Vol. 4, No. 3
Gun registry saved, thanks to PSAC activists
It came close but a slim majority of Members of Parliament voted to save the federal long-gun registry last month.
Shortly after Parliament reconvened in September, MPs voted in favour of a motion from the House of Commons Committee on Public Safety and National Security to halt the progress of private member's Bill C-391. The bill was sponsored by Conservative MP Candice Hoeppner and sought to abolish the registry.
The Liberals, the Bloc Québécois and a majority of NDP MPs voted 153-151 to save the registry – proving that activists' lobbying efforts made a difference. In the days leading up to the vote, several NDP MPs announced that they would be changing their vote and confirmed their support for keeping the registry.
Brenda Wood is a data processor at the RCMP-Canada Firearms Centre in Miramichi, New Brunswick. She was one of nine PSAC members who travelled to Ottawa to lobby MPs and to witness the vote in the House of Commons on September 22.
“I felt like a can of pop that was shook up and ready to explode,” she says. “At the same time, I also realize that this is just one battle in a war against the Firearms Program and we must be ready to fight again.”
Patty Ducharme has similar feelings. As the National Executive Vice-President of PSAC, she spent months fighting the closure of the registry, determined to save union members' jobs and protect public safety.
“I am conflicted,” she says. “I was so happy to see that the vote went our way, but I was disappointed that six NDP MPs voted to abolish the gun registry. Also, this isn't the end. We have a long fight ahead of us.”
Registry a valuable tool
While C-391 has been stopped the registry remains at risk. Prime Minister Harper vowed to put an end to it and to destroy the registry's millions of records. The Conservatives will continue to use this issue to try to divide rural and urban residents, refusing to acknowledge the fact that the registry is a valuable tool in preventing violent deaths, and in helping to protect the safety of communities in Canada's cities and towns.
According to Debbie Kelly, the government's campaign to abolish the registry is a profound abuse of taxpayer's money. Kelly is a Regional Executive Vice-President for the Union of Solicitor General Employees – the component of PSAC that represents the workers who help register long guns.
She says she was “jumping up and down” watching the results of the vote, but is left with tremendous anger at the Conservatives for continuing to deepen divisions on this issue.
“How many millions of dollars is the Harper government spending to try and abolish the registry? As a taxpayer, I'm appalled.”
For Ducharme, the federal long gun registry is an essential tool that protects the safety of workers, especially those working in law enforcement or health care. It also helps prevent gun fatalities in cases of domestic violence and prevents children from getting hurt by weapons that are improperly stored.
“We ask people to have licenses for cars, heavy machinery, animals – anything that could become a dangerous weapon,” she says. “The government likes to talk about how it wants to stop crime, but refuses to protect women's safety by maintaining the gun registry.”
Ducharme says that PSAC also took a particularly strong stand during this campaign, because the union was committed to saving the jobs of the PSAC members who administer the registry.
Despite the long road ahead, PSAC activists are elated to have won this round of the gun registry fight. They are also grateful for the political action and lobbying skills they learned during the campaign.
“Being involved in the lobbying in Ottawa was one of my life's best experiences,” says Wood. “I discovered that I can speak strongly and clearly when needed.”
Agreements reached with Treasury Board and the CRA
As you know, PSAC recently reached tentative agreements with Treasury Board for more than 95,000 members in the PA, SV and EB groups. Exploratory talks for the Border Services (FB) and Technical Services (TC) groups ended without agreement and regular bargaining will resume in 2011.
When we began these exploratory talks, we found out that the government wanted to end the accumulation of voluntary severance for retirement and resignation. The PSAC bargaining teams faced a difficult choice. We could either continue to talk with Treasury Board, or wait until the spring to deal with voluntary severance during the regular bargaining process.
Your elected leaders and your bargaining teams decided to stay and continue talking. Given the difficult economic climate, the likelihood of an austerity budget in early 2011, the potential for a wage freeze, and the knowledge that the government wanted to eliminate the liability on the books that voluntary severance represents, we felt that the early expedited process represented an opportunity to get the best possible agreements for our members.
