MEETING BETWEEN THE CANADA REVENUE AGENCY (CRA) AND
THE UNION OF TAXATION EMPLOYEES (UTE)
The Commissioner welcomed the parties to the meeting. He spoke of his recent visit in Toronto, to lend support to employees, following the tragic event that occurred on
April 23, 2018. He was moved by how employees, having witnessed horrific things, came together to support each other in these difficult times. He spoke of the good communication demonstrated by those involved and good union-management relations which helped all parties come together. He also reminded us of the importance to watch out for ourselves and use the support and assistance available to those who need it. It gave him pride to see how the Agency demonstrated flexibility and how they are moving forward as a team.
The Commissioner also spoke of the Union-Management Philosophy signing event that took place on May 14, 2018 with the Presidents of both unions. He spoke how this agreement was the foundation of a great, constructive relationship and it was the framework that set the foundation to openly discuss issues of mutual importance.
The Commissioner introduced some of the topics on the agenda for the meeting, including the Public Service Employee Survey/Public Service Employee Annual Survey. He stated that it is a good opportunity to assess where the Agency is doing well and the areas that require further attention. He stated that as part of the Budget 2018 announcement, the Government of Canada would undertake a comprehensive review of the Agency’s service model. He spoke of the World-Class Tax and Benefit Administration initiative and that the results of the Tax Administration Diagnostic Assessment Tool have now been made public. He also mentioned that since the publication of the last Auditor General Report, the Agency executed its action plan that included providing employees of the Call Centres better tools, better training and updated guidelines and procedures. He expressed being very proud of the significant improvement in performance and recognized the contributions from employees and management in this area.
In his remarks, the UTE National President also recognized the importance of the informal meetings where discussions and an exchange of information take place. In particular, he appreciates the renewed collaboration of the parties and is pleased with the parties’ recommitment to the Union-Management Philosophy. He was particularly pleased to have both unions, the Commissioner and the Deputy Commissioner present, showing the importance of the philosophy at all levels across the organization. He admitted it was not always perfect but he thinks the parties are moving in the right direction. He hoped for a productive and good meeting with open and frank discussions.
The UTE National President expressed that he was pleased to recommit to the Union-Management Philosophy and to collaborate on updating the Union-Management Approach (UMA) training products. He was pleased to see that the parties came to an agreement on the training products.
The UTE Regional Vice-President, Montreal Region, stated that both he and the UTE First National Vice-President are pleased with the work done by the National UMA Committee that led to the parties’ recommitment to the UMA Philosophy. However, there is a lot more work to be done so that the UMA permeates in the field. He also reminded the parties that it is not the intent of UMA to interfere with management’s right to manage but rather to ensure better communication and collaboration. He would like to see the spirit of trust and collaboration permeate across the organization.
The Assistant Commissioner, Human Resources Branch (AC, HRB) provided an update. He also recognized the importance of the work of the National UMA Committee that brought us to where we are today and he expects the Agency will get where it needs to be. He observed that it took the basic elements, such as an agreement on the training products, as a first step. The first two components of the training, UMA 101 and 102 are finalized and ready to launch. As for the third part of the training, it will be piloted over the next few months with an anticipated launch date in the fall 2018.
The Commissioner stated this was good news for the Agency’s relationship with both unions and to now ensure that the message around this framework is communicated broadly across the Agency to have a positive impact on union-management relations.
Collective Bargaining Process
The UTE Second National Vice-President spoke of the importance of not forgetting the past. He expressed UTE’s disappointment in the binding conciliation decision, in particular in the manner it was framed and also the outcome. The loss in thousands of dollars and the impact on employee morale will not easily be forgotten. He hopes that the employer will take this to heart when it seeks its bargaining mandate from the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS). The emphasis in the next round of negotiations will be on term conversion and on roll-over. He confirmed that the UTE will be meeting with the employer on June 20, 2018 to exchange bargaining demands in person. He also informed the committee that the UTE Bargaining Team, in addition to putting forward what it sees as important, also sought input from the membership to prepare its bargaining demands package. He and his bargaining team are cautiously optimistic about the next round of negotiations. However, he recognized it is a different time and a different group of people. He emphasized that there are not many benefits left to be taken and he stated that the UTE has no interest in concessions bargaining. He recognized that both sides are motivated to come to an agreement quickly. He is hoping for productive negotiation sessions. He also asked the employer to temper its interference with the UTE’s plant-gating activities.
The AC, HRB confirmed that both the CRA and the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) UTE have confirmed their bargaining teams for the next round of negotiations and will soon begin negotiations for the Program Delivery and Administrative Services Group.
