|DATE: June 20, 2023
|BRANCH: ABSB and CVB
|LOCATION/FORMAT: Hybrid – In person 395 Terminal Ave, Room 5-27
SUMMARY OF DISCUSSIONS:
The Union Committee Co-chair opened the meeting by welcoming all attendees and shared his gratefulness for being able to meet in person. He then mentioned that there will be a lot of work to be done following the signature of the new collective agreement as it contains many elements that are of great concern for the Union. The Union’s priority is to take care of the employees in the contact centres.
The Management Committee Co-chair also shared his appreciation for being able to meet in person as it allows for more honest discussions. He also shared concerns about the upcoming signing of the new collective agreement and the possible challenges with the implementation of certain article directly related to the Contact Centre. He stated that throughout this process, it is important for management and the Union to have employees best interest at heart.
Update on Article 60.01 of the Collective Agreement
Kira Sherry shared a presentation on the subject with the Union. She also indicated that when the committee last met, management shared details about the amount of agents taking advantage of the 5 minute break was lower than expected. Since then, management has sent a reminder to all employees to use it. It is still too early in the process to again run the numbers. Management is expecting to do so for the next Contact Centre Committee meeting. Kira has committed to share updated stats on the usage of the 5 minute break at the next meeting.
Question from Union (Eddy): We have heard that employees in CVB are not allowed to use the 5 minute break, is this true?
Response from Management (Charly): We have not heard concerns from employees about this and employees should have been told about this entitlement.
Question from Union (Eddy): A mentioned in the last Committee meeting, the Unions’ issue regarding the usage of the 5 minute break, is that agents working on the online chat platform are not allowed to use it and we disagree with this decision. The Unions’ interpretation of the collective agreement is that they are still interacting with Canadians and we think they should therefore be allowed to use this time off. When the collective agreement was written, online chat platform was not being used therefore it has never been included or excluded in the collective agreement. The use of a new technology to respond to Canadians should be interpreted in a similar way to the technology mentioned in the agreement (phone).
Response from Management (Michael): The Collective Agreement is very specific to phone calls. Receiving constant calls is hard on agents and this was the issue that the Collective Agreement was designed to alleviate. The Online Chat platform does not create the same amount of pressure on Contact Centre agents. Management understands the Union concerns and maybe this can be reworded in the next Collective Agreement to include the online chat platform, for now our application of the agreement is in concordance to what is written.
Additional comments from Union: This decision is not for the best interest of our Contact Centre agents and does not follow the statement shared earlier that Management has employees at heart. If we find ourselves in a disagreement, should we be telling our agents to file grievances? Management is bringing new technologies that did not exist when the agreement was negotiated so you’re neglecting other articles of the collective agreement.
Response from Management: It is not our intention to push for grievances but rather to properly apply the Collective Agreement as written. Additionally, we think that agents are pleased to be given the opportunity to be working on the online chat platform and have time off the phones.
WFM Shift Biding Hamilton pilot update
Management stated that this pilot project has not yet started due to technology issues which delayed the anticipated launch date.
Comment from Union (Brian): The Union would like to discuss technicalities of the Shift Biding tool but we will keep them for the next Committee meeting.
Comment from Union (Eddy): Asking Frank what his perspective is on CRA’s people first mentality, coming from the private sector.
Response from Management (Frank): To me performance and people first mentality go hand to hand. I recognize that working in call centres is not easy. Employees responding to calls are important to me, more so than management.
Comment from Union (Eddy): There is still a second class culture that exists in the Contact Centres across the CRA as employees are not allowed to participate in social activities because they are on the phones.
Response from Management (Frank): I don’t agree with the second class reference. It is more about the limitations because of the nature of the business. We simply cannot afford to take 200 employees off the phones at the same time. We recognize that operational requirements are tougher in the Contact Centres. That being said, we can look at how to forecast and build a better system to allow flexibility when possible.
Ratio of permanent vs. contract employees in the contact centre
Management opened the topic by stating that the ratios did not change at all since last October. Management is expecting to see a difference by the next Contact Centre Committee meeting. They will present the trends in the future. Management shared their desire is to secure additional budget for permanent employees.
Comment from Union (Brian): It is unfortunate that we only have 25% permanent employees vs term employees.
