MEETING BETWEEN THE CANADA REVENUE AGENCY (CRA) AND
THE UNION OF TAXATION EMPLOYEES (UTE)
The Commissioner welcomed the parties to the meeting. He mentioned the changes within the ranks of senior management. He talked about the decision to merge both regions, creating a new Western Region effective April 1, 2020. A combined Western Region will further build a capacity for innovative approaches through a modernized governance structure. He also mentioned that the International, Large Business and Investigation and Domestic Compliance Programs branches have formally returned to a one-branch structure called the Compliance Programs Branch. He also talked about the service transformation activities and the different opportunities to further refine services to Canadians. He looks forward to another constructive discussion on important issues.
The UTE National President thanked everyone for attending the meeting. He recognized the importance of these discussions and exchanges of information. He thanked management for consulting on the Western Region initiative. He also mentioned that a decision would be shared with management shortly regarding the amalgation of the Employee Assistance Program and Informal Conflict Resolution committees to include the Well-being component.
Collective Bargaining Process
The UTE Second National Vice-President expressed the change in the membership’s narrative from « when are we getting a contract » to « when are we going on strike ». He hopes reaching an agreement during the Public Interest Commission (PIC) in the interest of both parties.
The UTE National President shared that the last round of bargaining was frustrating. With the interference of Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS), it makes this very difficult. He expressed his disappointment that after three years, no progress has been made. He said that the CRA has not demonstrated their willingness to allow progress. He mentioned that employees are frustrated because they see their colleagues from the AFS group with a contract while nothing is happening for them. He stated that he’s been careful of not going public with details related to the current situation.
The Commissioner expressed that both parties are frustrated with the lack of progress to date. He observed that three years without the renewal of a contract is excessively long. However, he is confident that everything is being done to make progress. He also stated that there are external factors at play which are out of everyone’s control. The Commissioner also added that he has no fear of any facts becoming public that will harm the CRA’s willingness to negotiate and its intention to make progress. In closing, he stated that the employees have the right to know that both parties have tried to make progress.
Service by Design
The Chief Service Officer (CSO) said that in September 2019, the « People First philosophy » was launched with a renewed vision of being « trusted, helpful and fair by putting people first ». New guiding principles and service identity were introduced, along with updated values definitions, and client experience approach. The « People First philosophy » takes into account the comments provided by employees during the internal engagement sessions on service. Some of these concepts were also tested with Canadians as part of public consultations. The success of the Agency’s transformation depends on how well employees understand the new philosophy and direction and are heard, throughout the transition, by management. She also said that a change management plan was developed to help employees across all branches and regions embodying the « People First philosophy » in their day-to-day work.
She stated that the second edition of the Employee Service Culture Survey was conducted in June to identify if internal perceptions of the Agency’s service culture have changed since it was last surveyed in 2017. She mentioned that significant improvements were noticed in 2019 compared to 2017, such as an increase from 50% in 2017 to 56% in 2019 in the proportion of employees who «strongly agree» that all CRA activities are supported by a culture of service excellence. While the client-centric values of employees remain very high and unchanged between 2017 and 2019, the proportion of employees who « strongly agree » that their supervisors place importance on values such as empathy has significantly increased from 42% to 64%. Another increase of more than 10 percentage points during the same period of 2017- 2019 regarding innovation and the contribution to the CRA’s culture of service excellence has been noted. These results confirm the strong support for service transformation and that employees want to be engaged and supported. She continued saying that online and in-person consultations with individuals from the general population have taken place. The areas of improvements include, but not limited to, personalized and proactive service, enhanced awareness, enhanced accessibility and keeping up with the times while leveraging emerging technologies to support service delivery, and providing good service similar to other organizations.
The CSO talked about the March and August « walk-in » study that allowed better understanding as to why clients continue to come to CRA offices for service. Knowing more about the nature of these enquiries would help identify areas for improvements so that clients are better served. To summarize the findings, the vast majority of clients were trying to address a personal tax matter, while others were trying to take care of an administrative task. Half did not try to contact the Agency before coming to a CRA office.