Both bargaining teams are new and have high expectations for an extremely positive outcome. He hopes for a quick outcome. That said, the process must run its course. The parties have scheduled a first introductory negotiation session from June 19 to 21, and the parties were looking forward to the exchange of proposals. A second negotiation session will follow from July 3 to 5, 2018. The parties are looking at establishing dates for September 2018.
The Agency continues to prioritize positive and constructive relations with PSAC-UTE, both at the bargaining table and away from the table, as good, stable and productive labour-management relations can and should form a cornerstone of good human resource management in the public service. The Agency will therefore support the team in every possible way so that the parties can achieve a settlement in a fashionable timeframe.
The Commissioner added that he was optimistic that the parties can find a way through to resolve differences in a timely manner and find a solution that works best for all. He recognizes there will be some tough issues to resolve and hopes that the constructive spirit built between the parties will assist.
The UTE National President shared that he is also optimistic and hopes that the renewed collaboration between the parties will transfer to the bargaining table. He hopes that the Agency obtains a clear mandate from TBS with some room to maneuver.
The UTE National President stated that Phoenix is broken. He recognized that there was no doubt that the situation was better at the CRA than it is in other departments. He advanced a few reasons why it was not as bad, including CRA’s own compensation advisors and the Corporate Administrative System (CAS). It is not because things are better at the CRA that it is acceptable. Employees should expect to be paid accurately and on time, should not be afraid to apply for promotions and should not be left wondering whether their leave will be processed correctly. The UTE will keep pushing to find solutions for their members. He recognized the efforts made by the Agency on the Phoenix issue.
The UTE Regional Vice-President, Northern and Eastern Ontario Region, recapped that at the last NUMCC, the UTE expressed its members’ frustration with the lack of explanation when web tickets were responded to by the Compensation Client Service Centre (CCSC). He has observed this issue is occurring more frequently when members are in an overpayment situation. No explanation or breakdown is provided by the CCSC. UTE members are having to submit another web ticket to obtain this information. He asked that the breakdown and explanation be provided to the employee when the overpayment letter is issued by the CCSC.
The UTE Regional Vice-President, Pacific Region, spoke of UTE members’ frustration and anxiety due to the lack of understanding of the complexity or breakdown of their overpayment situation. She expressed how their health and wellness is badly impacted by this situation.
The Commissioner also recognized that the CRA is in better shape than the rest of the Public Service, and this is a tribute to the staff and some decisions that were made in the past. He also expressed dismay at the difficult situations that were raised by the UTE. He described the Agency’s approach, including fixing as many problems as it can, communicating more clearly with employees, and also playing an active role in the broader effort across Government to contribute to a better solution. He reiterated that the Agency is doing everything it can to also minimize the tax consequences and implications for employees.
The AC, HRB provided an update on this topic. The Agency continues to make good progress in reducing outstanding inventory. As of May 30, 2018, CRA has 15% of employees with an open case over 30 days old. This compares to 78.8% for departments serviced by the Public Service Pay Centre.
He said that employees can contact the CCSC for general enquiries and receive updates on their outstanding work items. On average, 9,200 calls are answered each month. The average number of calls answered per month before Phoenix was 4,400.
The CCSC continuously adjusts its work disposal plans to address the backlog of aged inventory focusing on key transactional work, including retirements and enquiries inventories. Additional resources continue to be allocated and re-aligned to address these pressures. This includes an additional 75 resources to the CCSC in Ottawa and Winnipeg.
Following the decision of the binding conciliation board concerning the collective agreement re-opener, the CCSC is well prepared with a dedicated team to address retroactive adjustments and manual payments within 150 days of its signing. Communications were shared with the union and with employees on May 1, 2018 and published on the InfoZone on May 2, 2018. Employees will start to receive adjustments as of June 13, 2018 and may receive multiple adjustments. Updates have also been provided during bi-weekly meetings with the UTE regarding the collective agreement re-opener.
The Agency is aligning with the TBS’s government-wide approach for additional flexibilities to the recovery of overpayments, Emergency Salary Advances and priority payments to reduce the financial burden on employees impacted by Phoenix issues. The Agency has informed employees of these new flexibilities and that additional information will be shared. TBS has recently released a set of questions and answers which will be reviewed and adjusted to the CRA and make available to all employees. It should be noted that approximately 35% of the current aged inventory is attributed to overpayments, a workload that will remain given the new flexibilities introduced by TBS.
