BETWEEN THE UNION OF TAXATION EMPLOYEES (UTE) AND THE CANADA REVENUE AGENCY (CRA)
Mr. Bob Campbell, National President, Union of Taxation Employees (UTE) chaired the meeting and began by welcoming everyone. He then invited Mr. Rob Wright, interim Commissioner of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), to make his opening remarks.
Mr. Wright was honored to be the CRA’s Commissioner once again, albeit on a short term basis, and was eager to see how the Agency had progressed. He drew attention to the issues that were a priority for the CRA, those being, the safety and security of employees, addressing and resolving the ongoing harassment of, and threats to, CRA employees, the Cost Containment Plan, the Deficit Reduction Action Plan, Shared Services Canada, and the British Columbia Harmonized Sales Tax Program. In addition, the Commissioner was also focused on the integrity of the Agency’s workforce and programs. He took the opportunity to thank UTE for sending a very thoughtful letter regarding the integrity of its members to the Minister and stated that this action had already had some positive impacts.
The Commissioner was pleased to note that the good working relationship between the CRA and UTE had been maintained. He reassured the Union that the Agency continued to be committed to keeping UTE engaged now more than ever given the upcoming challenges. He also stressed the importance of UTE and the CRA maximizing the Agency’s status and working together on strategies so that the workforce would continue to excel, be innovative, and enhance productivity.
The National President appreciated the Commissioner’s comments and stated that he believed in the National Union-Management Consultation Committee (NUMCC) process and was pleased to continue the good relationship with the Agency. On that note, he mentioned that it was important to keep the lines of communication open given that there had been a few instances recently where UTE received information from the field rather than directly from the Agency.
The Union went on to state that it would not agree to negotiate employee severance with the Employer; therefore, the next round of collective bargaining would likely prove to be a much more difficult process.
Lastly, UTE expressed disappointment on behalf of its members regarding the recent reduction of the Long Service Award (LSA) Program. This announcement had created a great deal of distress among its members and did not convey the proper appreciation for the workforce.
The Commissioner took note of the Union’s message regarding the changes to the LSA Program.
On the issue of collective bargaining, the Commissioner clearly articulated that as a result of the various economic challenges being faced by the Agency, the issue of severance would need to be part of any future negotiations with the CRA. That said, both the CRA and the Union had proven in the past that by working together many things could be accomplished.
Recently appointed to the Agency, Mr. Bill Jones, the Deputy Commissioner took the opportunity to introduce himself. He highlighted the importance of ongoing communication between Management and the Union, specifically, that both parties do their best to keep each other informed.
Given the number of new Committee members, the acting Assistant Commissioner, Human Resources Branch took the opportunity to remind everyone that the NUMCC forum allowed the participants to take stock of the progress made; however, it was the work and consultation occurring in between the NUMCC meetings that created the foundation for a solid working relationship.
Since the last NUMCC meeting, the Union and Management had 50 ad hoc meetings, covering a diverse range of issues, including Workforce Adjustment, Technological Change, GST/HST Rulings 2012 and Beyond, Employment Equity and the Employee Assistance Program. Management was also pleased to note that UTE had accepted the CRA’s invitation to participate as a member of the Public Service Employee Survey Steering Committee.
In conclusion, Management took the opportunity to recognize the dedication of CRA employees to improve their communities through their support of the Government of Canada Workplace Charitable Campaign.
SUPPRESSION OF PAY STUBS
Management stated that the Compensation Web Application (CWA) was only accessible to public service employees who were connected through their departmental intranet. This was to ensure that access to individual employee pay information was secure and protected.
The CRA had approached Public Works and Government Services Canada (PWGSC) on several occasions to enquire about their plans to make the CWA accessible via the internet thus allowing employees to access these tools from home. Management also asked PWGSC to review and explore other practical and cost-effective options to improve accessibility of employee pay information in the short term.
PWGSC advised the CRA that amendments to the CWA would require significant changes to the existing systems to ensure the security of personal information and general application on a public service wide basis. Futhermore, system changes to extend CWA’s accessibility were not being contemplated given other immediate priorities relating to pay modernization and its plans to update the aging pay systems and approaches to pay administration to meet its future needs.