To support the Agency’s transformation, the CSO outlined the importance of promoting service improvements to better address the needs and expectations of Canadians. This includes the development of standardized set of tools, methodologies, and research methods to support understanding client needs, expectations, and interactions at the Agency-level. The first design jam that has been conducted was to explore how the CRA’s Candidate Profile could be made more user-centric for both external candidates and internal employees. The second design jam explored how the Disability Tax Credit (DTC) application process could be simplified for medical practitioners and DTC applicants by providing them with the right tools and information. Lastly, the third design jam will explore the simplification of the Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED) Claim Process. It has been scheduled for late November 2019. She also talked about service journeys to support understanding client needs, expectations, and interactions at the Agency-level.
The UTE National President stated that the people making a difference in improving services to Canadians are the CRA employees but also UTE members. Given the bargaining situation, the « People first philosophy » should be led by example as employees are waiting for a raise. He continued by saying that people first should include everyone even the vulnerable ones that requires a face-to-face service. The counter services are important for taxpayers and for CRA. He referenced service counters in Revenue Quebec which offers a personalized and complete service to Taxpayers in different locations. He strongly affirmed wanting the return of counter services and asked if CRA has the intention to bring a face to face service.
The Commissioner stated that he is not in a position to answer the questions as formally asked. He mentioned the budget as a limiting factor; however, a study is being undertaken to analyze different options in order to provide the best service to Canadians.
The UTE First National Vice-President mentioned that members don’t feel included in the « People first philosophy » as they think it is taxpayer oriented. He continued saying that members don’t feel valued and appreciated in their day to day work. He suggested that the people first messaging be more positive and inclusive for employees.
The Commissioner shared that he understands both UTE’s and the employee’s perspectives and he welcomed ways to improve them and make them better.
The Assistant Commissioner (AC), Assessment, Benefit and Service Branch (ABSB) stated that the Call Centre Services Directorate (CCSD) migrated its enquiries call sites to a new telephony platform in late 2018, which allows calls to be routed across the country. This is creating opportunities to explore the feasibility and efficacy of providing some call agents with the ability to work from home. To assess viability of this new practice, a telework pilot plan was developed and is being rolled-out using a phased in approach.
He stated that the pilot started on October 7, 2019. Currently, one call centre has a small group of indeterminate part-time employees working from home. The pilot is expanding to other offices in December and by the next T1 filing season; most call centres will have some semblance of a call centre team working remotely as part of a local pilot. This could potentially alleviate some real property pressures, enhance call agents’ work experience by reducing the need to travel to the workplace, and help the CRA in a better position to address times of high call volumes. Management is closely monitoring to ensure agents are receiving the resources to effectively resolve enquiries, the support needed to maintain connection with their team, and to ensure that agents are not suffering from issues relating to isolation. To that effect, agents are asked to complete routine surveys that gather information related to well-being. Teleworkers participate in team meetings via videoconference to ensure inclusion. Team Leaders also hold bi-lats via videoconference to better connect with agents and gauge well-being.
The UTE was provided with a status update at the Call Centre Committee meeting on September 23, 2019. This allowed for discussion to take place regarding any concerns before they launched the pilots. The AC, ABSB is very optimistic about these pilots and the opportunity to offer call centre agents with workplace flexibilities
The Prairies Regional Vice-president stated that with the lack of social interactions as employees migrate out of the workplace, the UTE have not had the flexibility to connect with employees and it is becoming difficult to communicate with them. An effective communication strategy is needed to allow employees to feel as much connected with the UTE as they are with employer. He asked management to consider offering flexibility in offices where the need is necessary.
The UTE National President reiterated the impact that the lack of interactions can have on the membership. He mentioned the need to have direct contact with employees and to pursue the needs to obtain personal email addresses. He is hoping that management will not make it difficult for UTE to interact with employees.