The AC, HRB stated that the Agency is an active participant at all levels of the “HR to Pay” committees, as well as the various working groups that TBS and Public Service and Procurement Canada (PSPC) have put in place in an effort to resolve technical issues and stabilize the pay system. The Agency currently has representatives on overpayments, transfers, terminations and actings working groups.
Since the last NUMCC, the Public Affairs Branch (PAB) and the HRB collaborated on a survey to engage employees and obtain their thoughts on the Agency’s tools and the information available to help them understand and resolve Phoenix pay issues. The CRA has reviewed the results and prepared an action plan to address areas where services can be improved.
In addition to the Phoenix hub on InfoZone that was mentioned at the last NUMCC, the Agency developed a webpage for managers called “Helping employees with Phoenix-related issues” which has been published on the Phoenix hub and will be promoted on the Managers’ Corner. The purpose is to help managers support their employees who are having issues as a result of Phoenix. The Agency also recently added a new page called “Preventing pay issues: Timing matters” as part of an awareness campaign launched by PSPC to highlight the importance of creating and approving pay transactions in a timely manner.
To further assist employees with their pay issues, in January, the Agency launched two new mandatory online courses on human resources and pay for all Government of Canada employees. These courses were developed as part of the “HR to Pay” initiatives. The AC, HRB was proud to report that over 95% of employees have completed these courses.
In response to the issues raised by the UTE, the AC, HRB committed to looking into how CRA can better communicate with employees impacted by overpayments.
The UTE National President asked if the CRA had statistics on the number of cases related to Phoenix payroll issues. The AC, HRB responded that it was about 9,000 cases, and he committed to providing a breakdown. He cautioned that these numbers include enquiries which may not be linked to a pay issue. He also said that some cases are of a complex nature. If a Phoenix solution has not been introduced, that case will remain active. He said that we are still having difficulties with certain pay transactions including transfers in, transfers out, and overpayments. As of this date, there were 12 acting appointments that had not been processed over 30 days.
The UTE National President said the Phoenix system is broken and he has no faith in this system. He said the UTE cannot wait years for a new system. UTE is done with Phoenix. It believes there is a solution available at the CRA and he thinks it is feasible. He understood the CRA was not in a position to pay its employees, as the system was not built for that and CRA did not necessarily have the resources. He indicated that the UTE will apply pressure on the federal government by rolling out a campaign during National Public Service Week. He made it clear that this is not a campaign against CRA but rather a campaign seeking a solution to help out all members of the PSAC. He said that CRA has been using the CAS system for 20 years in which it has invested millions of dollars. CAS seems to be the solution since CRA is in a better position than other departments. He said a lot of transactions are automated, compared to Phoenix where the PSPC must complete a lot of manual transactions. He thinks that the CAS solution is feasible. The UTE will campaign to have the Federal Government give CRA the funding and resources to build this solution. The UTE will put pressure on the Federal Government to finding solutions to fix Phoenix. The UTE National President promised a respectful campaign. He formally asked the Commissioner to talk in favor of the solution if he thought it was a good idea and to maintain an open mind.
The Commissioner echoed the frustration expressed by the UTE. The CRA is contributing on the broader government level to finding a solution. The CRA wants to get to a better place. The CRA and the UTE will have points of difference on what that solution will look like. He expressed there are lots of issues and problems behind the CAS solution. He stated that CRA needed to be practical about this solution. The Agency is focused on doing the best things for its employees. There is no easy answer whether it is fixing Phoenix or designing a new system. He appreciated the advance notice provided by the UTE on the roll-out of the campaign. He said the CRA is committed to finding solutions for its employees in the short, medium and long term.
Addressing Call Centre Issues
The UTE National President thanked the Government of Canada and the Minister for allocating additional funds to the service agenda, in particular the call centres. The UTE appreciates the additional resources provided to the call centres. It continues to have the position that the CRA should offer additional complementary services, not only the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program but also other services for the clients including the counter services. Depending on the outcome of his ongoing discussions with the Commissioner and the Minister on this issue, a campaign may also be rolling out by UTE to bring back the counter services. He said the load could be reduced on the call centres if complex cases could be dealt with by the counter services. He observed that the number of employees has increased in the remaining call centres and that has had its own problems from a logistical and space perspective. While it is recognized that call centres have improved their performance, the occupancy rate of nearly 99% has UTE very preoccupied. UTE members are tired and the UTE National President expressed being worried about their well-being. While he said he respected the decision, he does not understand why CRA closed the Toronto Call Centre under the Service Renewal initiative given these observations. He asked the Agency to be open minded to open another call centre.