Response from Management (Kira): My vision for T1 is to reach a 50-50 ratio, if possible. We are developing a concrete plan to ask for more sustainable funding for permanent employees as trained employees are valuable to the Agency. We are expecting another decrease in term employees in the fall. Employees are our platform for the accomplishment of future projects.
Question from Union (Justin): Do you have provisions for cuts?
Response from Management: Not at the moment, but we are expecting reductions in the fall. We are looking at each region and their needs. Lots of variables to be determined at the moment. Current cost analysis is underway to determine term rehire during filling season all the while considering employees point of views.
Timesheet – Statutory holiday working hours
The Union shared concerns after having been made aware, from employees in the Newfoundland region that their agents will have to work on Canada day this year. They asked Management to provide reasoning behind the decision of keeping the Contact Centres open on Canada day.
Response from Management: The decision to open Contact Centres on Saturdays was made in 2021. The decision to open for Canada day is part of the new Saturday routine as it is based on operational needs.
Comment from Union (Eddy): In Quebec, this is a problem as July 1st is moving day for many of our employees.
Question from Management: What is the alternative for the Union, other than closing?
Response from Union (Brian): We believe they should be closed. There is no demand for Contact Centres to be open as Canadians will not be calling.
Comment from Management: Calls on Saturdays have been significant.
Question from Union: Will the employee working be paid at 2.5?
Response from Management: We will look at that and follow the collective agreement.
Commitment from Management: We will identify all possible options and will get back to you shortly as the Statutory holiday is coming soon.
The union then indicated that they have not been seeing a consistent approach being used for recording overtime on timesheets from management across the regions. The recording of overtime by team leaders for periods of time worked after an employee shift is finished has been recorded differently in certain offices. There seems to be two different approaches being used for recording this time. The first approach is to allow 15 minutes of overtime only if the agents completes a full 15 minutes period. The second approach is to bank the 15 minutes worked by the agents and only report it on timesheets once the agents as collected a full hour of overtime. The Union also expressed concerns with the lack of precise requirements and procedures.
Response from Management (Michael): Management’s approach to this is pretty simple, we should apply the collective agreement as stated. We need a consistent approach throughout the country. Calls being received have increased in time and this is possibly where this problem is coming from.
Management has committed at evaluating this issue and will be providing a consistent procedure.
ICCE Project Charter Plan
Kira Sherry shared a presentation on the subject with the Union. The goal of this initiative is to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of contact centres. The elements of the presentation have not yet been implemented as they are currently being developed. Management also shared that this initiative aims to achieve consistency in the answers given by SP-04 officers across the country and therefore a better use of SP-05 (resource officers).
Question from Union (Brian): Is money coming consistently or from batches for this new project?
Response from Management (Kira): We are trying to get more permanent funding by building a well defined plan and establishing a clear model.
Question from Union (Justin): We are seeing additional funding to build better framework. Is funding also going towards acquiring resource officers (SP-05) and being able to divide Tier-1 and Tier-2?
Response from Management (Kira): We don’t have the funding yet, but we anticipate this will be a slow process in order to ensure we secure the right people for SP-05 positions.
Additional response from Management (Frank): In the past, we proceeded with seasonal hiring and we are trying to get away from that reality in the Montreal office. Our efforts are going towards building a learning path for employees to allow for cross platform functionality. Seasonal lay off of employees interrupts this learning path and creates a demand for non stop training. Management is facing budget and staffing challenges.
Comment from the Union (Brian): I agree, we train employees and then let them walk out the door. Most of them would stay and keep the benefits.
Management continued the presentation by defining the upcoming phases as follows:
- Phase 1 should be completed early July 2023 (Building the foundation).
- Phase 2 Designing the future, working on communication for agents to introduce this process. Experiment some solutions, no big bang change.
- Phase 3 Improving effectiveness
- Phase 4 Launch a culture of continuous improvement
Management specified that the dates shown during the presentation may be adjusted slightly since the presentation was prepared for last committee meeting.
Management concluded by asking the Union how they would prefer to proceed with upcoming consultations in regards to this initiative such as presenting the key elements and achievements. They asked if it would be preferable to plan regional consultations with Unions rather than national consultations. Management are engaged to consult with the Union at the right levels virtually or in person.
Question from Union (Brian): All of the phases have different timelines, what is the timeframe for all of them to be completed?
Response from Management (Kira): Approximately a year and a half.