Management expected that the current CWA application would be reviewed within the scope of the pay modernization initiative; however, the CRA would continue to pursue discussions with PWGSC to further explore options to improve accessibility. The Union would be kept apprised of any further developments.
The Union appreciated the follow-up conducted by the Agency, as well as the commitment to keep UTE informed.
PUBLIC SERVICE PENSION CENTRE
The Union stated that in response to the concerns that were raised at the September 29, 2011, UTE’s President’s Conference, the Assistant Commissioner, Human Resources Branch requested that UTE bring forward any problem files regarding pensions or buying back of service, to the CRA.
Management explained that the specific employee accounts raised by UTE were referred to the Director General of the Public Service Pension Centre (PSPC) for review and action. The Pension Centre then contacted each employee directly and provided a status update on their individual files. In order to ensure that CRA employees were being properly served and had complete information as to the status of their pension accounts, staff should first exhaust the PSPC “complaint escalation” procedures. This process was recently shared with the Union.
Management also stated that while it would respect the protocols set out by the PSPC, it would also monitor the situation and keep the lines of communication open with the Union.
UTE appreciated the CRA’s assistance in this matter and stated that it had shared the procedure for PSPC enquiries with its regional and local Executives.
PROVINCIAL SALES TAX ADMINISTRATION REFORM – BRITISH COLUMBIA HARMONIZED SALES TAX
Management stated that further to the agreement with the Province of British Columbia, the Agency had been administering the Province’s HST since July 1, 2010. In accordance with the Human Resources Agreement (HRA) negotiated between the CRA and the BC Ministry of Finance, the Agency agreed to offer employment for up to 311 provincial employees impacted by this initiative. Of the four waves of provincial employees that were scheduled to transfer to the CRA, two waves involving 133 employees (58 of which were UTE members) had been successfully onboarded. Furthermore, a decision had been made to stop the third and fourth wave of employee transfers given the results of the August 2011 HST BC referendum. The Union was notified earlier today of the suspension to issue the Wave 4 letters of offer.
Management recognized that it would take significant time and effort to transition back to the GST; however, until such time as the Province returned to the PST and GST, the CRA was required to continue to administer the HST. During this time, the Agency, the Department of Finance and the Government of B.C. would be working to identify the administrative steps and processes required to facilitate the Province’s transition out of the HST. Human resources matters would also be part of the discussions.
Management was aware that the uncertainty of the situation would affect employees, especially those in the Pacific Region; however, it was premature at this time to speculate how the transition would roll out. That being said, the Agency had begun to look at internal business impacts, as well as the necessary systems changes required.
Further to the Union’s question, the CRA stated that discussions with the province were ongoing; however, there was not a great deal of concrete information available. Management recognized and respected its obligations to employees, as well as to the Union; therefore, should the CRA become aware of new information regarding the return to GST in BC, UTE would be kept informed.
DEFICIT REDUCTION ACTION PLAN
Management clarified that the Agency’s deficit reduction action plan is the same initiative that was also referred to as the Strategic and Operating Review (SOR).
As per the Budget 2011, approximately $80 billion of direct government program spending would be reviewed with the objective of achieving at least $4 billion in ongoing savings to help reduce the deficit. Similar to other government departments, the CRA’s objective was to use business transformation and increased technology to generate cost savings options equal to 5% ($182M) and 10% ($364M) of its approved Operating and Contributions base budget of $3,641M. These savings options were over and above the internal reallocations under the Cost Containment Plan.
In addition, the review exercise focused on generating savings from operating expenses and improving productivity, while also examining the relevance and effectiveness of programs; this would replace the next cycle of strategic reviews. While Management was not in a position to share details of the plans, due to Budget secrecy, it noted that the Agency was focusing on transformational proposals. The CRA’s deficit reduction action plan proposals were presented to the Strategic Operational Review Committee in early November and the approved proposals would be announced in the 2012 Federal Budget.
The Human Resources Branch and the Finance and Administration Branch had been working hard to determine where the human resources impacts would be and how they could be managed. A preliminary Human Resources Impact Analysis (HRIA) had been conducted but Management recognized that the HRIA would require adjustments once budget decisions had been made. Management committed to sharing information with UTE whenever possible.