The Commissioner wanted to reinforce the important piece which is the new technology that is coming soon. He said it will be easier for CRA employees, better service for clients, better training for CRA employees and better monitoring of the occupancy rate. In advance of this, more resources have been allocated to help. The CRA has a call-demand strategy to take the strain off. It is trying to improve processing times which was generating a lot of calls last year. This will reduce call demands and call intensity. He also acknowledged employees have raised issues such as ways to make their lives easier. These included flexibilities to have a call go in a happier direction by giving them access to more information. He was open to different ideas.
The Assistant Commissioner, Assessment, Benefit, and Service Branch (AC, ABSB) stated that the Agency has been monitoring the occupancy rate and admitted that at times it has gone above a sustainable level. Some of the actions CRA has taken resulted in a much better performance of the call centres. Clients are getting through calls more quickly than they used to. For example, he noted a reduction in the number of individual call attempts that were as high as 7 call attempts in 2015-2016 to an average of 2.1 attempts for 2017-2018. A new “nesting and gating” training approach was also launched based on research and call centre industry standards. This helped with accuracy and also provided call agents with increased confidence with not only being provided with initial training but also the follow-up mentoring. This has been very helpful in reducing the stress on employees. He said the CRA will continue to monitor the occupancy rate to find that right balance going forward. This will be done with the additional funding and all the other initiatives to help reduce the number of calls.
On the issue of adding call centres or adding agents, the ideal would be to grow the size of the current call centres to get best practices and economies of scale. This also aligned with having better training and technology. This strategy pointed to having fewer but larger call centres.
Call Centre Modernization
The AC, ABSB started by saying that this has been a collaboration between the ABSB, the Collections and Verification Branch (CVB) and the Information Technology Branch (ITB).
With respect to the Hosted Contact Centre Solution (HCCS), he stated that Shared Services Canada (SSC) is working on a plan to address the dependencies and from what has been seen to date, the revised schedule appears to be reasonable and achievable. The migration of the two ABSB Call Centres (Business Enquiries (BE) and Individual Tax Enquiries (ITE)) is planned for in fiscal year 2018-2019.
At present, User Acceptance testing for ABSB’s BE call centres has been completed and it is waiting for SSC and IBM to address a number of outstanding defects. These defects primarily revolve around accessibility and language issues and must be addressed before the call centres migrate on to the HCCS platform. He anticipates that the agents will receive their training four weeks before the onboarding of the new technology.
The Deputy Assistant Commissioner, Collections and Verification Branch (DAC, CVB) also provided an update from a Debt Management Call Centre (DMCC) perspective.
She stated that representatives from Surrey, Shawinigan and Ottawa DMCC sites received training in Ottawa from April 23 to 27, 2018. This training provided an overview of the HCCS technology and introduced the new functionality to site champions, subject matter experts, team leaders and managers. She said that “just in time” refresher training would be provided prior to the actual implementation date.
She also stated that User Acceptance Testing is currently taking place and is progressing well with minimal defects being reported to date. All three DMCC (Surrey, Shawinigan, and Ottawa) sites are testing the web based service simultaneously. A roll out strategy is being put in place to ensure that each site will be supported upon implementation. All staff will receive the ‘just in time’ training two weeks prior to cutover and a team of experts will be available in each site for telephony, system and program support at the time of implementation.
The UTE Regional Vice-President, Montreal Region, stated that the wellness of employees and the fact that employees must spend a significant amount of time on the phones and also the variety of tasks that can be assigned to call centre agents have not been addressed. He also observed that there seems to be a contradiction between what Headquarters asks of its call centres and what is feasible to achieve. He asked about what management is doing to find a balance between performance of the call centres and the well-being of employees.
The AC, ABSB stated that the occupancy rates was carefully monitored while recognizing that this has been a demanding period, including the last tax filing period. He said that employees have provided positive feedback on their ability to provide good service. It has been his observation that employees get a lot of satisfaction in being able to service the clients well. He stated that a one-touch problem resolution process was being explored which would give employees the tools they are looking for to solve the client’s problem so they feel better about the call and their interaction with the client, and thus reducing their stress about the call.
Budget 2016 Tax Collections
The DAC, CVB provided an update.