Additional comment from Union: We would like to be consulted throughout the process. We can talk at a later time to determine how better to proceed. We would most likely meet virtually for quick updates.
Debt Management Contact Centre (DMCC) General Update
Management opened the discussion by confirming that their contact centres will not be open on Canada day this year. They then shared their interest for this meeting as it allows them to grab some of the information shared by ABSB and adjust accordingly on the CVB side. The process of recovering money in relation to the Emergency benefits is now near 75% completion. The Atlantic region has seen the opening of a new office in early May and management is satisfied with the feedback they’ve received so far. The Atlantic region offers an alternative to offices in Quebec for delivering bilingual services. Management shared that they have been meeting with managers in that region every couple of weeks to interact with new managers.
Question from Union (Brian): Is there truthfulness to us hearing that the Atlantic region will hire 1000 new FTEs (collectors)?
Response from Management (Charly): I cannot confirm that information but we have a lot of money to collect. Strategies have been put in place for the intake of those accounts as we are looking at finding ways to be more efficient. We are changing some of the rules now, using risk management. The more money we can recover on the front end of the pyramid the lesser the impact on our budget.
Management concluded the update asking the Union to share any concerns they have in the future with regards to the new Contact Centres in New-Brunswick.
Call recordings for training purposes
Management shared a presentation on this topic. They then shared that they will use call recordings for training purposes. This can help demonstrate tricks for new agents how to handle a difficult call. Being able to listen to real calls has shown better effectiveness compared to scripted call examples for learning.
Question from Union (Justin): Will it be possible to identify the agent on the call?
Response from Management: No, we will redact any personal information from the recorded calls, and alter the agent’s voice.
Question from Union (Justin): On a side note, will it be possible in a near future to use “fake SINS” for training purposes? Any way we could use them in Heron Rd?
Response from Management: We have tried numerous times in the past to develop them but we have always faced challenges. We keep encountering IT roadblocks.
Question from Union (Eddy): What differs a good from a bad call? Who determines this and what parameters are used?
Response from Management: We have quality parameters which includes 26 topics.
Question from Union (Eddy): I am not sure what the best approach is. Having 26 topics on a sheet and looking at 5 agents or looking at 5 topics and 500 agents? Isn’t having a consistent approach more beneficial?
Response from Management (Kira): I do not disagree, we continue to look at optimal options.
Generative AI Experiment
Management presented the subject and specified that CRA is still at a very early stage in its usage of artificial intelligence (AI). Management has been looking at creating a limited version of AI to assist contact centre agents researching through the different platforms and resources. An experiment will be launched for a duration of 4-5 weeks and the information collected will then be analysed. During the time agents are providing on-line chat services they will have the option to click on an AI assist button in order to obtain a suggested response and then choose to validate the response or to adjust it. Management shared the purpose of this tool, at this moment, is to help agents provide a response without going through the guides and be able to pull the information quicker. One of the main criteria for the success of this tool is the accuracy of the response received by the agents using the AI button. Management has developed an evaluation grid to test this aspect of the new system.
Question from Union (Justin): Is it answering questions or providing information for agents to be used in the chat?
Response from Management (Naureen): It is basically scanning the information in the chat to provide information to the agent.
Additional question from Union (Justin): If AI is giving a response without providing a reference, this might become an issue?
Response from Management: It is still in the agents’ control as to when to use the AI button. They can also validate the information before sending it.
Additional question from Union (Justin): If agents are provided a wrong answer by the AI button, are taxpayers being accounted for that? For example being provided a wrong filing deadline and then be penalized for it?
Response from Management (Michael): This is why we are experimenting and testing the system for accuracy. We will always look at the effectiveness of the system and ensure it is correctly utilized.
The Union Committee Co-chair thanked everyone for their in person presence. He then concluded by mentioning that he would like to see an increase in the number of permanent employees as this would be beneficial to all. Also reminded the Committee that it is important to keep the lines of communication open between the Union and Management to avoid any conflicts at the operational level.
The Management Committee Co-chair asked the Union to continue bringing facts and disruptions coming from the operational level to their attention as they arise. He concluded by mentioning the possibility of having the next Contact Centre Committee meeting in a contact centre to appreciate first hand the reality of the work. He then raised that the Montreal office would be an option.
Both parties have agreed to meet again in late October 2023.
|SUMMARY OF COMMITMENTS:
|TO BE ACTIONED BY