The Deputy Commissioner stressed that given the early stages of the process, no decisions had yet been made. That being said, it was very important for the Unions and Management to maintain direct and open lines of communication. This ongoing dialogue would serve to clarify issues, prevent confusion, and suppress rumors in the workplace.
The National President agreed with the CRA and reaffirmed that the sooner information was made available the better for everyone concerned.
COST CONTAINMENT PLAN
Management stated that in order to address the unfunded operating pressures that had resulted from the Government’s cost containment measures in the Budget 2010, the Agency undertook a targeted internal review, which led to the Agency’s Cost Containment Plan (CCP). In order to achieve the Plan, Program Functions and the Support Branches identified efficiency opportunities equalling 4% and 8% of their operating budgets. As part of the CCP, the Agency reallocated approximately $70M in 2011-2012 and $135M in 2012-2013.
While the Agency’s goal was to minimize and mitigate the CCP pressures with the least amount of impact on core programs and employees, Workforce Adjustment (WFA) situations had occurred. Out of the 20 CCP related initiatives, two of the initiatives had been withdrawn due to attrition and term employment. In addition, 191 indeterminate employees (97 of which were UTE members) would receive or had received a WFA letter. Of those employees, 74 would retain their substantive position and the remaining 117 employees would receive a Guarantee of a Reasonable Job Offer (GRJO). Where needed, retention exercises were underway to determine who would remain in their substantive positions. Management mentioned that the number may fluctuate due to attrition and acceptance for relocations. The remaining notifications were expected by the end of December 2011 or early in the new year.
As per the CRA’s commitment to the National WFA Committee, WFA Committees had been established in all the regions.
Management then went on to state that the Staffing Management Plan (SMP) remained in place and continued to provide CRA-wide oversight of internal, external, and interdepartmental staffing, in order to minimize the impact of CCP on employees. The SMP had allowed the Agency to strategically recruit in certain areas while continuing to rely on term employees in others. Management stated that while the number of permanent appointments had decreased, the number of acting assignments had increased. Staffing actions would continue to be monitored and, if required, changes could be made to the SMP.
On another note, the moratorium on the administrative conversion of term employees to permanent status (term moratorium) continued to be discussed. Management would monitor the overall situation and would engage the Union in discussions once more concrete information became available.
The Agency valued its employees and recognized that the success of the organization was the result of the knowledge, competencies and commitment of the workforce. The CRA’s history of effectively managing business changes along with the current Staffing Management Plan had equipped the Agency to handle the changes ahead.
STAFFING POLICY SIMPLIFICATION PROJECT
The Union stated that while they were willing to continue working with the Agency, they expressed concern regarding the scope of the Staffing Policy Simplification Project as it appeared to be a brand new staffing regime, not just a simple consolidation and simplification of the policy documents. In addition, managers would be provided with an increased flexibility for staffing matters, the timeframes were extremely tight for the completion of the project, there was a lack of true consultation and the Recourse Working Group was not part of the project.
UTE recommended that the CRA take its time to properly work on this venture, and at the same time, postpone the Recourse Working Group.
Management acknowledged the Union’s concerns and appreciated the good points raised; however, it was important to note that this project was not a complete overhaul of the current staffing policy documents. Opportunities were being identified to improve the staffing process and Management was looking at implementing a clear oversight and monitoring role to support the effective implementation of the policy documents. The review and analysis of the feedback from stakeholders was expected to begin in December 2011, with updates to the staffing documents as required. The approval process was expected to take place throughout the spring and summer, with training and education beginning in fall 2012.
Management mentioned that there was still a great deal of work to be done and they welcomed the Union’s involvement, as well as their ideas for improvement as the project evolved.
In conclusion, the Deputy Commissioner recommended scheduling a meeting with UTE to further discuss the matter of meaningful consultation.
SHARED SERVICES CANADA
The Union took the opportunity to articulate its displeasure in the handling of the Shared Services Canada (SSC) initiative. UTE stated that most of the information it received came from the field and not from the Employer. They also mentioned that Management had not followed established protocol and informed the National Union of the status of the SSC prior to advising employees, nor were the commitments made at various meetings with the CRA met, which was extremely frustrating for the Union and its members.