She stated that the regions were informed that about 80% of Budget 2016 FTEs could be staffed permanently. High Risk Collections allocations required more flexibility to allow the movement of funds to where inventory was located. The 2018-2019 DMCC allocations (70 FTEs), currently all in Ottawa, are temporary and will likely be redistributed between the three call sites once HCCS has been implemented. TBS funding will increase program funding by over $15M in
2019-2020; however, this funding is for one year only; no indeterminate staffing will occur. The program is still analyzing how best to allocate these resources. She stated that a business case was submitted to the Finance and Administration Branch (FAB) to re-profile the 2019-2020 incremental funding for 252 FTEs to redistribute resources, representing 45 FTEs in 2018-2019, 138 FTEs in 2019-2020, and 69 FTEs in 2020-2021 allowing the regions to offer longer contracts to new hires and likely resulting in leveraging normal attrition to retain a larger number of these employees.
The UTE National President appreciated the update. It is good for UTE members to have a more stable workforce. Even if it is a one-time increase in funding, the terms can be extended allowing them to apply for permanent positions.
The UTE Regional Vice-President, Québec Region asked if new hires will be expected in the National Verification and Collections Centres (NVCC) or in the Tax Services Offices (TSO). The DAC stated that CVB anticipates new hires in both depending on the workload demands. While there will be an increase in FTEs in 2019-2020, normal attrition will balance the numbers in the long term. The UTE National President was pleased to hear about this term strategy. He asked management if the ratio of indeterminate to determinate staff will increase. The DAC, CVB, reiterated that the regions were advised to go ahead and staff 80% of the 2016 Budget FTEs permanently.
The Commissioner also commented on the equilibrium between indeterminate and determinate hiring. He said it is a balancing act on whether the CRA has the right one.
Enhanced Canada Pension Plan (CPP) Initiative
The DAC, CVB provided an update.
She stated that Phase 1 will run from 2019-2023 and will consist of a 2% contribution increase over this time (1% increase for employee contribution and 1% increase for employer contribution). She also stated that Phase 2 will span 2024-2025 and will consist of an 8% increase on an extended earning range above the Yearly Maximum Pensionable Earnings. She said that to reduce administrative burden to businesses, contributions will be collected in the same way they currently are. There will be no impacts on employees doing this workload. She stated that communications activities are ongoing to promote awareness of CPP enhancements, this includes a podcast for employers, a webinar for businesses and the use of social media. Internal and external communications will increase as the implementation date moves closer. A high profile communication strategy has been developed in partnership with PAB with a focus on small businesses, self-employed individuals, millennial and vulnerable populations.
Service Acceleration Officer (SAO) Pilot Project
The DAC, CVB provided an update.
She stated that each region has implemented a process that allows CVB program work to flow into the SAO inventory and the intake is limited to CVB programs. The SAO intake of workloads and Issues Management (IM) files are managed within the CVB program areas and does not overlap with the current structure in place for the Problem Resolution Program.
For the fiscal year 2017-2018 (first year), the SAO Job Competency Profile (JCP) and work description was approved in September 2017 and the first SAO position was staffed in November 2017. As of February 2018, 10 SAOs were in place with two SAOs assigned per region.
For the fiscal year 2018-2019 (year two) additional funding through Annual Resource Alignment Process increased the total number of SAOs nationally from 10 to 23.
The UTE First National Vice-President asked about the level of these jobs and if it was sunset funding. He also asked about the time period regarding the analysis of the pilot results. The DAC, CVB stated that these positions are SP-06 jobs. She stated that with trends analysis being developed, the feasibility of making the position permanent will be determined. She also stated that the analysis is being done with the collaboration of the Quebec Region.
The Chief Financial Officer and Assistant Commissioner, Finance and Administration Branch (AC, FAB and CFO) provided a briefing on this topic.
She stated that Budget 2018 was built on previous funding commitments made in 2016 and 2017. She said that Budget 2018 proposed $206 million over five years and $33.6 million in ongoing funding to be deployed in three key areas – improving telephone service; doubling the size of the Community Volunteer Income Tax Program; and, updating and modernizing the CRA’s information technology for a more user-friendly experience. With the review of CRA’s service model, it will help the Agency take a client-centred approach. Budget 2018 also proposed an additional investment of $129.3 million over five years to help prevent tax evasion and improve tax compliance and audit programs both domestically and offshore. Furthermore, $30 million in funding over five years was proposed to enhance the security measures that protect the confidentiality of the personal and financial information of taxpayers.
The UTE National President raised the matter of counter services. While the UTE did not agree with all the decisions, it does greatly appreciate the reinvestments made at the CRA. It was expecting more investments in services with CRA aiming to be a world-class organization. He said if the CRA valued Canadians as valued clients, it should strongly consider complementing the services by reintroducing the counter services. He said that cutting the counter services was an ill-advised decision made by the previous government. The UTE National President will continue to push this issue with the Minister.
