Decembre 5, 2012
What's behind the mental health problems in the federal public service?
The past few months of government cuts and restructuring have taken a toll on public services workers. Members are calling their union seeking assistance. They are very anxious and worried about their future.
Senior Health Canada officials responsible for the Employee Assistance Plan have also reported a significant spike in calls, receiving in one month the equivalent number of calls they would have normally received in one year.
Job cuts and job instability cause enormous stress. Whole families are affected. Mental health experts say that losing one's job can have the same psychological impact on a person as losing a spouse. The loss of identity, of financial stability, and of a person's social community at work is devastating.
For many, it has reached a crisis point. The suicide of a government employee this year is a wakeup call that something needs to be done immediately.
To make matters worse, public service workers are now under increasing pressure to do more with less as their co-workers get laid off.
For those left in the workplace, there are feelings of guilt and many suffer from what is known as “survivor syndrome”. Line ups at the Service Canada Centre to fill in applications for Employment Insurance include their former co-workers, along with other workers that have lost their jobs during the current economic crisis.
Sadly, this is not a new situation. Mental health claims have been growing at enormous rates for the past several years, both in the public service and other workplaces across Canada. Recently, the Mental Health Commission of Canada released its final report
calling for a mental health strategy to adequately address this growing health care crisis.
As an employer, the federal government needs to take responsibility for the health of its workers. It has contributed to a lot of stress and anxiety by not being transparent with its employees or the public on how and why they are proceeding with job cuts during difficult times.
The real reasons for the spike in mental health problems in the public service are linked to the lack of certainty and failure to provide information about how and where cuts are will be made; the lack of planning to ensure an alternation system works for workers who want to find jobs in the public service; and the arbitrary merit process that was brought in through legislation in 2005 which has people competing for their own jobs with their colleagues.
The PSAC warned the government that the merit process would not be suitable for downsizing. The previous relative merit process that was used in the 1990s was more transparent. Seniority would be even more fair and transparent. We do not believe that laying people off arbitrarily and without protections based on favoritism is "common sense". Our members value the protections they have in their collective agreements.
Now that this crisis is upon us, we need to work together to address it. Although it has been an immense challenge as a union to work within a system that we have not ourselves put in place, we are using the tools and expertise that we have to assist our members in these difficult times.
Within the existing legislative system, we have bargained a workforce adjustment process that if implemented properly by management, ensures that the process is more fair and predictable.
The PSAC has also been meeting with Treasury Board on a regular basis to address the challenges of the merit process and to try and make the Workforce Adjustment Process (WFA) run more smoothly and fairly.
The PSAC has also developed a series of tools to assist workers to navigate around mental health issues including dealing with the survivor syndrome. We have partnered with the United Way and the Canadian Labour Congress in developing a training course for union members willing to act as a resource for others in the workplace.
We recognize that much more can be done. As a union, we are committed to implementing a mental health strategy that will assist public service workers during this transition.
I hope the government and public service management will work with us in doing the same.
National President, PSAC
Date Modified : 2012/12/05