The Commissioner stated that the success of new initiatives relies on the collaboration in working on the issues together.
The Deputy Assistant Commissioner (DAC), Information Technology Branch (ITB) explained that the primary objective of the Data Security Initiative (DSI) is the protection of sensitive data. The first phase of DSI will include the ability to categorize email messages and MS Office documents in the existing software as Unclassified, Protected A, Protected B. The TITUS Classification software is the selected product that will enable CRA employees to categorize all email messages and Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents, ensuring the sensitivity of information will be properly identified. The wide-range functionalities available in the TITUS Classification software product allows us to customize it to fit our business needs. An information campaign will be rolled-out to remind employees of the current classification directives in place to get the employees comfortable with the classification of data. He indicated that a pilot with 1000 users across the country will be planned in February to help collect feedback and ensure the product is functioning the way it should. A production deployment is scheduled in June 2020. A demonstration with UTE is scheduled on December 17, 2019.
Discrimination and Harassment
The AC, HRB stated that recent meetings within the National Health and Safety Policy Committee have taken place to discuss the workplace violence prevention program as well as the upcoming changes due to Bill C-65. While awaiting the final language of the regulations related to Bill C-65, enhancements to the current workplace violence prevention program are being introduced, such as promoting supporting tools and updating resource materials. In addition, management brought forward that the National Occupational Health and Safety Section would share a model for workplace violence statistics focused on contributing factors and trends in cases. Consultation with both unions are occurring on the resolution process concerning harassment and violence prevention at work. Members will continue the discussions on the Bill C-65 project in the Fall of 2020. Workplace Relations and Compensation Directorate management held a meeting on September 4, 2019, to discuss the current context around Bill C-65, the current role of the Discrimination and Harassment Centre of Expertise as well as the future state of Bill C-65. At this meeting, the goal was to share experiences and learn about each other’s priorities. Key challenges experienced across federal departments were shared; they include the following: difficulty in accessing investigators in a timely manner; coordinating support resources to restore the workplace; confusion in roles and responsibilities; frustration from the parties involved and from management in addressing situations when there are not only multiple avenues to bring forward complaints, but overlap or potential duplications in processes. He mentioned that moving forward; the focus would be on these three key elements: 1) due process, 2) confidentiality, and 3) the right to be heard. He mentioned the importance of maintaining a continuous dialogue to ensure a collaboration in achieving the next steps of the project.
The AC, HRB continued and gave an update on some statistics related to discrimination and harassment. He said that since the inception of the Discrimination and Harassment Centre of Expertise (DHCE), the number of complaints and grievances on discrimination and harassment have progressively increased. Of note, he mentioned that in 2018-2019, 37% of cases were not accepted for investigation. Work is being completed on the definition of discrimination and harassment going forward, and emphasis will be placed on the importance of screening accurately and ensuring cases are addressed in the workplace through restoration, even if it is not discrimination or harassment. He also recognized that deadlines continue to be a constant concern.
Some of the reasons for these delays are: 1) the number of complaints and grievances that are currently pending due to being placed in abeyance, 2) employees are on sick leave, and 3) resolution discussions are in progress. The investigation process can also be very long. Indeed, formal investigations take about six months to complete, whether they are performed by an internal investigator or an external investigator. The big difference is related to the time required to get the services. In fact, it takes two to three days to identify an internal investigator while it takes five to six weeks to contract with an external contractor.