In the case of the PA, SV and EB groups, the bargaining teams feel that the agreements they achieved are fair. If ratified, the agreements include improvements to long-standing financial and operational demands and wage increases that will provide economic security and better working conditions for 95,000 members. We also improved the severance payments for longer service employees who are laid off. The bargaining teams for PA, SV and EB are recommending these agreements, and the National Board of Directors, including myself, give them our full support.
For members of the Technical Services (TC) and Border Services (FB) who did not reach agreements, rest assured that the PSAC will redouble its efforts to achieve meaningful improvements during regular bargaining in 2011.
PSAC also achieved a tentative agreement with the Canada Revenue Agency in September. Gains include an additional personal day, an expanded definition of family, more flexibility for family leave and improvements to compensation for many indeterminate employees in acting positions. These are important gains for workers in the Union of Taxation Employees component.
For several years now, the gradual squeeze on public service workers through attrition and the reduction in the number of full-time, permanent employees has taken an incredible toll. So has the hiring of term employees with little or no job security. Public sector workers are being forced to do more with less, and the consequences are far-reaching.
We hear stories from you every day about how you are unable to serve Canadians in a timely manner due to departmental budget freezes. For example, case managers at Veteran's Affairs struggle to return calls from frail seniors within five days. And during the height of the economic crisis, employees at Service Canada had barely two seconds between calls to help people file EI claims.
On top of the obvious social benefit, public services have a tangible financial impact on people's lives. According to a 2009 study by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, public services significantly improve the standard of living of each individual Canadian – worth at least 50 per cent of their income.
The agreements reached between the PSAC, Treasury Board and CRA are therefore not only important to the public service workers to whom these contracts belong, but also to our friends, families and communities. By negotiating concrete wage increases for employees, improving long-standing workplace issues, and strengthening the severance provisions for workers who are laid off, we multiply the effects in communities where PSAC members live. These new agreements will help provide economic certainty to all Canadians – those who provide services and those who depend on them for weathering the economic storm.
The government's responsibility does not end with these agreements. Public service workers have done a great deal to help our country through a period of economic difficulty. The federal government must now recommit to strengthening and expanding services to Canadians who continue to struggle with unemployment and debt. No one should be left behind in the search for economic recovery.
In Solidarity, John Gordon, National President
Attrition and cuts are putting public services at risk
Virginia Vaillancourt spends her days talking to elderly veterans. Many of them require explanations of the benefits available to them, and others call her to help them purchase a walker or have a ramp installed in their homes.
Her caseload is heavy. She is responsible for more than 1,100 clients and can barely return voicemail within five days. This represents a long delay for most people. But for the frail seniors that Vaillancourt serves, it can seem like an eternity.
“Phone calls are difficult to keep up with. We used to have a maximum five-day turnaround for voice mail. Now, we can't always meet that – so people call back and leave multiple messages,” she said.
The uptake in her workload is no accident. Since the Harper government mandated an across-the-board spending freeze in its 2010 budget, federal public sector workers have had to do more with much less. But as Vaillancourt demonstrates, this doesn't only impact workers. It punishes the people who are seeking much-need services, in this case, elderly veterans.
Treasury Board President Stockwell Day has downplayed the significance of recent government cutbacks, achieved largely through attrition and non-renewal of term positions. The Conservatives are implying that they have little impact on public services or the people who deliver them.
Abuse of power
Mojdeh Rahbari Cox couldn't disagree more. Until September, Cox worked for Service Canada in London, processing Employment Insurance claims. An active union member, she was the president of her Local and is a regular presence in PSAC's Ontario region.
When the federal government announced in September that it was cutting 600 term positions, with another 600 job cuts to come in January 2011, Cox's term wasn't renewed. This was at a time when the unemployment rate had risen to eight per cent, meaning that there are still almost 1.5 million unemployed workers, 350,000 more than when the crisis began.
According to Cox, the government's reliance on term employees to fill muchneeded roles is, “a blatant abuse of power.” Like many of her co-workers, Cox was originally hired on a typical term contract with Service Canada, but was soon moved into a short-term position with a “sunset clause” attached to it.