Management recognized the Union’s concerns and the challenges that the SSC initiative had created. As the SSC was not driven by the CRA, it had been difficult to obtain information on a timely basis. For example, the list of employees moving to Shared Services Canada had not been ready to share with the Union until recently. The SSC list included approximately 600 employees, mostly from the Information Technology Branch; however, 70 individuals were from corporate support services. On that note, Management would be meeting with UTE on December 13 to share the list of employees, as well as provide some additional information.
Management agreed that the communication regarding SSC had been a struggle; therefore, it was important to learn from this experience for future endeavours.
CONFLICT RESOLUTION TRAINING
Management stated that the Conflict Resolution Conversations – Part 1 (CRC 1) was currently being provided according to the delivery model based on union affiliation. Early reports from the regions indicated that this approach appeared to be going well.
Management went on to mention that the final draft of the overview presentation on conflict resolution options, titled “Resolving Conflict at Work: What you Need to Know”, was presented and well received at the December National Conflict Resolution Committee meeting. The presentation had been designed to meet the needs of employees by providing them with the basic knowledge of their conflict resolution options, as well as outlining the Agency’s own expectations in terms their behaviour in the workplace. The next steps would involve a pilot followed by the roll out and promotion of this product.
Management took the opportunity to congratulate the National Conflict Resolution Committee members as this product provided a concrete example of the joint commitment of both parties to conflict resolution within the Agency.
The Union was pleased with the progress made with the conflict resolution program since the last meeting, as well as the Committee’s decision to hold the next pilot in French in the Quebec Region. UTE also wanted to acknowledge the good work and dedication of the individuals working on this Committee.
The Union was of the view that changing the name from Union-Management Initiative (UMI) to Union-Management Approach (UMA) provided a good start to revitalizing union-management relations. UTE went on to mention that it was important for joint local/regional committees to be established, if not already done so and to be actively working to promote UMA. The significance of the Union-Management Approach needed to be reinforced and consistently delivered across the country by all the Assistant Commissioners, as well as the Regional
Management took the opportunity to acknowledge the National UMI Steering Committee for the good work done with respect to the sustainability of the Union-Management Initiative, namely; the re-naming of UMI to UMA, and the updating of the existing UMI training material. The training material known as the UMA Foundation Training Workshop, would apply to both natural work teams and individuals new to the organization. The training would form the basis of the Union-Management Approach framework, which would also include components for evaluation of the relationship and for ongoing relationship building. Management stated that a pilot had been held in November with positive results.
Management reaffirmed that the Commissioner would re-commit to the Union-Management Philosophy in the New Year.
Both parties were pleased to note that the Agency was going in the right direction with the creation of UMA.
The National President stated that while the Union was willing to work with the Agency during the next round of collective bargaining, it was important that the CRA negotiating team had a mandate and full authority to make decisions on behalf of the Employer. The next round of bargaining would prove to be more difficult given the inclusion of the severance issue. It may just be one of those times where the CRA and UTE agree to disagree.
While collective bargaining was a sensitive and complex process, the Union was optimistic that the Agency would recognize the dedication and hard work of its employees. The Union then mentioned that both parties would exchange the names of their negotiating teams at a later date.
Management replied that the Agency had been pleased with how the previous two rounds of collective bargaining had unfolded and were confident that both parties would be able to establish the same expeditious and cooperative process for the next round.
On that note, Management stated that it was premature to begin discussions on collective bargaining. However, the Agency was analyzing current negotiation developments in the core public administration, as well as other separate agencies in order to prepare for the next round of negotiations. Furthermore, in light of the federal government’s cost containment and fiscal restraint initiatives, it was hopeful that the Agency and UTE would be able to maintain and foster their solid working relationship throughout the bargaining process.
The Deputy Commissioner expressed his appreciation for the good work conducted throughout the CRA. He also took the opportunity to reiterate the importance of ongoing dialogue and consultations during this challenging time.
The National President thanked everyone for their participation at the meeting. He stated that while it was not always possible to agree on all the issues, UTE would continue to work together with the Agency.
Both parties wished everyone a safe and happy holiday season.
Original signed by
Original signed by
Date: April 30, 2012
Date: April 4, 2012