OTTAWA, Sept. 15, 2011 /CNW/ - More than five years since the coming
into force of the Public Service Modernization Act, the legislation has
failed to provide for a fairer and more accountable staffing process in
the federal government, and fails to balance the political rights of
workers with the need for an impartial public service, said the Public
Service Alliance of Canada in a report released today.
Merit-based hiring has been severely weakened by the Act and
accountability for unfair or biased staffing processes has
deteriorated. Also, the Act has opened the door to stringent and
unnecessary restrictions on the political rights of public service
workers by the Public Service Commission.
In the 29-page report, PSAC outlines how the legislative changes that
came as a result of the passing of the Public Service Modernization Act
(PSMA) have failed to achieve the objectives of improving working
relations in the federal government and ensuring better and more
efficient services to Canadians.
"The public service cannot serve the interests of Canada, or promote the
constitutional goal of peace, order and good government, by unduly
curtailing the constitutional rights of its own workers," said John
Gordon, National President of PSAC. "The legitimate interest of the
public in an impartial public service must be balanced against the
political rights of workers."
The PSMA brought about changes to two key pieces of legislation which
provide the framework for staffing and labour relations in the federal
public service: the Public Service Employment Act and the Public
Service Labour Relations Act.
One of the main problems with the changes to the PSEA is the new
definition of merit in hiring public service employees. The new
definition of merit allows the criteria through which merit is
determined to include present and future needs. This definition
creates tremendous latitude to establish criteria for selection for
which there can be no accountability, as future needs are entirely
"Canadians rightly expect that when the government hires in the public
service, the most qualified candidate amongst a pool of qualified
candidates will get the job," said Gordon. "The new legislation's
definition of merit in hiring actually contradicts the principles of
excellence and accountability that Canadians expect, and opens the door
to favouritism and partisan appointments."
The Public Service Staffing Tribunal set up to investigate cases of
abuse in hiring has issued less than 20 decisions in which it has
accepted the allegations which have been put before it with regard to
abuse of authority and other matters falling within its statutory
mandate. Worse, the new legislation eliminates independent third party
review of errors, irregularities and omissions in the selection
process. In some cases, deputy heads of departments have assumed
responsibility for investigation processes even where they themselves
are personally implicated.
"In the absence of real accountability for botched staffing actions,
hiring in the public service is becoming looser and in some cases,
slip-shod" said Gordon. "We are on the cusp of a culture shift in
public service staffing - less accountability will inevitably mean more
PSAC is also concerned that notwithstanding the Supreme Court's striking
down of prior restrictions on political activities for public service
workers, the Public Service Commission is attempting to exceed its
authority under the Act to monitor and restrict all political and
"advocacy" work of public service workers. The Commission is also
considering monitoring Facebook and other social networking sites for
what it considers to be potentially partisan activity by public service
workers. This is an unjustifiable intrusion into the private lives of
government employees which will stifle political expression and
undermine the democratic rights of workers.
Changes to the PSLRA, the labour relations framework for the federal
public service, have failed to improve long standing problems.
Meaningful consultation and effective joint resolution of labour
relations issues have not improved since the legislation was enacted.
Alternative dispute resolution mechanisms such as the ones provided by
the Public Service Labour Relations Board's mediation services have
been very useful in avoiding the further escalation of disputes in
certain instances. Unfortunately, mediation has not been taken
seriously by many departments, which has exacerbated labour relations
across the federal government. PSAC would like to see the Board take a
pro-active role in managing mediation processes including the
expectations of the parties prior to mediation to ensure that the
individuals attending have the delegated authority to settle disputes.
The report also outlines concerns related to essential service
agreements, which must ensure a balance is struck between ensuring the
safety of the Canadian public and respect for the rights of union
members to strike.
"The raison d'être of the Public Service Modernization Act was to
improve working relations and produce a better work environment in the
federal public service," said Gordon. "After more than five years
under the new legislation, it is clear that it has failed to produce
its stated objective."
PSAC is calling on the federal government to consider its
recommendations as it proceeds with its statutory review of the PSMA.
For further information:
Shelina Merani, PSAC Communications, 613-293-9324 (mobile)
Alain Cossette, PSAC Communications, 613-293-9210 (mobile)