Funded by temporary stimulus financing, the government created these new positions to deal with an overwhelming number of EI claims. But in doing so, they attached special conditions to the new jobs – denying employees the ability to accrue years of service or work toward a permanent position.
At the time of writing this article, one third of the workers in Cox's London office were term employees, and many had just lost their jobs or were getting ready to face unemployment in the winter.
Young workers targeted
According to Cox, “young workers are willing to do whatever it takes” to get a job in the federal public sector. This means that they are willing to work in term positions. It also makes them more reluctant to get involved in their union, given that their employment situation is so tenuous.
The tragedy of this situation of course, is that the hundreds of people being laid off at Service Canada represent the future of the public service. Term employees are overwhelmingly young, and often from racialized or Aboriginal communities. Like Cox, they are eager to break into permanent jobs and hope to devote their careers to public service. If only they were given the chance.
This patchwork pattern of hiring term employees, refusing to renew their contracts and then re-hiring a whole new crop of people is reproducing itself across the federal public sector. Under the rubric of a backlog or an emergency situation, government departments hire term employees to fill in the gaps.
They do so repeatedly and are allowed to maintain the veneer of a “hiring freeze,” when they are actually creating a revolving door of workers. This is exactly what happened in Sydney, Nova Scotia at the Citizenship and Immigration Canada Processing Centre.
In the spring, Citizenship and Immigration Canada said that it was terminating 147 term and casual employees at its application processing centre in Sydney, Nova Scotia.
This caused further delays in the processing of citizenship applications. Applicants to Canada's Foreign Skilled Workers program were already facing a seven year wait.
The combination of political action by PSAC members and a crushing workload at CIC Sydney forced the government to change its plans. The government created 160 new term positions that will contribute to cutting the wait times for new Canadians and improve their integration into Canadian society.
But the reality is that these are still term positions. The time and cost required to constantly train new people is significant. Not to mention the stress on workers who have no guarantee of a job beyond the next few months.
The other untold story about the impact of term employment on workers is its effect on their wellbeing. The constant instability of contract work has been proven to have a negative impact on workers' mental health. And according to Bill Wilkerson of the Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Mental Health, depression has become the country's biggest “public health crisis.”
In Canada, between 30 and 40 per cent of disability claims are for depression. Among public servants, mental health claims doubled between 1991 and 2007, now accounting for 45 per cent of all disability claims.
“I took this job in Veterans Affairs, because it's important to give back to the veterans who have served their country.” said Vaillancourt. “I sometimes miss a lunch or stay late to make sure I can take care of the veterans. I value client service.”
According to PSAC National President John Gordon, both worker burnout and diminished public services are the inevitable result of knee-jerk job cuts.
“Public services need people to deliver them. That's the bottom line,” says Gordon. “Piling extra work onto already overburdened employees is not a smart way to serve Canadians. The quality of public services will inevitably suffer.”
To find out how you can join PSAC's campaign to defend public services, visit psac-afpc.com.
PSAC campaign against cuts helps new Canadians
Thanks to push-back from PSAC members, immigration applications will continue to be processed in a timely manner, saving families months of delays and anxiety.
Citizenship and Immigration Canada recently announced it will be hiring up to 160 term staff to address the centre's backlogs at CIC Sydney's Case Processing Centre, Permanent Resident Card Centre and the Federal Skilled Workers Project. These workers are represented by the Canadian Employment and Immigration Union, a component of PSAC.
In the spring, Citizenship and Immigration Canada said that it was not renewing the contracts of 147 term and casual employees at its application processing centre in Sydney, Nova Scotia.
CEIU local 80226 president Wilf Mackinnon says the announcement ran counter to the traditional practices of the organization. Most of these workers would normally have been considered for renewal at the end of the fiscal year. Mackinnon and his fellow union activists knew that it would be impossible to maintain timely services with such a depleted workforce.
And they were right. As soon as the term employees were let go, an existing backlog only got worse. As it was, applicants to Canada's Foreign Skilled Workers program were already facing a seven year wait.
