BETWEEN THE CANADA REVENUE AGENCY (CRA) AND
THE UNION OF TAXATION EMPLOYEES (UTE)
The Commissioner welcomed everyone to the meeting and said the union-management relationship was moving in a positive direction. He appreciated the constructive approach everyone is taking to resolve issues. He thanked the union for their participation and ongoing support of the CRA Charitable Campaign. The Agency had surpassed its goal and this was a direct result of CRA employees.
He stated that the Agency was moving towards becoming a world-class tax and benefit administration (WCTBA). He applauded all employees for their hard work and dedication in making the Agency a world-class organization. Although there will always be things to change and improve, the Agency is on a good path forward.
He highlighted the importance of providing respectful service and communicating clearly with taxpayers as underlined in the CRA’s service agenda. It is important to look at our work through the client’s perspective, the taxpayers’ perspective, and to deliver the kind of service that one would expect from a world-class administration.
With respect to the Annual Resource Alignment Process, the Commissioner advised that no decisions have been made; however, it will not be a big year of change. There will be no massive changes within the organization, and there will be little impact on employees.
The Union Management Approach (UMA) Working Group meeting was held on November 24, 2017. There were clear signs of good progress on this front.
The Commissioner noted that it has been a period of intense scrutiny for the Agency recently, especially with respect to the Auditor General report on call centres. CRA employees are dedicated and professional, and doing their best with the tools they have been provided. The Agency has developed specific action plans to improve technology, training for employees, and reporting to Canadians, in an honest and transparent manner. Based on these actions plans, there will be positive improvements for everyone. For an organization as large as the CRA, it’s imperative that the Agency continues to improve communications with Canadians. The Minister of National Revenue has utmost confidence in the Agency. The CRA is resilient and will learn from these lessons, and will keep moving forward.
The Deputy Commissioner stressed the importance of speaking in one voice, especially in times of crisis, and appreciated the union’s help in delivering the right messages.
With respect to changes in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), the collaborative process had identified issues and solutions within the current environment. She noted that this is a good example of productive, collaborative discussions.
With respect to the Wellness campaign, the first year focused on raising awareness of mental health issues, and leadership commitment. In the second year, the CRA will expand on employee engagement, inclusivity, and making any necessary adjustments.
With respect to Phoenix, there is lots of work being done at the CRA, as well as on the whole of government front. The Deputy Commissioner noted that this is not an easy situation and there are no quick solutions. The CRA has invested lots of resources and supported our employees. The Agency is seen as an example to follow, and this is a direct result of the hard work of CRA employees.
The UTE National President thanked everyone for attending the meeting. He expressed satisfaction that the union and the employer had returned to consultation. He noted that these national meetings are important for both parties, as well as the informal meetings at the local and regional levels. He stressed the importance of open and frank discussions. He was happy to support the CRA Charitable campaign nationally.
The UTE National President commented that he was pleased with the progress on the UMA Working Group. He added that there is a great need for UMA training at all levels, for both union and management representatives.
He appreciated the extensive consultations on GTA Service Modernization. He was happy that management and the union were working towards building a better relationship.
The UTE National President commented that numerous consultations were held across all levels. He noted that everyone is here for the well-being of employees, his members. There are many shared interests. He was encouraged to see management and the union working together on GTA Service Modernization.
The UTE National President commented that the union and management need to build trust in order to allow for discussion of difficult issues. It is important to state positions and try to find solutions. Having said that, the union-management relationship is a work in progress. There has not always been the same level of collaborations or exchanges happening across the regions. He noted that it was encouraging to see progress being made on UMA and getting closer to a resolution on the training.
The UTE 1st National Vice-President thanked the Commissioner for his support on UMA. He is a strong believer of the Union Management Approach. In addition to national support of this initiative, the local and regional buy-in is very important. He advised that the union is anxiously waiting for the UMA training to be made available across the regions.
The Assistant Commissioner, Human Resources Branch (AC, HRB) stated that the Agency has a long history of excellent consultations. He stressed that management counts on the union to highlight what’s working and what’s not. This input is very helpful in making improvements. He commented that we have work to do in maintaining the positive union-management relationship that we have developed over the years. While there will be times when management is unable to consult and times when the parties will have to agree to disagree, this did not decrease the importance or benefits of open and honest communication and consultation.
