What is a grievance?

The Federal Public Sector Labour Relations Act (FPSLRA) provides for three types of grievances: individual grievances; group grievances; and policy grievances.

Individual Grievances

An employee may file a grievance pertaining to the application of the collective agreement (with the consent of the Union), disciplinary action or a decision taken by the Employer. Once a grievance has gone through all three levels of hearings without a satisfactory result, the only grievances that PSAC will consider for referral to adjudication by the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board (FPSLREB) are those regarding:

  • the interpretation of the collective agreement
  • financial penalty
  • disciplinary action involving suspension, termination or demotion
  • deployment

Adjudication is the final recourse in the grievance process and the arbitrator’s decision is binding on both sides.

Group Grievances

When a number of employees in the same department or agency believe that their collective agreement has not been interpreted or applied correctly, they can ask the Union to file a group grievance on their behalf.

Each of the employees seeking relief must sign a consent form, which makes it possible to deal more effectively with the dispute. As with individual grievances dealing with collective agreement interpretation, it is a requirement that the Union indicate its support for the group grievance to be dealt with.

Group grievances may be referred to adjudication, with the consent of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), our bargaining agent.

Policy Grievances

Only the Union or the Employer may file a policy grievance. Policy grievances pertain to interpretation or application of the collective agreement. They are automatically presented at the final level of the grievance process.

Policy grievances may be referred to adjudication, with the consent of the PSAC, our bargaining agent.

How do I file a grievance?

You only have 25 business days from the date you become aware of circumstances giving rise to a grievance to file a grievance so it is important to approach your local union representative in a timely manner to assist you in filling out a grievance formIf you are unsure who your local union representative is, your Local Executive can help you with that.

It is important for you to be an active participant in the grievance process and ensure that you provide all facts which would include a chronology of events and supporting documentation. If you need information for your grievance that the Employer is unwilling to give, you may make a request through the Access to Information and Privacy Acts. (see below for more information)

Generic wording for the most commonly filed grievances can be found in our grievance wording sectionThis wording is to be used as a reference and the wording may be adjusted to take into account the specific issues being grieved. As well, you must ensure that you have knowledge of the appropriate articles in your collective agreement so as to ensure the correct articles and/or clauses are cited. Your local union representative will be able to help you with that.

What are the stages of a grievance procedure?

What are the Access to Information and Privacy Acts?

Since 1983, two federal statues, the Access to Information Act and the Privacy Act, have provided individuals with a right of access to both non-personal and personal information held by the federal public sector. In addition, the Privacy Act contains provisions regulating the confidentiality, collection, correction, disclosure, retention and use of personal information.

Individuals may request records directly from the institution which has custody of the information. Accessible information includes:

  • written records
  • video
  • sound
  • computer files (such as emails)

The Acts establish codes of fair information practices which apply to government handling of personal records. The Federal Court has ruled that government has an obligation to answer all access requests regardless of the perceived motives of the requesters. Similarly, the Information Commissioner must investigate all complaints even if the government seeks to block him/her from so doing on the grounds that the complaints are made for an improper purpose.

How do I make a request under the Access to Information and Privacy Acts?

You can Make an access to information or personal information request on the Government of Canada website. Requests for personal information made under the Privacy Act are free of charge. Requests for non-personal information (general records) made under the Access to Information Act are not. For requests under Access to Information, a government institution may charge:

  • an application fee not exceeding $25 (usually just $5) paid at the time of the request
  • photocopying fees at the rate prescribed by regulation (usually $0.20 each)
  • search and preparation fees for time in excess of 5 hours at the rate prescribed by regulation
  • payment for machine readable records (eg. search for emails by keyword).

In addition to the legitimate charges government institutions are entitled to, government institutions that want to maintain secrecy may attempt to dissuade requesters by providing unreasonable or extreme estimates and requesting a substantial deposit up front. If this occurs, you can file a formal complaint but there are other tactics available to members to reduce costs.

Some tips to reduce costs are:

  • for anything other than the most basic of requests, make the request by letter rather than on the recommended form
  • send your application fee by cheque (made out to the Receiver General of Canada) but ask the institution to waive all fees
  • request to view the original documents (since arranging for the transport and escort of original documents is very costly, the institution may offer free photocopies in exchange for giving up your right to see the originals)
  • as you are entitled to 5 free hours of search and preparation for each request, it may be cheaper to divide your request into bite-sized pieces and just pay the application fee each time
  • file a formal complaint every time a government institution provides an unreasonable estimate or charges an unreasonable fee for their compliance to the Act.

After making your request, government institutions have 30 days under both Acts to provide you with the records. Under certain circumstances, such as a request involving a large number of records, they may extend the time required to comply for a reasonable period, usually 30 days.

Some government institutions, however, will take a 30-day extension to give them the time to prepare damage control measures or to deal with the problems or embarrassment that release of the records may cause. Such a delay is not allowed under the Acts.

A complaint with the Office of the Information Commissioner of Canada should be filed every time an extension appears unreasonable or unwarranted. You should also file a complaint every time a government institution takes longer than the 30 days to respond and has not applied for a formal extension.

Once you have received your response

The response to your request will usually include a covering letter detailing any documents that have been exempted. The Acts require government institutions to clearly specify what sections of the Acts are relied upon to refuse to disclose records. There is any number of legitimate reasons for not providing information; however, some government institutions will use bogus or improper rationale to justify their refusal to disclose information. Failure to specify the grounds for withholding records is itself cause for complaint.

You should carefully examine the response in regards to records that may have been withheld or overlooked. Whenever an exemption appears unwarranted, a complaint can be filed. Things to look for regarding withheld documents:

  • fax cover sheets but no fax
  • cover sheet reference to the number of pages but insufficient pages
  • documents referred to but not included
  • documents you know exist but are not included
  • missing appendix or attachments
  • anything that looks odd and suggests the possibility of missing records.