Chief Shop Steward Steve Purcell was one of the employees who's contract was initially terminated. He was hired back within weeks.
“We needed to show the general public that it wasn't just 147 jobs that were being affected, but that the government was trying to balance its books on the backs of our clients, our families and our community,” says Purcell.
Backbone of economy
In Sydney unemployment is mounting. This spring the town lost 80 full and parttime jobs when the largest local nightclub and restaurant folded. The consolidation of certain functions by Transcontinental Media cost jobs at the Cape Breton Post. And even more Cape Bretoners were out of work when the Bell Alliant call centre closed. As the third largest employer in the community, CIC's massive cut sent shock waves through the community.
It was clear to union activists that the failure to renew these positions in Sydney was an indication that the spending freeze contained in the federal budget would attack small communities and immigrant populations.
Members immediately put their heads together to strategize. They brought concerns to Members of Parliament Mark Eyking and Roger Cuzner, as well as the Mayor of Cape Breton. They also approached the Board of Trade and the Chamber of Commerce.
Within two weeks of the announcement, the workers held a community-wide march that brought together 200 people in the downtown core. The PSAC Atlantic region launched an “Email your MP” campaign demanding that the federal government protect jobs and public services in Sydney.
“We went from being a quiet office to a boisterous office over the course of this fight,” says Mackinnon.
Action meant results
The combination of political action by PSAC members and a crushing workload at CIC Sydney forced the government to change its plans. The 160 new term positions will contribute to cutting the wait times for new Canadians and improve their integration into Canadian society.
Mackinnon points out another victory. None of the 160 positions are casual hires. They are seven-month term positions and none are “sunset” terms. This means that should their contracts be extended, the workers will be able to accrue years of service. The Local hopes this will lead to less staff turnover.
“What we ultimately want are indeterminate positions and not band-aid solutions,” says Mackinnon.
The workers involved in this fight are proud to have put a spotlight on the chronic understaffing and underfunding of the public services they provide.
People immigrating to Canada, new Canadian citizens and Canadian citizens in general should be entitled to prompt service from their government,” says CEIU President Jeannette Meunier- McKay.
“This victory proves that political action makes a difference,” says John Gordon, National President of PSAC. “We will continue to fight for permanent employment for workers at CIC, so they can continue to serve immigration applicants and all Canadians.”
The Public Service Alliance of Canada is taking action to protect equality in the workplace after recent attacks on employment equity by the Harper government.
Prompted by a complaint from a constituent of Citizenship and Immigration Minister Jason Kenney in July, Treasury Board President Stockwell Day ordered a review into federal hiring practices. In doing so, he promoted misconceptions and allowed outright lies about federal employment equity to go unaddressed.
Media commentators and human rights advocates agree that this attack was largely about optics. Both Kenney and Day are ignoring the facts about employment equity and refusing to address real concerns about lack of diversity in the federal public service.
“The Harper government is reinforcing the misconception that employment equity threatens equal opportunity,” said Patty Ducharme, National Executive Vice-President of PSAC. “In fact, employment equity continues to ensure that people are hired based on merit, while also seeking to ensure a more representative and diverse workforce.”
Five things you should know about employment equity
Employment equity ensures equality in the workplace.
Everyone deserves a fair opportunity to apply for jobs and to advance their careers. Employment equity promotes equal opportunity for all, by ensuring that hiring, promotion, and other employment practices are free from biases, favouritism, and prejudice. All workers should be recognized for their skills and abilities. Employment equity helps make sure that there are job opportunities available to everyone – not just the people who look and think like the boss.
Employment equity helps make workplaces more representative of the people they serve.
As of last year, less than 10 per cent of federal public sector workers were racialized Canadians, compared to over 15 per cent of the overall workforce. It is projected that by 2017, one in five Canadians will be a member of a racialized community. If the federal government is going to best serve Canadians, its workforce needs to represent the population.
- Employment equity addresses systemic disadvantages.