The Assistant Commissioner noted that more recently, the CRA and UTE have reached out and there have been informal consultations at several levels. The GTA Service Modernization reset is a good example of union-management consultation and possibly a new way of implementing consultation. He commented that a healthy, safe and productive workplace and workforce benefits everyone, and expressed that management is looking forward to continuing to enhance the union-management relationship.
Collective Bargaining Process
The UTE 2nd National Vice-President stated that the collective bargaining portfolio offers an automatic professional opposition. The union’s mandate is to get the best benefit and pay for their members, and the employer’s mandate is to manage the public purse. Hopefully, at the end of the process, both parties can reach a fair agreement.
He noted that when the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) was not involved, the collective bargaining process worked efficiently and the CRA and the UTE were able to reach contracts prior to the expiry of the collective agreements. TBS involvement has caused great delays in the recent round of negotiations. The union suggested that, going forward, the CRA should establish appropriate channels to expedite the consultation process with TBS.
With respect to the recent round of negotiations, the UTE 2nd National Vice-President advised that the union had a good measurement of members’ sentiments. He noted that there is great strength in numbers and the union will capitalize on this power, if needed. The union will not accept a deal unless it’s fair and reasonable. There are new players on both sides and hopefully this will bring a renewed sense of negotiation. He also advised that the union will continue to ask for the mandatory roll-over of determinate employees within a shorter timeframe.
The AC, HRB thanked the union for the important background information. He said both parties need to focus on the future and the next round of negotiations. Both parties want the same things; labour peace, and for employees to get the best deal. However, he noted that CRA operates within certain confines and this needs to be respected. In 2012, there were amendments to the CRA legislative authorities, and the Agency must now obtain negotiation mandates from TBS. The Agency must work within the parameters of the CRA Act.
The AC, HRB commented that the parties met to discuss the re-opener provision of the current collective agreement in May 2017. Unfortunately, the parties were unable to reach an agreement and the matter was referred to a third-party. The parties are now going through the binding conciliation route. The start of next round of negotiations will be contingent upon the binding conciliation process and timelines.
The Commissioner emphasized that it is important to recognize the history and not repeat errors of the past. That being said, everyone needs to focus on the future. He commented that both parties should adopt reasonable positions to find solutions. Treasury Board is a step in the process; however, it doesn’t have to be an impediment to getting things done. Now that everyone knows and recognizes this step in the process, both parties should find ways to reach quick solutions.
Delays in processing taxpayers’ files
The UTE Regional Vice-President of Prairies Region stated that delays in processing taxpayer files is a problem across the country. He noted that many factors have led to the increase in the delays. Specifically, there has been a general increase in taxpayer adjustments, which combined with Service Renewal has caused longer delays in processing. He stated that the delays and work overload have led to numerous stressors for the call centres, as well as the staff in the processing centres. The union is pleased to hear that the Agency has created a service taskforce to look at processing and streamlining work. The union is eager to participate in this endeavour.
The UTE Regional Vice-President of Quebec Region highlighted that CRA employees are very professional and dedicated to their work. There is a rapid pace of change in the organization. He cited the importance of employee health and well-being.
The UTE Regional Vice-President of Greater Toronto Region stressed the importance of work-life balance. He stated that front-line employees in particular experience multiple stressors in the workplace.
The Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Assessment and Benefit Services Branch (DAC, ABSB) noted that the Agency had undergone major transformations before and there have been challenges with big changes in the past. At present, there is a backlog for T1 Adjustments, and when workloads get behind, there are obvious impacts to agents. However, the DAC, ABSB advised there are action plans to return to normal turn-around times. She commented that management is pleased to have union engagement on the service taskforce.
The Commissioner stated that improving services to Canadians is extremely important for the Agency and the Minister. The Agency must clearly identify the pain points so that they can be addressed appropriately. By extracting some of the frictions out of the system, the Agency will be better positioned to exceed the traditional service standards.
The UTE National President stated that he was pleased to hear about the service taskforce and the action plans. The union is committed to fostering good relations with management. He stressed that it was important for the union to be kept in the loop.
Addressing Call Centre Issues
The Regional Vice-President of the Rocky Mountains Region stated that the union had been inundated with questions from their members about the Call Centre Transformation. The union felt they did not have sufficient information to respond to their members’ questions. He emphasized the need to inform callers that verbal abuse against employees will not be tolerated.
The Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Assessment and Benefit Services Branch (DAC, ABSB) stated that the Agency had taken steps to support front-line agents. As of November 16, 2017, an interactive voice response (IVR) message had been added to inform taxpayers about processing delays, anticipated times frames, and that agents will not be able to process adjustments faster. Management had received positive feedback from employees on this new IVR message.
In addition, call centre agents have received new scripts and suggested answers for handling difficult interactions and procedures for de-escalating calls. New call centre agent training also included a discussion with a facilitator about crisis calls. Agents at both T1 and Benefits Enquiries sites have access to internal Help Guides which provide detailed procedures for situations of abuse, threats, or assault against employees.
The DAC, ABSB, noted that call centres are the voice and ears of the Agency. Employee feedback is important and the Agency is committed to supporting call centre agents in any way possible. Once implemented, the new Hosted Contact Centre Solution (HCCS) technology will support agents in performing their day-to-day work, and help provide a better taxpayer experience for clients.
The Commissioner stressed the importance of sufficient training on this new technology for all call centre agents. The HCCS technology and supplementary training will enable callers to reach the right people, and help with the accuracy of calls.
The UTE National President stated that in addition to the services provided by call centres, the government should consider re-opening counters as they provided an essential service for certain segments of the population. The Commissioner replied that there were no plans to re-introduce counters as it was an under-used service. The Agency needs to optimize services and allocate resources appropriately in order to continue serving Canadians effectively.
The Regional Vice-President of Quebec Region noted that the Agency is fortunate to have experienced employees to help resolve Phoenix issues. He cited examples of problem areas in Phoenix, including leave without pay, maternity leave, overpayments, and underpayments. Another point of frustration for employees is the lack of explanation on tickets. He asked that correct information be shared in a timely fashion.
The Regional Vice-President of Montreal Region stated that when an employee is not be paid correctly or on time, what can be done to expedite the payments.
The AC, HRB stated that it’s important to recognize the difference between what can and cannot be controlled. The Agency is committed to improving the situation for impacted employees, and contributing towards resolving Phoenix issues for the whole of government. While the challenges with the Phoenix system need to be raised, it’s important to recognize the progress. Since the last update, 70 salary advances were issued per pay period in the last quarter, compared to 205 in May 2017.
As of November 29, 2017, 14.6% of CRA employees had an open case over 30 days old, compared to 68% in the rest of the public service.
The CRA also experienced a significant increase in call volume as employees contacted the Compensation Client Service Centre (CCSC) to enquire about their outstanding work items. For example, prior to Phoenix, the National Enquiries Service received an average of 4,400 calls per month. After Phoenix implementation, this number increased to 9,200.
The CRA’s overpayment liability has increased to $10.45M, compared to an average of $1.2M before Phoenix. The majority of overpayments derive from leave without pay (LWOP) situations. The CRA is exploring solutions with Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) to better manage overpayments and to reduce the financial liability to the CRA and impact on its employees.
Post review activities continue at 100%, however, some improvements to Phoenix and to the processes within the CCSC have resulted in opportunities to reduce reliance on a 100% review for some work items.
Corporate Compensation, with the help of the Public Affairs Branch, has created a Phoenix hub on InfoZone that provides one stop for information for all employees and managers. The Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) and the PSPC have put in place an HR-to-Pay stabilization governance with various oversight committees. The CRA is represented on all committees and has been an active participant.
The Commissioner stated that he is committed to communicating effectively with employees. It’s not possible to control every situation with Phoenix; however, the Agency is committed to communicating the information that is available. He asked the union to help disseminate available information and resources in order to address the issues. He stressed that tremendous effort is being put forth towards resolving Phoenix issues.
The AC, HRB added that obligatory training on Phoenix will begin in January for all employees and managers. The union will receive another technical briefing on Phoenix.
The UTE National President committed to supporting the Commissioner’s request to direct employees to the right place. He added that the union always encourages all members to raise issues at the appropriate level, through the established processes.
Public Service Employee Survey / Public Service Employee Annual Survey
The Public Service Employee Survey (PSES) Champion said he appreciates the union’s support in increasing awareness and encouraging participation in the surveys. He recognized the UTE for their involvement in the joint union-management message that promoted participation in the PSES, as well as their contribution to the national steering committee.