The Commissioner stated that the Agency took the right decision in terms of efficiencies and the use of the offices. Going back to counters is a costly proposition and he did not believe this was the right solution. In conjunction with closing the counters, the CRA had to find ways to keep up with services being offered to clients. It increased digitization. It also needed to think about other clients with different needs.
Chief Service Officer
The Assistant Commissioner, Appeals Branch (AC, AB) provided a briefing on her role as Chief Service Officer (CSO).
She stated that her role as CSO will be to bring a renewed and integrated approach to service within the Agency in line with CRA’s objective of becoming a World-Class Tax and Benefit Administration organization. The renewed approach will be people-centric, enhancing our ability to listen and understand taxpayers’ needs, expectations and feedback and explicitly incorporating them in the design and delivery of our programs and services. She stated the work of the Service Culture initiative, led by the Assistant Commissioner, Domestic Compliance Programs Branch, over the last two years gathered foundational insights regarding employees’ perception regarding the Agency’s ability to provide good service.
She stated that employees were surveyed on service culture in 2017. The survey results demonstrated that employees have a strong desire to serve Canadians. The survey also revealed the way that the CRA conducts its business is not seen as conducive in meeting its service objectives.
She stated that as a first step, the CRA will develop a service policy framework that will articulate the Agency’s renewed vision on service, its related outcomes and principles, using a client-centric lens. It will also articulate how the various organizational levers, such as culture, will be leveraged and aligned to achieve the CRA’s renewed vision on service. To support this initiative, the CRA will be conducting public opinion research, and consulting both internally and externally with stakeholders.
She also mentioned that the goal is to go beyond the Taxpayer Bill of Rights in terms of service outcomes. The CRA will also be looking at how feedback from the client is incorporated or accounted for in the design, adaptation and modification of CRA programs and services. The Service Culture initiative will be reviewed and finalized to support the required culture shift within the Agency. The CRA will also look at other levers such as the types of training needed, as well as the impacts of performance measurements and indicators on client behaviors.
She stated that this will take time as it is a fundamental shift. There will be more to come. Employee engagement will be paramount.
The Commissioner stated that this is a very important initiative. Service is critical to the Minister and to the Agency. The CRA has done a good job on correspondence. The work on service culture targets all employees in all the areas of the Agency. Part of the effort will be listening and explaining.
The UTE Regional Vice-President, Southwestern Ontario Region, stated that he thought the focus on service was counterintuitive to not consider reopening the counter services. The Commissioner responded that he is open to exploring all ideas. If he were to be presented a good business case to bring back counter services, or a variation of this service, in an affordable manner that is not costly to Canadians, he would consider it.
The UTE National President is also open to looking at all solutions to improve services to the clients.
The UTE Regional Vice-President, Montreal Region, asked how UMA will be incorporated in this important work, and will the UTE be informed of things to come. He also commented on the push toward the web and that this is not necessarily the best strategy when reflecting on the client-service approach. The Commissioner agreed that the web is only one facet of the service spectrum, and there are other parts to consider. He said web is only one aspect and Call Centres are another one. He expects the CRA will take an overall balanced approach. He also stated that part of the work will be talking with employees and engaging the unions. The CRA is only in the beginning of determining the consultation work. The AC, AB also stated that she will need to build her team and come up with a plan on how to engage all stakeholders including the unions.
Public Service Employee Survey / Public Service Employee Annual Survey
The Assistant Commissioner PAB as the Public Service Employee Survey (PSES) Champion provided an update on this topic. He first acknowledged the work and the support of the previous PSES Champion, the Assistant Commissioner, International, Large Business and Investigations Branch (AC, ILBIB) through the transition as he took over as PSES Champion. He also acknowledged the contributions of the UTE First National Vice-President on the National Steering Committee (NSC).
He stated that CRA was one of 86 departments to participate in the PSES conducted by Statistics Canada, on behalf of TBS, from August 21, 2017 to September 29, 2017. The survey contained 119 questions with themes that included compensation, employee engagement, the workplace, the workforce, leadership, and well-being. The CRA-level results were released on March 29, 2018 and the results at the branch, region, and lower organizational levels were released on April 27, 2018.
He stated CRA’s participation rate of 68.8% exceeded the Public Service rate of 61.3%. The response rates for both the CRA and the Public Service were significantly lower than the 2014 PSES participation rates of 82.8% and 71.4% respectively.