Discrimination is not always obvious and outright: sometimes it is embedded in our systems, practices, and policies. It is often a natural inclination to befriend and to hire people who look and think like us. Employment equity offers a proactive way of addressing systemic discrimination in the workplace by recruiting people from communities who are traditionally underrepresented, namely women, Aboriginal Peoples, racialized people and people with disabilities.
Employment equity does not involve hiring quotas.
Employment equity does not set hiring quotas. What it does do is require employers to analyze their workforce and to set their own hiring goals based on the composition of their workplace in comparison with the general population. This allows them to put measures in place that will make their workforce more representative and equitable over time.
Employment equity helps create a more just society.
Employment equity is necessary if we are to achieve an equal society. We know that discrimination exists and that barriers continue for women, Aboriginal peoples, racialized people, and people with disabilities. These barriers will not disappear without intervention.
To quote Justice Rosalie Abella, “If we do not act positively to remove barriers, we wait indefinitely for them to be removed. This would mean that we are prepared in the interim to tolerate prejudice and discrimination … It is in the act of remedying the inequity that we show our commitment to equality.”
Women continue to be underrepresented in senior management of the federal public service. On June 15, 2010, the Standing Senate Committee on Human Rights released its second report on employment equity in the federal public service titled, Reflecting the Changing Face of Canada.
The report asks why the federal public service is still “not there” and calls for effective and immediate implementation of employment equity.
“The evidence is clear; the committee's report is clear,” said John Gordon, PSAC National President. “There is no reason that employment equity cannot be a reality in the federal public service today.”
PSAC shares many of the committee's concerns, having testified twice before the committee on the issue.
Gap is widening...
According to the report:
The gap in representation of racialized people in the federal public sector is “widening” despite the fact that they are the most highly educated and are applying for public service jobs “at twice their availability in the Canadian workforce.”
Women are still under-represented among the executive ranks and are more likely to work in temporary jobs.
Aboriginal Peoples are not represented across the public service but are clustered in a few departments.
People with disabilities are not being recruited into the public service at a rate that reflects their representation in the labour market.
The committee points to a number of reasons for these problems, including the over-use of casual and term jobs, the lack of recognition of foreign credentials and experience, and the government's failure to hold managers to account when they don't meet their employment equity obligations.
The committee's report contained 13 recommendations to address the problem, including staffing strategies, better accountability measures and increased funding to “allow government departments and agencies to fulfill their [employment equity] objectives.”
PSAC is calling on the federal government to implement the Senate Committee's recommendations without delay and has been pressing this point in meetings with the Treasury Board and the Public Service Commission.
Union and management representatives often find themselves sitting on opposite ends of a table. When it comes to meetings, negotiations or strikes, labour relations can often become a situation of “us versus them.” But thanks to the Joint Learning Program, Treasury Board managers and PSAC members are working collaboratively to deliver workplace education and training.
The JLP is a partnership between PSAC and the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. Re-launched in 2007, it represents the first time that the union and the employer have agreed through contract negotiations to jointly deliver learning activities in order to improve union management relations in the public service.
The program is a true partnership – PSAC and the employer work together to jointly manage the program, developing material that contains perspectives from both sides.
Karen Smith is a workshop organizer and a youth program officer at a Service Canada office in British Columbia.
“I can remember a time when there was a total split down the middle,” she said. “But I've learned that you're much better off working together.”
The program seeks to improve labour relations and help employees understand the roles that the union and management play in their workplace. The workshops focus on five topics: understanding the collective agreement, explaining unionmanagement- consultation, promoting employment equity, preventing harassment and combating discrimination.
“The point is to understand what improving the workplace means and to work in partnership,” said Danielle Dubuc, a facilitator.
Dubuc is a Canada Border Services Agency agent at the Lacolle border crossing in Quebec.
“Participants find the workshops are effective because both parties are in a neutral forum.”
On April 14, 2010, the JLP delivered its 1,000th workshop – a major milestone. More than 2,000 people have volunteered to facilitate these workshops and more than 20,000 workers have participated. These figures are a testament to the program's vitality and its reputation throughout the public service.
