PSAC’s analysis of the Budget Implementation Act

Bill C-4 takes away the democratic rights of federal public sector employees and seriously undermines the health and safety protections in the Canada Labour Code covering workers under federal jurisdiction.

The proposed amendments to federal labour laws do not modernize the public sector. Rather, they are regressive and set back rights 30 years.

The following is a synopsis of PSAC’s concerns with the bill.

It attacks collective bargaining rights:

  • The employer would have the unfettered right to determine what constitutes an essential service and which workers perform essential services. If over 80 per cent of workers are deemed essential, they will not have the right to strike and will be forced to proceed automatically to arbitration.

  • If an employee is designated essential, they will be required to perform all of the duties of their position, not just those that are considered essential. They will also be forced to be available during off-duty hours to report back to work.

  • Public sector workers will no longer be able to choose voluntarily to have the content of their agreements decided through arbitration. The option to settle contracts through arbitration has been a feature of public service labour relations since 1967.

  • The arbitration system will be radically altered. The list of factors that an arbitration board or Public Interest Commission (PIC) must consider when deciding on compensation issues is being reduced to retention and ability to pay – as unilaterally defined by the government. This takes away any obligation for arbitration boards to award fair compensation and reasonable working conditions.

  • Arbitration boards will no longer be independent and therefore their impartiality and sound decision-making will be compromised. The politically appointed chairperson will have the unilateral power to direct a review of an arbitral award. There will be no obligation that this request be reasonable.

It will lead to decisions made without evidence:

  • Compensation analysis and research services, which were key functions of the PSLRB, will be eliminated. Arbitration Boards and PICs will no longer have access to these services.

It offers fewer rights for laid off workers:

  • The bill places new limits on what complaints are permissible in front of the new Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board.

  • There will be greater discretion for deputy heads to lay off employees, and less protection for employees who are laid off.

  • The bill provides limited remedies in cases where the employer has committed a discriminatory practice in laying off employees.

It makes unfair changes to the grievance process:

  • According to the bill, a policy grievance can no longer be submitted if it could be the subject of an individual grievance. This will force the submission of multiple grievances and eliminates the efficiencies and cost-savings of filing single policy grievances to cover multiple employees.

  • The bill removes any retroactive remedies for policy grievances.

  • A unionized worker will no longer be able to self-represent on discipline and termination grievances. They will now require bargaining agent support.

  • Unionized employees will have to pay for half of the cost of adjudication before the new board, but there will be no cost for non-unionized employees. Cost sharing in other jurisdictions is balanced by the right of both parties to choose the adjudicator. There is no such balance under the PSLRA.

  • The Public Service Labour Relations Board and the Public Service Staffing Tribunal will be combined to form a new Public Service Labour Relations and Employment Board.

It compromises health and safety:

  • The bill changes the definition of “danger” to only include “imminent” risks.

This change is life-threatening. It’s a fundamental shift that makes it difficult for workers under federal jurisdictions to refuse dangerous work.

  • All authority and powers of Health and Safety Officers are now being removed and placed with the Minister, making it far easier for employers to ignore health and safety issues. It also politicizes the process of monitoring and enforcing health and safety protections.

It provides less recourse against human rights violations:

  • The bill prevents public service employees from filing discrimination complaints with the CHRC, instead requiring them to go to the PSLRB.

  • Many discrimination cases already go to the PSLRB. But the right to file a human rights complaint, and the involvement of the CHRC in some cases, has been very important to ensuring that our members have a full access to the rights and remedies available under the Canadian Human Rights Act, as all other federal workers do. This change will shut that door permanently.