BETWEEN THE UNION OF TAXATION EMPLOYEES
AND THE CANADA REVENUE AGENCY
The Commissioner welcomed everyone to the meeting and stated that he was happy the Union of Taxation Employees (UTE) had returned to the National Union-Management Consultation Committee (NUMCC) table as these meetings allowed union and management to get together to talk about national issues.
He valued the relationship between management and the union and believed that constructive progress could be made when the parties worked together. He preferred open, frank, and informal conversations whenever possible. The NUMCC meetings were only one forum for conversations; discussions at all levels and across all regions were also very important. He added that he supported the union-management philosophy and was looking forward to having the parties re-sign it.
Since joining the Agency, the Commissioner had travelled across the country to connect with employees and learn more about the organization. He was impressed with the passion and enthusiasm of employees and their commitment to serving Canadians.
The Commissioner stated that the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) was seen as a leader in many respects. That said, there were still many challenges to work through in order to meet the changing expectations of Canadians and the Agency’s employees. He highlighted the importance of working together with the unions to get their perspectives and insights regarding these challenges. He identified communication, innovation, and integration as areas where there was room for improvement, while maintaining the trust and confidence of Canadians and striving to be a world-class tax and benefit administrator.
The UTE National President stated that the union was glad to be attending the meeting and looked forward to discussing the agenda items. He considered the NUMCC and regional union-management consultation committees (RUMCC) to be very important. He agreed that it was important to improve communication as it was not consistent across the country. He raised the service renewal announcement and national public service week as examples of inconsistencies in communication across the country.
He added that the union wanted to return to having open discussions and stressed that they had no desire to cause harm to the Agency or be adversarial in their dealings. CRA’s biggest asset was its employees and it was important to support them. This included ensuring that internal employees, both determinate and indeterminate, were offered career opportunities prior to staffing positions with external candidates. The union said that the Agency was not giving enough consideration to the “people” aspect of changes that were taking place with the Agency.
The Commissioner agreed that there were many important issues to work through and wanted to work with the union. He recognized that both parties had common objectives on what they wanted to achieve.
Management stated that they were committed to open and ongoing consultations, especially given the demanding times that the Agency was facing. Management was optimistic that working together with the union, they could tackle challenges in an open and transparent fashion. While there would continue to be times when management was unable to consult and times when the parties would have to agree to disagree, this did not lessen the importance or benefits of open and honest communication and consultation. A positive union-management relationship yielded benefits for the Agency.
The union stated that recent discussions on the Service Renewal initiative had left them feeling disrespected. Despite their efforts to gather information in advance of the work force adjustment notice, management had not responded to their questions. They noted that they had a solid history of respecting confidential consultation; they had never broken that trust. Even following the announcement they still had to chase information. They considered this to be a demonstration of the lack of respect for the union which in turn, reflected on the status of the union-management relationship.
The union stated that they were in support of re-signing the union-management philosophy, and stressed the importance of the philosophy and the union-management approach (UMA). Discussions worked best when both parties were on equal footing and worked together to resolve issues at the lowest level. UTE was concerned that the proposed changes to UMA training that were being discussed at the UMA national committee would weaken the training to the point that it would no longer be effective. They added that management teams at all levels, needed the flexibility to make decisions and settle problems.
The Commissioner agreed that a key element was working together and giving consideration to the union’s insights on organizational changes. It was also important to strike the right balance between consistency and autonomy in management’s ability to make decisions in order to address problems.
With regard to UMA, the Assistant Commissioner, Human Resources Branch (AC, HRB) stated that one of the changes that had taken place in the last few years was the Canada School of Public Service (CSPS) mandate to provide an enterprise-wide approach to learning for federal public servants, and CRA’s corresponding obligation to transfer its training programs to the CSPS wherever possible.
The National UMA Committee had struck a working group to review the training and determine the right balance of blended learning while respecting the principles of UMA.
Since her arrival, the new Deputy Commissioner had spent a considerable amount of time working with colleagues at Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) to resolve issues related to Phoenix. While CRA was in a better position than many other departments, the situation was far from perfect. The AC, HRB and his team were working diligently to address problems as they arose and ensure employees were receiving clear communication on what was happening with Phoenix.
The AC, HRB stated that CRA pay runs had been completed in Phoenix for over a year. While there were many emergency salary advances initially, they had since stabilized to approximately 200 salary advances per pay period. Low pay and no pay situations were monitored closely so that actions could be taken quickly to ensure that employees were paid on time.
