enhance security measures at Canada’s federal courts and registry offices as well as the Supreme Court of Canada.

“In light of recent attacks, it’s an absolute must and I am encouraged that the federal government recognizes the current danger,” Stapleton added. 

The federal government also committed to strengthening the capacity of the Security Intelligence Review Committee to enhance its review of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service by providing $12.5 million over five years, starting in 2015–16, and $2.5 million ongoing thereafter.

“While USGE does not support Bill 51 in its current form, it is absolutely necessary that the review committee that oversees CSIS be further strengthened given the significant concerns expressed by many experts about CSIS’ enhanced powers,” noted Stapleton.