He provided some positive changes from the last PSES survey. He noted that three-quarters (76%) of supervisors indicated that they receive the support they need from senior management to address unsatisfactory performance issues in their work unit,
10 percentage points higher than the overall Public Service. A vast majority of the Agency employees said that they liked their work (80%), were proud of it (86%), and were aware of the impact of their contribution (84%). He also noted that 58% of employees indicated that they are satisfied with how matters related to harassment are resolved in their Agency, 8 percentage points higher than the overall Public Service (50%). However, the percentage of employees who reported having been harassed remains relatively unchanged from 2014 (15%) to 2017 (15%). Almost three-quarters (73%) of our employees feel that the CRA does a good job of raising awareness of mental health in the workplace, 6 percentage points higher than the Public Service.
He also noted a few areas where results have remained unchanged since 2008 which could signal a need for additional attention. A little bit more than half of the employees have felt that the process of selecting a person for a position within their work unit is done fairly. Around 63% of employees feel that the CRA does a good job of supporting career development. The results in all five senior management themed questions are consistently between 50% and 60%. This theme includes senior management decision making, confidence in senior management, senior management leading by example in ethical behaviour, information flowing from senior management, and senior management resolving concerns raised in the survey.
He noted that in the past, National, branch, regional, and even local office actions plans were prepared to address issues identified in the PSES. That approach is no longer feasible with the PSES now occurring annually. The new approach will involve working with HRB program areas, and Agency-level Champions and various networks.
The UTE Regional Vice-President, Québec Region, asked about the impact of the manner in which staffing processes are administered is having on employee morale. He stated that transparency is important to employees. There is currently an initiative reviewing CRA’s Staffing Program. He hopes that reflection will be given on this issue. He also stated that Service Renewal exacerbated the problem as a result of the placements that had to be made over the last 18 months. It was also mentioned that the UTE very much appreciates having two seats on the national staffing committee.
The UTE Regional Vice-President, National Capital Region, asked that the union be kept in the loop, and how the union can contribute to the action plans. The PSES Champion stated that the NSC will continue to meet periodically which will include inviting the unions to participate. Branches and Regions are also having their own meetings and bargaining agent representatives may also be invited to these meetings.
Discrimination and Harassment Centre of Expertise (DHCE)
The UTE First National Vice-President said that CRA brought in the DHCE two to three years ago and since its inception it is UTE’s opinion that it has been underfunded and understaffed. He said that this has led and continues to lead to extreme delays in the processing of harassment and discrimination complaints. He observed a correlation between the PSES survey results and the number of cases. If CRA were serious about harassment and discrimination, then proper funding should be allocated to this program. He also expressed a concern that some managers are linking workplace violence complaints to the DHCE and requiring UTE members to complete a harassment complaint form. In UTE’s view, management requires more training and education on workplace violence procedures and policy. UTE’s position is for members to use the workplace violence process instead of the employer’s harassment process. He observed that the times that UTE members have used the harassment process have a low success rate. He alleged that when UTE members use the workplace violence process, they are bullied for doing so. He mentioned a disturbing case that was referred to the National Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) Office and it is currently being looked into. He also mentioned receiving complaints from his National Steering Committee (NSC) about how disrespectful all levels of management, from Assistant Commissioners to Directors to middle management, have been towards the union and UTE members when it comes to workplace violence. He said that these will be raised at the next National Health and Safety Policy Committee (NHSPC) meeting. He also alleges misinformation is being communicated by management, OHS officers and Human Resources staff. He said that the NHSPC worked very hard for over two years to have an agreement on procedures that was acceptable to both parties. The lack of respect shown to the union is simply unacceptable, in particular on the heels of the recommitment of the parties to UMA.
The UTE National President expressed that these complaints are disturbing and it is a serious matter. He said he only became aware of these disturbing issues this week during the NSC meeting. He expressed that some lower level managers do not seem to understand the message of renewed collaboration between the parties. In future, he will endeavor to provide advance notice to the employer on new information as it becomes available.
With respect to the comments on workplace violence, the Commissioner expressed concern over hearing these comments for the first time. This is not what he expects from staff and management at all levels at the Agency. He committed to looking into this issue. His clear message was that both union and management parties treat each other with respect, even when they disagree on something. With respect to the DHCE, he recognized that timeliness was an issue. Some corrective measures have already been taken to address this issue. The CRA is anxious that its policies, procedures and resources are adequate to deal with the issue of discrimination and harassment. The CRA will continue to look at ways to improving.
The AC, HRB, provided a briefing on harassment and discrimination.