The AC, HRB also co-chaired a committee with PSPC. The committee initially oversaw the workload related to the new UTE Collective Agreement, and has since transitioned to focusing on the processes that would facilitate CRA’s ability to work with Phoenix. Regular updates were provided to UTE on the progress of the implementation of the collective agreement and the Agency’s ability to meet the 150 day time frame for retroactive salary payments.
National Enquiries Services (NES) had increased its capacity in order to meet the increasing demands and challenges. Management also highlighted the great work being done by the CRA compensation advisors, UTE members, who had demonstrated unfailing commitment to making sure that all of CRA’s employees were paid correctly and on time. Given that the Agency had been managing the workload with increased capacity and overtime, they recognized the challenges that this could pose for employees. Management asked for the union’s thoughts on how to best support the compensation advisors during this time.
The Deputy Commissioner stated that Phoenix was an extremely complex problem involving systems, processes, training, and people. There were many players involved in ensuring that employees were being paid accurately and on time. She had been participating on joint committees with the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) President and others on the technical aspects of Phoenix. The Agency was contributing on a broader level by providing resources and know-how but also by ensuring that the tax impacts of employees’ pay was also addressed.
The UTE National President stated that Phoenix had created significant problems. He acknowledged that CRA was fortunate enough to be in a better situation than many other departments, and believed that this was due to the fact that the Agency had its own compensation advisors. In terms of supporting compensation advisors, he recommended that management ask the advisors’ for their input on how issues could be addressed or resolved.
The union asked management to provide infometrics regarding Phoenix so they could better understand the true number of cases and the type of issues that were arising. Management proposed scheduling a technical briefing for the union and HRB. The union agreed.
The union asked if employees would be required to go through the appeals process to correct their tax return if their T4 was incorrect because of a Phoenix issue. Management stated there was a process in place to address this issue; employees did not need to request a reassessment. Once the CRA received a revised T4 from PSPC, it would automatically trigger reassessment of the individual’s tax return. The Agency had received a number of revised T4s and was in the process of reviewing the cases. A number of working groups had been established and were working horizontally across the Agency to ensure that the impact to employees was minimized. Information was also available to employees on InfoZone. Management was working to ensure that employees’ questions were answered in a timely manner, and with empathy and consideration of the situations that employees were facing.
UTE stated that another problem they were dealing with as a union, was the collection of union dues. Their members were impacted when the corrections to union dues resulted in large claw backs. They asked that managers work with their local union representatives to confirm whether an employee was a represented employee. Management understood the union’s concerns and agreed that it would be a good idea to have a discussion on the holdback provisions to recover monies owed and establish a protocol, not just for union dues but other amounts as well.
Management stated that service was an important part of Minister’s mandate and an Agency-wide initiative. While the Agency did a good job of providing service to Canadians, there were still areas for improvement.
There were many elements involved with improving the infrastructure and design of CRA service, including e-interactions, correspondence, and telephony. Recently, the focus had shifted from infrastructure to the CRA’s culture, with the goal of supporting changes needed so that compliance and service could co-exist equally. Ultimately, all employees, not only those on the front lines, had an important role to play in serving Canadians. It was important to acknowledge CRA employees’ hard work in supporting the service agenda; the Agency’s greatest strength has always been our employees and the pride they have in their work.
Management had launched an internal survey of over 12,500 employees across the Agency, at all levels and in all regions, asking employees for their thoughts on how the CRA served Canadians. Management was in the process of rolling up results and anticipated that the results would reveal variations across business lines and across the country.
With the baseline survey data as a foundation, management would be seeking volunteers at all levels to work on a vision of how to evolve service and the service culture. They hoped that the changes would include a mix of grassroots efforts from employees and top down management. Management would also be consulting with employees and managers to obtain their views on the future state of the Agency’s service culture and welcomed the union’s input.
The national president was glad the Agency was looking at its service culture. He added that their members were confused about where to draw the line between exemplary service and what would be considered crossing the line beyond their work duties. There were fears that actions beyond responding to an initial enquiry would raise red flags with Security and Internal Affairs and would result in employees being penalized.
The Service Culture Champion responded that she had heard similar comments from employees. It was important to find the right balance between the security controls in place and providing exemplary client service, and would require further discussion. She offered to meet with the union to further discuss the issue and any other concerns the union had regarding service culture. The union agreed to meet and stated that they would also be very interested to see the results of the survey.
