Ottawa

Public service blast federal budget for targeting sick leave

The leaders of three federal public sector unions said the government is attacking the collective bargaining process with its federal budget plans to cut sick leave benefits, which are subject to ongoing contract negotiations.

Government expects $900M in savings this year from overhaul of sick leave program

The leaders of three federal public sector unions said the government is attacking the collective bargaining process with its federal budget plans to cut sick leave benefits, which are subject to ongoing contract negotiations.

"This is a government that is speaking out of both sides of their mouth," said Robyn Benson, head of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

"You can't on one hand say, 'Oh, we want to negotiate fairly,' but on the other hand say, 'We're really, after X amount of time, going to take away your sick leave.'"

This is a government that is speaking out of both sides of their mouth."- Robyn Benson, Public Service Alliance of Canada

The government wants to get rid of the system whereby public service employees can bank sick days and instead provide short-term disability benefits through an insurance company. Sick leave has been the subject of contentious contract negotiations for the past year.

Robyn Benson, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC).
On Tuesday, the 2015 federal budget said that if negotiations fail, it will "take the steps required to implement the changes within a reasonable timeframe." The government said the overhaul is expected to save $900 million in the coming fiscal year.

Treasury Board President Tony Clement said Wednesday that he will be fair and reasonable at future negotiations.

"The budget speech recognizes that I'm still at the table. I have been at the table dozens and dozens of meetings with the public sector unions on these issues and there are still dozens more meetings planned," he said.

"I have altered my position to be more fair. They have not altered their position. The responsibility is now on them to come to the table — not to try and rag the puck."

Sick leave benefit system is 'broken'

Sahir Khan, economist and visiting fellow at University of Ottawa, said that the government's plan to change the sick leave program is "one of the largest contributors" to achieve a $1.4-billion surplus.

Debi Daviau, head of the Professional Institute of the Public Service, said members are still feeling the sting of previous budgets.

"With an operational budget freeze still in play from last year, and over $14 billion in cuts still going through the system, the cuts have not ceased," she said. "By the end of this year, we expect to have lost 7,500 scientific and research positions." 

They clearly want a Liberal or an NDP government to negotiate with — who will roll over and accept their position.- Tony Clement, Treasury Board President 

Union leaders plan to return to their members to figure out how to best defend their bargaining rights.

Clement emphasized that the sick leave benefit system is "broken" — and must be fixed.

"They clearly want a Liberal or an NDP government to negotiate with — who will roll over and accept their position," he said. 

"I'm here for the taxpayer. I'm here also for the public servant who wants to work hard, who needs sick benefits when they are truly sick. I'm for that public servant, as well, but I'm also for accountability on behalf of the taxpayer."
 

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