By now, you may have read the press release from the Minister of National Revenue and an email to all call centre employees announcing measures to be taken by the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) to deal with tax and benefit information concerning the emergency benefits and other matters related to the tax filing season.
In anticipation of higher than normal call volumes this upcoming tax season, the CRA has secured additional funding to improve taxpayer service. With this increased funding, the Agency has advised us that they will supplement the number of call centre agents by hiring more than 2,000 new employees. The Union of Taxation Employees (UTE) welcomes this news and has advocated for many years now that additional resourcing was necessary in call centres.
In the same breath, the Agency has also advised us that they will be outsourcing to a third party service provider to assist in answering general enquiries about emergency benefits, but they have reassured us that the employees of this third party will not have access to taxpayers’ personal information. Notwithstanding these assurances, UTE is not confident that some taxpayers may not release personal information to the employees of the third party service provider.
UTE first learned of these developments in a short phone call conversation with Headquarters’ representatives of the CRA on December 21, 2020 and a meeting for January 8, 2021 was scheduled to further discuss this matter. During this meeting, we vigorously voiced our objections to the contracting out of this function and advocated a number of options including the hiring of additional staff equivalent to the resources needed by the third party to provide this service or utilize term employees who were on rehire lists from other branches. The employer agreed to consider these suggestions and to get back to us. Two meetings were set and ultimately postponed by the employer until, on Friday January 29, 2021, we were asked to attend an emergency meeting this morning.
During this morning’s meeting, we were advised that despite our objections, the Agency has nevertheless decided to outsource this function and that the Minister of National Revenue would be issuing a press release at 2:00 p.m. today to make this announcement. Again, UTE made it very clear that we did not support the outsourcing of this workload.
The Agency insists that they have considered our suggestions, but that they have rejected them as they state that the call centres are unable to absorb the number of employees required to respond to the increased calls with respect to the emergency benefits. While the Agency has stated that it is unable to provide the precise number of employees that will be hired by the third party, as the external service provider will solely determine the number of employees it will require to meet the terms of the contract, the Agency anticipates that approximately 130 employees will be required to provide this service and we are convinced that the employer should be able to easily absorb such a small number of employees within the current call center organization.
UTE strongly opposes any form of contracting out of our members’ work and we remain convinced that taxpayers would best be served by employees of the CRA who report directly to the Agency. We also maintain that our members, who are employees of the CRA, have the necessary security and reliability requirements, as opposed to the lesser requirements that will be imposed on the third party service provider.
We are currently considering our options to address this matter and will be discussing the issue with the PSAC, who is the bargaining agent. We will also continue to exert pressure on the employer to give further consideration to using internal employees should the emergency benefits be again extended.