Management stated that they had known for some time that the way Canadians interacted with the CRA, as well as many other institutions, had changed dramatically, with digital communication now the preferred method for interactions. The Service Renewal initiative was intended to address the changing nature of the Agency’s processing workload and revise the processing model to better reflect the realities.
Going forward there would be four sites dedicated to processing; these centres would focus on non-face-to-face, high volume workloads. Some work from the two specialized processing and collections sites in the National Capital Region (NCR) would gradually be consolidated into other sites across the country; however, a large contingent of employees would remain in the NCR. Work from the Toronto Centre call centre would transition to three other sites, with the goal of maximizing capacity across the country. That said, there would continue to be significant CRA activity within in the Greater Toronto Area. In addition, three sites would become National Verification and Collections Centres (NVCCs) and would focus on non-face-to-face work in collections and verification. These large cluster centres would benefit the Agency and would allow many people to bring their talent and expertise to NVCC workloads. In addition, it would allow some of the urban centres to focus on the face-to-face collection and compliance work.
The implementation plan was set out over three years. Management provided an overview of the workload transitions that had been completed or were underway and noted that significant progress had been made. They expected the entire plan would be completed by spring 2018.
As a result of Budget 2016, the NVCCs were allocated approximately 180 Full-time Equivalents (FTEs) for collections and compliance; however, the NVCCs were more than collection sites. There were a number of other programs such as, non-filer and the Corporation Assessing Review Program, as well as original tax compliance programs such as, T1 Processing Review and matching situated in NVCC. These programs would also receive funds. Management confirmed that there were no issues with some Tax Services Offices (TSOs) continuing to have a portion of the NVCC workload.
Of the 2,415 employees impacted by service renewal, only 880 employees represented by UTE had files that were unresolved. Management had been working closely with the National WFA Committee and the next meeting was planned for September 2017. The quarterly reports of all current affected and preferred status unresolved cases had been shared with the union; the next report was scheduled to be shared the first week of July 2017. As per the commitment made at the June 2, 2017 Service Renewal meeting, and as a best practice, Management would inform UTE 48 hours in advance should they be in a position to offer opting letters to employees. As of the date of the NUMCC meeting, 155 opting letters had been issued in the Ontario region and 12 opting letters had been issued in the Atlantic region, all at the SP-01 and SP-02 levels.
Management acknowledged the work of the union at the regional and local levels, and thanked them for their efforts in working together with the management teams through this transition.
The Union stated that they had been aware that changes were on the horizon for the Agency. The absence of a union briefing in advance of the official notification, in combination with the constant rumours of imminent changes to the structure of CRA, was frustrating for UTE. They would have been in a better position to understand the changes and demystify the situation for their members had they been brought into the conversation earlier. They also stressed the importance of considering the human aspect of the equation when proposing initiatives such as service renewal. The announcement had caused significant upheaval for determinate and indeterminate employees and their families. CRA employees were proud of the work they did on behalf of the Agency and wanted to know they were valued for their efforts. They stated that the optics of notifying term employees that they would not be renewed, while at the same time recruiting students, was an example of lack of consideration for the people impacted by service renewal.
The Commissioner appreciated the union’s comments and noted that there was still a lot of work to do on the service renewal initiative. Management would strive to provide as much information as possible in future discussions.
INTERNAL INVESTIGATIONS AND SUBSEQUENT DISCIPLINE
To begin, the Assistant Commissioner, Finance and Administration Branch (AC, FAB) stated that he was interested in joining the meeting with the union to discuss service culture. If it was true that employees had fears of being disciplined for going above and beyond in terms of client service, he wanted to make sure that there was a full discussion on the matter. The union agreed to having the AC, FAB participate in the meeting.
Management recognized that internal investigations were a sensitive topic and that going through an investigation process was not pleasant. The introduction of audio recording of interviews was a best practice followed by many other departments and had proven to work well. Employees were required to consent to an audio recording of the interview, otherwise the investigator would take written notes. For those situations where the employee and the investigator disagreed on what had been discussed, management believed that audiotaped recordings of the investigation would ensure more transparency and would better protect employees.
This new practice had only recently been introduced. Management asked the union to raise any issues they became aware of in a timely manner so that identified issues could be addressed, if needed, or the process could be clarified.
Management stated that the new Enterprise Fraud Management (EFM) tool had been put in place effective April 1, 2017, to identify unauthorized accesses. All of the information in EFM solution, including employee social insurance numbers (SINs), were encrypted and only two project administrators had access to the information. The EFM solution would limit the number of false positives for unauthorized accesses.