The long-standing PSES survey takes place every three years and was conducted in 2011, 2014, and 2017. The government is now transitioning to an annual survey. This year, the first annual PSES was conducted in the same year as the triennial survey. This was difficult for some employees, and there were signs of survey fatigue.
The CRA’s participation rate in the 2017 PSES was 66.9%. This is a very high participation rate for a large department, almost 8-10% higher than other departments.
The annual survey participation rate was 56.3%.
We have results for the Public Service Employee Annual Survey (PSEAS); however, the data is not broken down at branch and region levels. The focus of the 2017 PSEAS was workplace health. The PSES National Steering Committee (NSC) noticed that employees are feeling emotionally drained. He noted that UTE has raised long-standing concerns with discrimination and harassment in the workplace. The NSC is looking into correlations between discrimination and harassment, and employees feeling stressed and drained.
The PSES Champion recognized the negative impact of an unhealthy workplace, and cited examples of actions taken following previous surveys, such as the Discrimination and Harassment Centre of Expertise and “Why Civility Matters” messages.
Based on the information available, there is pressure to roll-out some action plans, surrounding prevention, diversity and inclusion. However, it’s important to not get ahead of the 2017 PSES results as those will not be available until the spring of 2018. The NSC will leverage the more detailed results from the 2017 PSES.
The UTE 1st National Vice-President noted his concerns that some of the NSC PSES items may cross over to matters covered under the National Health and Safety Policy Committee (NHSPC). He requested that items from the NSC be forwarded in the right direction, such as the NHSPC. The AC, HRB responded that his branch is involved in the PSES to ensure that items covered under another Human Resources area are handled accordingly.
World-class Tax and Benefit Administration
The Assistant Commissioner, Strategy and Integration Branch provided an overview of the World-Class Tax and Benefit Administration (WCTBA) initiative. He stated that a WCTBA is powered by world-class employees, and employee engagement is integral to the initiative. In June 2017, employees were invited to share their views in an online engagement exercise. It revealed that 71% of employees responded favourably when asked if the CRA was world-class. When employees thought of a WCTBA, they thought of fairness, service, and integrity, with “Integrity” and “Security” rated highest. “People” and “Innovation” were identified as areas where there was room for improvement.
The CRA is conducting an assessment of the Agency using the International Monetary Fund’s Tax Administration Diagnostic and Assessment Tool (TADAT). This tool was designed to help international tax organizations assess the performance and health of their respective administrations. Complementary diagnostic tools are being developed for “People” and “Innovation” to ensure the Agency’s strategic priorities, as well as feedback received, are appropriately addressed. The unions will be consulted and invited to a follow-up meeting to discuss the issue. The results of the assessment will be shared at the NUMCC meeting in spring 2018.
The UTE National President thanked management for the detailed update. The union appreciated the opportunity to be consulted on this initiative and was looking forward to the meeting.
The Commissioner recognized the positive backdrop of the meeting and said that this was a good place to raise issues and have honest conversations. CRA was recently recognized as a Top 100 Employer in Canada, and the Top Employer for people over 40. These meetings focus on problem areas in order to address the issues; however, it’s important to not lose sight of these great accomplishments. He thanked Cheryl Bartell for her contributions to the CRA, and congratulated her on her upcoming retirement.
The UTE National President thanked everyone for participating and congratulated Cheryl Bartell on her upcoming retirement. He agreed with the Commissioner that there was a good atmosphere at these meetings, and he appreciated the open and frank discussions.
These exchanges are important for developing and improving the union-management relationship. The union hopes that this relationship at the national level will trickle down to regional and local levels. The local stewards are the antennas on the ground and they provide regular feedback. Both parties, across all levels, should continue to talk about the issues openly and respectfully.
He asked management to stabilize the workforce by permanently appointing as many determinate employees as possible. This will be a powerful, positive signal to employees. He added that although HR needs to be consulted on all staffing matters, Regional Assistant Commissioners should have authority to make management decisions. Permanent staffing is an important issue and the union would appreciate management’s support and collaboration in this matter.
The Regional Vice-President of Prairies Region congratulated Cheryl Bartell on her upcoming retirement. He expressed his gratitude for working with her, and appreciation her respectful and attentive approach.