“You don't need to look very far to realize who is responsible for the Joint Learning Program's success,” said John Gordon, National President of PSAC. “The organizers and facilitators who work in the shadows to deliver much-needed training doors are the heroes of this program.”
52-day strike demonstrates the power of solidarity and creativity
It was June 3, 2010 – day three of the Casino Regina strike. The sun had just gone down and all at once the street lit up, ablaze with hundreds of sparklers. Casino workers and their families marched the picket line, torches held high, waving PSAC flags while shouting and whistling. It was a resonant sound matched only by the endless horns honking from supporters driving by.
Perhaps the activity was designed to send a loud and clear message to the employer. Maybe the sparklers symbolized the members' burning desire for justice and recognition. Or quite possibly, it was just an activity to keep the kids entertained and have fun on the picket line.
Whatever the case, it set the tone for the seven weeks that followed. These workers were passionate, they were empowered and they were ready for a fight.
Solidarity amongst workers
Negotiations between PSAC and the Saskatchewan Gaming Corporation began on September 22, 2009 and members had been without a contract since May 31, 2009. With no foreseeable agreement on the horizon, 465 workers began walking the picket line on June 3, 2010.
“The support out on the line was unreal,” explains Fran Mohr, president of Local 40005 and a cashier at the casino. “Everybody was in such a good mood and we were all really touched by the amount of community support.”
Perhaps the biggest support came from members of the Retail and Department Store Union who also work at the Casino and agreed not to cross the picket line. The 240 RWDSU members walked the line alongside PSAC members and showed the true meaning of solidarity.
Sandra Nicholls, an RWDSU member, recognized that there was strength in numbers.
“Even though we're two separate unions, we're one at heart,” she says. “We were there to support PSAC. We're brothers and sisters.”
Not surprisingly, spending 52 days on the picket line together solidified the Local's status as a family. Members walked up and down Saskatchewan Drive in front of the Casino, getting to know their coworkers' names, families and life stories, instead of just their faces.
“When I look back, I tear up,” says Antoinette Pelletier, slots attendant at Casino Regina. “The strike brought us together and united us as a union and as a family. When you go through what we did, you learn to appreciate your brothers and sisters – all of them.”
This bond likely helped them withstand the harsh criticism they faced from faceless commentators in online forums or by people speeding by the picket line, something most members let bounce right off them. But the attack that hurt the most came from a member of a fellow union.
A health care worker, unable to strike due to the Brad Wall government's restrictive Essential Services Act, wrote a letter to the editor explaining that she had very little sympathy for the striking casino workers.
Deziray Buffalo, a slots attendant at the Casino, fired back in a raw and heartfelt letter of her own.
“I wanted people to realize that we were people with real lives and real families, like everyone else. This wasn't about wanting attention,” she says of her published rebuttle. “Every day I had to decide which bill to pay and which could wait. I had to ask what foods were ‘necessary' and how much food I could eat to keep the baby inside me healthy, yet not too much, so the groceries lasted. The worst was trying to get the kids to not snack as much. It was heart breaking.”
Road bumps and naysayers are to be expected during any strike, though, and two months after the fact, the casino workers look back at the strike fondly. Members described the strike as “empowering,” “awesome” and “united.”
This was the casino workers' first strike in their 14 years of union involvement –and their efforts paid off. Members reached an agreement on July 23, 2010 that provided three years and seven months of economic increases for a total of 6.67 per cent. They also achieved a weekday night shift premium of 60 cents for all hours worked between 8:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m., as well as increases to their benefits and mention of family leave in their collective agreements.
Robyn Benson, Regional Executive Vice-President for the Prairie Region, attributes this to the members' hard work and enthusiam.
“I was in awe of the commitment and camraderie of the members,” she says. “The solidarity, dedication and determination on the line was unparalleled.”
Jim Boychuk, a security guard at Casino Regina, saw this too. He says he learned the power of the labour movement and the meaning of solidarity during his time on the line.
“We are bigger than we can possibly imagine,” he says. “We have very powerful influence when we stand together.”
Jeffrey Vallis is the Regional Political Communications Officer for the Prairie Region.