The internal DHCE investigation process currently provides the best timeframe for investigation completion. The AC, HRB reiterated the need to continuously improve the processes and adjust when barriers are identified to ensure the most streamlined process. He also understand that key issues have been raised with respect to the UTE’s role in supporting parties in the context of our current Discrimination and Harassment complaint process. He recognizes the critical role that unions play in resolving cases of discrimination and harassment in the workplace and, based on UTE’s feedback, changes were made to the resolution process and supporting tools to improve the visibility of the Union’s role. For instance, the « Submissions » form for allegations now encourages communication with unions and requests the consent of the employee to include their union representative in communications between the DHCE and the employee. The goal of this change was to provide the unions with the opportunity to be better informed and provide their members with the support they may need to respond to clarifying questions. As part of our current investigation process, the investigator will respect the right of the parties and witnesses to be accompanied by an observer, such as an employee representative, of their choosing, recognizing that the observer cannot be a witness or be directly involved in the allegations, and cannot speak on behalf of the parties or witness(es). Although observers cannot speak on behalf of the parties or witnesses, there is nothing in the process that prevents them from prompting, coaching, and encouraging parties, who may be having trouble articulating their perspective. Additional support from the observer could also include taking breaks in the process and speaking privately with the employee to counsel them.
The current provisions are transitional only and would continue to apply until such time as changes are made to align with Bill C-65.
The UTE First National Vice-President asked if there were any founded cases as determined by the DHCE.
The AC, HRB confirmed that there was a higher number of confirmed incidents.
With respect to harassment, UTE will continue to recommend that employees file a workplace violence complaint under the Canada Labour Code. He reiterated that union representatives are not observers and with the upcoming Bill C-65 legislation, they will have a right to represent employees.
The Commissioner communicated the parties’ joint interest in making progress as discrimination and harassment is not acceptable in the workplace.
The Montreal Regional Vice-President mentioned the importance of taking care of the person aside from the complaint process. He questioned the measures that are currently being taking to ensure employee well-being.
The AC, HRB stated that the DHCE is looking into a specific role in addressing conflict effectively as an important step to rebuilding a healthy work environment and to re-establishing ways to maintain employee wellness and restore positive working relationships.
Term Employee Administrative Conversion
The AC, HRB explained that reducing the timelines associated with administrative conversion from five to three years was clearly identified as an issue by unions and employees as part of Phase one of the Staffing Redesign Project. HRB quickly made this initiative a priority as part of Phase two of the project, recognizing the importance and potential impacts on employees. As a result, resources were allocated to ensure timely progress on the feasibility of reducing the timelines associated with administrative conversion. Since the initial presentation to the Agency Management Committee (AMC) in April 2019, further analysis and consultation has continued. The AC, HRB added by that meetings were held with the Integrated Project Team, which includes both national unions. Discussions were also held with numerous management tables from the various branches including those with the largest term population, namely ITB, Finance and Administration Branch, Collections and verification Branch and ABSB. Given the impacts and lasting affects of a decision of this scale, especially in light of the shifting workloads and evolving future of work, thorough analysis and evaluation is required before a decision can be taken. It was determined to be discussed at the highest management tables within the Agency. As such, on September 23, 2019, a presentation on the results was provided to the Human Resources Branch Executive Committee (BEC) and an in-depth analysis was conducted. This item was presented at the Human Resources Committee (HRC) on October 8, 2019 and at the AMC on November 6, 2019. Following the discussion with the members of the AMC, the Commissioner will continue the discussion on this initiative and will determine the best avenue. He said that he would continue to keep UTE informed of the progress of this file.
The National President, UTE commented that he appreciated the consideration given to this and is looking for a positive outcome soon. He also said that the employees deserve a conversion after three years, in order to offer the same treatment as the rest of the Federal Public Service. He also asked if CRA would respect the deadline to offer a response by the end of Q3- end of December.
The Commissioner stated that he would not meet the December deadline. He expressed the desire to make it right which can explain the extra time that is needed to discuss the feasibility.
- A status update on the term to perm conversion will be provided when available.
On behalf on everyone, the Commissioner shared his condolences marking the passing of Bob Campbell. He appreciated the frank discussions and thanked the parties for their participation.
The UTE National President thanked management for the kind words. He also appreciated the frank discussion and hopes that the New Year will bring good things.