He acknowledged UTE’s concerns regarding the delays in addressing harassment complaints by the DHCE. Enhancing the capacity in the DHCE has been one of his priorities. He initiated the shift of resources in the DHCE and as of this date, its initial capacity has tripled. He also submitted a funding proposal to stabilize it further.
With more resources and a reorganization of work processes, a work disposal plan was implemented to eliminate the back log in files. He reported that the inventory of files has been reduced to 11 active files received in the fourth quarter of 2017-2018 and 16 active files received the first quarter of 2018-2019. He was happy to say that the DHCE was on track to start the summer without a backlog in files.
Having the appropriate capacity in the DHCE is one of many elements that will contribute to a timely resolution process. This is why these efforts also included the development of an action plan, on which the unions had the opportunity to provide comments in February 2018, to address the other elements that required enhancements.
He was happy to report that progress was made on many of them. For instance, the service level agreement with PAB to improve timeliness of the vetting process is in the last stages of being finalized. Work is progressing on updating the allegations form. The updated version which incorporates feedback from the unions is being finalized. He also stated that a template letter intended to promote the use of Informal Conflict Resolution (ICR) before, during, and after allegations of discrimination or harassment have been filed is in development. The intent is to include specific instructions regarding consultations with ICR, in an effort to restore the workplace by addressing any ongoing conflict within their teams. The action plan also includes outreach to employees and managers, as part of the DHCE’s mandate to provide neutral third party advice to both parties.
The AC, HRB will keep UTE updated on the progress of this action plan at future meetings.The UTE First National Vice-President requested the statistics on complaints that have been concluded and in particular those complaints that have been founded. The AC, HRB responded that the statistics will be made available to the UTE. He also advised that none of the complaints were founded. He also mentioned that there were 33 files involving individuals that were not available to participate in the process at this time. The UTE First National Vice-President asked how long these files have been in abeyance. The AC, HRB committed to making the information about how long files have been active or in abeyance following the meeting.
The Commissioner reiterated that all parties had a joint objective in addressing harassment and discrimination. It is important that the cases that are submitted to the DHCE have a basis and we deal with them appropriately. On the matter of not raising workplace violence prior to the meeting, the Commissioner, while he appreciates being provided with an understanding of what will be discussed ahead of time in order to come prepared, he nonetheless appreciates the important issues being raised.
Delays in addressing Access to Information and Privacy (ATIP) Requests
The UTE National President was happy with the outcome of the meeting held on June 1, 2018, with the Assistant Commissioner, Public Affairs Branch and Chief Privacy Officer. He said he was provided with information electronically that will be shared with the rest of the National Steering Committee. He noted there was a big improvement when funding was provided for the overtime. He understands that analysis is being done and recognizes that other stakeholders are involved. He appreciates the open door concept. He appreciates that a follow-up will take place on the staffing processes issue.
The Assistant Commissioner, Public Affairs Branch and Chief Privacy Officer responded to the concerns brought forward.
He said that the CRA is not exactly where it should be on complying with the legislation. He was proud of the work that has been done in the last 1.5 years. He also stated that he is finalizing his annual report. He said that according to the annual report published by the Privacy Commissioner, the CRA is no longer number 1 in terms of complaints received. He expects this is in large part due to his staff, who are UTE members, and also the stakeholders involved in the ATIP process.
In 2017-2018 the CRA closed more requests than it ever has in history, with 6,593 closed. In addition to closing more requests than received, the CRA has also improved its compliance rate with 86% of requests completed within legislative timeframes compared to 69% in fiscal year 2016-2017.
He stated that through an inventory reduction plan, the CRA has implemented a number of workload efficiency solutions in the past two years to improve response times. These include the implementation of lean process improvements; reduction of the backlog and carry-forward; and the promotion of informal disclosure.
As next steps, he stated that a priority for the CRA is to continue to reduce its backlog and carry-forward. He is open to meeting with HRB and UTE to look at better managing requests on informal disclosure.
The Commissioner indicated he met with the new Privacy Commissioner, who seems to be open to ideas to make things better, and how to work together to overcome some of the obstacles. He recognized that more needs to be done on the lean processes, and the CRA was looking at who should benefit from those resources. He takes this statutory responsibility seriously.
The UTE National President thanked management for these open and frank discussions, and noted the improving working relationship between the parties. He observed that management is always prepared for the meeting and appreciates that the parties can address a lot of issues informally to then report at the committee on how well the parties are doing.
The Commissioner appreciated the constructive discussions at this meeting. He also thanked the parties for their participation.