Johnstone victory highlights the challenges faced by shift workers with young children
It's hard enough for parents with small children to find access to quality child care. But for Fiona Johnstone, it was unimaginably difficult.
Johnstone and her husband are both Border Service Officers. They work difficult, unpredictable and frequently rotating shift schedules. After having their first child, they tried to find a child care solution. But there were no daycare providers that were able to accommodate a work schedule that included 11 potential start times and a schedule that changed every 56 days.
Johnstone was committed to her career, so she worked with family members to parse together some informal care. She requested that the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA) allow her to work a fixed schedule. She knew that other workers had been offered similar schedules when they required accommodations for disabilities or religious observances.
But her employer flat-out refused to grant her request. Johnstone was forced to drop down to a 34-hour per week schedule in order to meet her family obligations. This meant reduced wages, lower pension contributions and an inability to apply for promotions and training opportunities.
Johnstone turned to PSAC for help in filing a complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission. On August 6, the Canadian Human Rights Tribunal ruled in her favour, finding that CBSA had discriminated against her based on her family status. She was awarded back pay, retroactive pension contributions, as well as $35,000 for pain and suffering and wilful and reckless misconduct. And her employer was ordered to change its policies to accommodate workers with difficult child care needs.
As Tribunal member Kerry-Lynne Findlay wrote in the judgment, “the freedom to choose to become a parent is so vital that it should not be constrained by the fear of discriminatory consequences. As a society, Canada should recognize this fundamental freedom and support that choice wherever possible.”
Shift work hard on families
Jamie Kass couldn't agree more. As a long-time child care advocate and the coordinator of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers' child care fund, Kass is familiar with the challenges that shift workers face when it comes to caring for their children. She travels the country to help set up child care centres that meet the needs of letter Johnstone victory highlights the challenges faced by shift workers with young children carriers and call centre workers – some of whom are PSAC members.
“Shift workers are the hardest to accommodate,” she said in a recent interview. “What we've seen in the post office is there is a lot of ‘off-shifting'-- parents working different shifts. This turns into a type of ‘serial parenting', where the parents trade off child care responsibilities and rarely get to see each other. I know of some cases where two parents working shifts literally meet in the parking lot to hand over the children each day,” she said.
Kass spent years working with child care centres, providing subsidies for them to offer flexible hours to accommodate shift workers. But it proved to be difficult. Most parents didn't want to put their kids to sleep anywhere other than their own beds. And for parents working evening shifts, it became cumbersome to have to wake their children, bundle them up, and put them back to bed at home.
“There are very few child care options for shift workers, particularly in the nonprofit, regulated sector,” said Kass.
Rights and retention
Donna Lero holds the Jarislowsky Chair in Families & Work at the University of Guelph. From her perspective, employers that don't accommodate workers with difficult child care needs are the ones who are losing out. With an aging workforce set to retire, employers will be scrambling to fill jobs from a shrinking pool of applicants. According to Lero, accommodating family status will soon become an essential component of employee retention.
“It is an issue of rights, but it's also, frankly, good business and good values,” she said. For Lero, an unwillingness to accommodate family responsibilities “is not a very good way to have an effective, engaged workforce.”
Lero points out that a lack of child care prevents many women from entering or returning to the workforce.
“The difficulties can affect your capacity to be employed,” she said. “The ability to find child care when you have unpredictable hours is very, very difficult. It typically would require either a spouse or a family member to be able to do this. It's difficult for children too. It's not only a problem finding and maintaining good quality child care, it's about the quality of family life when you have these kinds of hours.”
For Kass, what's most exciting about the Johnstone decision, is the Tribunal's affirmation that the freedom to have children is a fundamental human right – not just an individual responsibility.
“At the end of the day, accommodating child care for shift workers in a way that works for both shift workers and the children is really hard,” she said. “But maybe if more employers are forced to accommodate family status, it will help push governments to provide regulated, non-profit child care.”
CBSA has filed an application for judicial review of the Tribunal decision. PSAC will fight to uphold Johnstone's victory.
Date Modified : 2010/12/07