The CRA received approval from the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) in December 2016, to use the SIN for monitoring purposes. A privacy impact assessment was also completed and reviewed by the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.
Management stated that any unauthorized access to taxpayer or similar information leaves the CRA at enormous risk for failing to protect information, and susceptible to public criticism. The Table of Disciplinary Measures governed management decisions regarding discipline and it was important that the disciplinary measures were applied consistently.
Management welcomed the union’s suggestions on how to reinforce the message to employees that unauthorized access was a serious matter. Despite efforts from both CRA and UTE to raise awareness, there had been a rise in the number of disciplinary measures rendered for cases of unauthorized access over the past three years. It was anticipated that these numbers would continue to rise as better security tools were developed.
The union stated that their concerns with the audio recording of investigations centred on the fact that employees were not permitted to make their own audio recording of the interview, nor were they allowed a copy of the recording unless they made a request through access to information and privacy (ATIP). They saw this as being unfair to employees.
They also had significant concerns with using employee SINs to track unauthorized access and were consulting legal counsel on the matter; they were of the opinion that the Agency did not have a legal right to use SINs for this purpose. They added that employees felt that this was a breach of their own privacy and had never been advised that their SIN would be used in this manner. Employees already had an individual identifier with the personal record identifier (PRI).
With regard to unauthorized access, the UTE National President agreed that they had been educating their members on the seriousness of unauthorized access over the years. Their concern with discipline for unauthorized access was that the Table of Disciplinary Measures had little flexibility. They raised a number of examples to support their position and noted that many cases of unauthorized access were not malicious in nature, yet all employees received the same quantum of discipline. While managers had some flexibility with the degree of discipline, the guidance from human resources was typically to respect the disciplinary measures as outlined in the Table. Ultimately, it came down to the balance of consistency versus autonomy; they believed that local management’s autonomy and flexibility were lost each time an issue was raised to headquarters. They hoped that some of the flexibility would be returned to local and regional managers. The UTE National President believed that the issue required further discussion away from the NUMCC table, possibly at the service culture meeting.
The Commissioner agreed that there should be additional discussion on the issue. He highlighted the importance of protecting the integrity of the Agency and ensuring that the CRA had the trust of Canadians to administer the tax system. Everyone had a joint responsibility in maintaining the integrity of the Agency.
From a legislative perspective, some proposed measures relevant to the CRA included allowing nurse practitioners to certify eligibility for the Disability Tax Credit, consolidation of three different caregiver credits, and some expansion of the tuition tax credit. A few of the more obscure measures were eliminated, the most well-known being the public transit credit. Businesses could now issue electronic T4s to employees without obtaining their consent, under certain conditions. Two key commodity tax changes pertained to ride sharing services in order to level the playing field with traditional taxi services, and increases of the excise duty rates for tobacco, beer, spirits, and wines.
In terms of funding, the Agency received $523.9 million (M), over a five year period, to tackle non-compliance and tax avoidance activities. This was an extension of the $444M received in 2016, and would allow the Agency to extend certain measures and make other initiatives permanent. The funding included $263M to expand compliance and audit measures and $123M for new compliance measures. The expected revenue target from Budget 2017 was $2.5 billion over five years. The funding was contingent upon TBS approval; CRA’s submission was being heard this month.
The CRA launched a new annual resource alignment process to review funding allocations to programs to ensure they were aligned with Agency priorities. This annual priority setting exercise would allow the Agency to be more nimble and ensure that it was investing its resources in the appropriate areas.
BUDGET 2016 TAX COLLECTIONS
Budget 2016 provided Collections with $351M to reduce tax debt and collect $7.4 billion dollars over five years. They had met their target of $400M in year one, in addition to $70M resulting from compliance generated reassessments.
The funding model was a ramp up model with funding doubling in year two, increasing in year three, hitting a peak in year four, and finally, decreasing in year five to the ongoing level.
In year two, the program would be staffing an additional 463 FTEs:
- 26 in the Debt Management Call Centres
- 137 in the NVCCs
- 300 in the TSOs
The expectations for year two were significant at $1 billion for the Enhanced Collections Initiative and $70M for the High Risk Initiative.
Management was working on the year three (18/19) funding allocations and expected the exercise to be completed by the end of the month.
