LOUIS LANG on vindictive moves against public sector workers
Collective bargaining for more than 100,000 employees of the federal public service, represented by the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), and the employer, the Treasury Board, have been underway for several months. On September 10, Treasury Board negotiators tabled a proposal that would gut the sick leave provisions for these workers. This proposal comes in addition to other changes it has proposed including privatizing management of sick leave.
The Treasury Board is proposing to slash sick leave benefits from 15 days per year to five days as part of establishing a new Short Term Disability Plan (STDP) which would exist outside the “Collective Agreement.” The new plan would eliminate the right of workers to accumulate sick leave benefits and any current accumulated sick leave credits would be wiped off the books. For public sector workers this means that $5.2 billion of earned credits would be absconded with by the Conservative government.
The new STDP would also impose an unpaid seven “calendar day” waiting period before workers are eligible to apply for benefits. The new STDP would only provide a maximum of 26-weeks coverage. The first four weeks of STDP benefits would be paid at 100 per cent and the remaining period at 70 per cent.
Treasury Board President Tony Clement has stated that the government wants to implement the STDP by September 2016. He has said nothing yet about the intention to privatize the management of the plan and the cost involved.
In addition to PSAC, negotiations are taking place with 16 other unions in the federal public service and all the unions have signed a solidarity pact to present a common front on the issue of sick leave benefits.
The hypocrisy of the Harper Conservatives is clearly seen in these negotiations as Tony Clement is blaming the union for this attack on workers’ rights. He publicly stated that because “the unions categorically rejected” his offer for consultation, “the Treasury Board was forced back to the drawing board,” to draft its own proposal without its input.
What Mr. Clement is saying is that because PSAC demanded that all issues regarding working conditions and benefits be discussed at the negotiating table, which is its right by law, and because PSAC refused to voluntarily participate in the gutting of its own collective agreement, it needed to be punished. According to Clement this justifies the vindictive and vicious attack on the rights of public sector workers, that surpasses even the measures imposed on postal workers a couple of years ago.
PSAC and the other unions representing federal public sector workers are fully justified in refusing to give up the right to sick leave benefits which was won on the basis of past workers’ struggles. In the late ’60s and early ’70s, when federal workers won the right to collective bargaining, including the right to strike, the right to sick leave benefits of 15 days per year was included in all collective agreements signed by the Treasury Board. This meant that the federal government recognized its responsibility to maintain the wages of workers who were unable to work due to illness and the workers gave up a significant portion of their hourly wages in return for the right to sick leave benefits.
It is difficult to make accurate calculations but it is a fact that over the past 40 or more years, workers have given up hundreds of billions of dollars of wages to maintain sick leave benefits. It is this arrangement that the Harper Conservatives want to wipe out with the stroke of a pen. No amount of lies by Mr. Clement when he accuses workers of “abusing sick leave” and how this is creating a “financial burden for the government and tax payers,” can justify the actions of this government which is intent on attacking workers» rights to a decent livelihood while billions of dollars are channelled into the coffers of monopoly corporations to guarantee their profits.
The Harper government’s attack on public sector workers’ and their right to sick leave is an attack on the rights and working conditions of all and on the public services these workers provide. The neo-liberal notion that workers and their working conditions are a cost to the society must be rejected — it is the workers who create society’s wealth and who should have first claim on it. These workers must be defended as part of defending the public services that all Canadians require for a modern society.
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1. See previous article on STDP, “The Fight of Public Servants to Defend Their Rights,” Louis Lang, Workers’ Forum Online, September 8, 2014.