There would be some opportunity to stabilize the determinate population in collections by staffing some positions permanently. The recommended permanent to determinate ratio was 80/20 in the NVCCs and 70/30 in the TSOs.
The union asked when the term to perm conversion in support of the new staffing ratios would begin. Management responded that the timing would be different in each region. Some regions had already begun to implement the changes while others were waiting for other factors, such as service renewal, to play out before they moved ahead. Management recommended that the union’s regional vice presidents (RVPs) speak with their management counterparts in the regions to obtain a more specific response.
The union also asked which locations would receive additional FTEs for the complex collections workload. Management responded that the regional assistant commissioners would be better able to speak to the timing of these changes and the specific locations for the team allocations. They recognized that they had not been as quick as initially planned in moving ahead with the changes; this was primarily due to having to work through the service renewal changes.
With regard to Budget 2017, Management noted that the CVB programs would receive approximately one third of the $523M.
BUDGET 2016 AND 2017 INITIATIVES IN THE INTERNATIONAL, LARGE BUSINESS, AND INVESTIGATIONS BRANCH
Management provided an overview of the impact of Budgets 2016 and 2017 on the International, Large Business and Investigations Branch (ILBIB), noting that funds had also been distributed to other branches, including the corporate branches. Between the two federal budgets the Agency was receiving almost one billion dollars over a five year period.
Management commended the work of CRA employees, noting that their hard work had resulted in the revenue of audit increasing 30%. They added that they would need to do some external recruiting in order to address the demographic shift as employees retired. They continued to work hard to hire the right people and believed that there would still be opportunities for SP employees to move into the AU stream, given that they had the necessary qualifications. There would be an ongoing need for determinate employees so that the Agency could remain agile and manage workloads based on the location of the risk.
The union recognized that there was a need for external hiring. They asked that their members also be provided with the opportunity to compete for the jobs so that they could advance their careers.
The Commissioner noted that the Agency still faced financial pressures. As an example, there were no extra funds provided for service enhancements in support of the service agenda. He noted that the annual resource alignment process would aid the Agency in better aligning resources to the priorities. He highlighted the balance between service and compliance and the importance of both these elements.
CRA RECRUITMENT STRATEGY
Both parties agreed to remove this item from the agenda due to time constraints.
BUSINESS TRANSFORMATION IN CHARITIES
Both parties agreed to remove this item from the agenda due to time constraints.
COLLECTIVE BARGAINING PROCESS
The Union stated that the last round of bargaining had been challenging and had driven a wedge between union-management relations. They noted that previous rounds had been much more successful and believed that one reason for this was that the Agency had not required Treasury Board approval at that time. They found the added involvement from the Treasury Board Secretariat frustrating and stated that it only created additional challenges for both sides of the table. While they recognized that some items put forward at the bargaining table had come directly from the Treasury Board Secretariat, they stressed that they did not want to be compared to the Program and Administrative Services (PA) table during the next round of negotiations.
They were looking forward to the next round of bargaining; however, they hoped to be able to bargain without Treasury Board Secretariat’s intervention. Should they need to take action, they would do so much sooner than in previous rounds. They noted that their members had stepped up when needed during the last round of bargaining and believed they would do so again in the future. Their members recognized that the bargaining team was working in their best interests.
They hoped that union and management would be able to agree on a collective agreement that was good for both parties, and that it would be reached within a reasonable time frame. In addition, they hoped to re-establish relations over the coming months.
Management echoed some of the union’s sentiments regarding the challenges with the last collective agreement, noting that the parties had come to an impasse with regard to the re-opener clause that was now at the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board for resolution. They expected to be back to the table shortly thereafter, and were looking forward to a productive round of bargaining. They noted that changes to the CRA Act in 2012, had amended the CRA’s mandate process in that the Agency was required to seek Board of Management recommendation and President of the Treasury Board approval prior to entering into bargaining. Management was also hopeful that an agreement would be reached in a timely manner in the next round of bargaining; they would come to the table prepared to bargain in good faith.
The Commissioner congratulated the UTE National President and the 2nd National Vice President on their upcoming retirements and thanked them for all of their hard work in support of the union and the CRA. He was also appreciative of the constructive manner of the NUMCC discussions and UTE’s willingness to engage in a dialogue on key issues.
The UTE President stated that the NUMCC meetings were very important, as were early conversations at all levels. He thanked management for their kind words and wished everyone well.
The Commissioner thanked everyone for their participation in the meeting.
Marc Brière on behalf of Bob Campbell