We’ve received many questions from our local membership that we hope to address on this page. If you have any further questions, please see a steward or member of the executive.
1. Why aren’t we waiting for the PIC to be released before holding a strike vote?
The union has been negotiating in good faith for a new collective agreement with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) since June 2018, but CRA management has consistently refused to address our members’ concerns and has instead insisted on a range of concessions.
The PIC Report is non-binding. Holding strike votes across the country takes several weeks. If we wait to start the process of getting the votes until after the PIC report, we would be striking after the tax season. Best case scenario, the strike mandate gets the employer back to the table and ready to bargain.
UTE has made a good strategic decision to start the strike votes now instead of waiting. Giving the bargaining team a strike mandate will give them the strength they need when they head back to negotiation after the PIC is released. Members must understand that voting against a strike vote is voting in favour of the employer. If members want to avoid a strike and get a fair contract, we must give our bargaining team the power they need to get the employer to treat us with respect.
Members should be voting based on the contract being offered by the employer which is nothing less than an insult. The best way to avoid a strike is to support our bargaining team and vote in favour of a strike so that the employer knows that the membership supports the bargaining team and won’t stand for the concessions that are being offered.
2. What are the bargaining demands for call centre employees?
PSAC-UTE previously presented proposals to address key members concerns and advance new rights, including:
- Improving work-life balance through an increase in paid family-related leave, and greater access to compressed work weeks and telework.
- Limiting evening and restricting weekend work, and having management recognize years of service when there is evening and weekend work so that employees can have some say in when they work.
- Improving working conditions in call centres, including more rest breaks and more reasonable, reduced monitoring of employees by management.
- Introducing a term-roll over policy similar to those of other government departments and agencies, which provide term workers a clear path to becoming permanent.
- More specifically for call centre employees, our union is asking for the following language to be added to the collective agreement:
17.xx Call monitoring is intended to improve performance by providing guidance and feedback to the employee and shall not be used for disciplinary purposes or performance management.
58.01 Employees working in Call Centres shall be provided five (5) consecutive minutes not on a call for each hour not interrupted by a regular break or meal period.
- The union is fighting to limit the use of CCAAT to quality assessment of the call centre and not as a staffing/rehire or performance management tool. This will take a lot of stress and pressure off employees in the call centre. 5 minutes per hour off the phone and away from additional call centre duties (ie. Paperwork) will help to alleviate stress.
3. What are some of the major concessions that the employer is seeking?
PSAC-UTE has made it clear to the CRA leadership numerous times that we will not accept concessions, yet the CRA continues to come back with the same unacceptable proposals. These include:
- A reduction in the amount of vacation credits that workers can carry over each year.
- A reduction of family-related leave for term employees.
- Giving management the unilateral right to schedule all workers for shifts starting as early at 6 AM with neither union consultation nor the standard $7 per hour premium.
If these don’t seem like major concessions, we need to keep in mind that every concession is a major loss. It opens the door to concession bargaining and our rights are slowly stripped away.
We lost our severance package in our last contract and we know that if we don’t start to push back and build up our union power, sick leave and pensions will be on the table. PIPSC has already begun to lose their current sick leave provisions and the government has stated that they will be trying to move to a private insurance model for short term sick leave.
We should never be participating in concession bargaining as it is a step in the wrong direction.
4. Is the employer trying to separate some contract clauses between term and permanent employees?
The employer is proposing that our family related leave be calculated to be less time for term employees. They are proposing that this leave be pro-rated based on the contract offered. This may seem reasonable enough on the surface as we do pro-rate other leave such as vacation when an employee takes LWOP (care of family, disability, maternity) and they return to work mid-way through the fiscal year. The big difference here is that this pro-rating calculation would only apply to term employees. This is a tactic to cause a further divide between term and indeterminate employees. The employer is favouring more and more precarious work. This weakens our unions and causes members to fear reprisal for engaging in union activities since their employment is so precarious. PSAC/UTE is pushing to protect term employees and move away from precarious employment by demanding a 3-year term conversion. The employer is attempting to make work more precarious by attacking the term employees who are less likely to be actively engaged in defending their rights. Permanent employees and term employees need to stand together against 2-tiered bargaining concessions.
5. The employer is stating that the union has too many bargaining demands. Why?
The union presented several categories to attempt to streamline the process. Under these various categories, there were just over 100 sub-clauses to be reviewed. The employer is counting every sub-clause. The employer did not address any of these categories and rejected the unions bargaining demands. There has been a lot of back and for about the number of demands because there were discussions in January 2019 for each side to create their top ten priorities when heading into bargaining. The union created a few of the following categories in order to streamline the process:
- Improving work-life balance – the employer said “no”
- Term employment (specifically a 3-year conversions) – the employer refused to address this topic
- Scheduling and hours of work – the employer said “no” to our proposal and countered with controlling who worked those hours
- Wages – no offer was ever made at the bargaining table
We must keep in mind that in our last round of bargaining, we worked for over 4 years without a contract. We have now been without a contract in this round of bargaining since October 2016. The length of time that it is taking the employer to address our concerns is unacceptable and has caused a lot of issues to build up. They have been pushing for more precarious working conditions and treating employees with very little respect. As a result, there are a lot of problems that need to be addressed.
The 2007 and 2010 round of bargaining were completed before the contract expired. Our union has not changed anything about how we engage in bargaining. This long-term bargaining is a direct result of legislative changes made by the Harper Conservatives. The current government has done nothing to address this problem. We must stand together to tell the employer that we will not give up our bargaining demands just because they have systematically created unnecessary barriers to timely negotiations.
6. Will I get strike pay if we go out on strike? How much will it be?
Strike pay for both regular and strategic strikes are governed by Regulation 6 in PSAC’s Constitution. Members are expected to provide a minimum of four hours of work per day in support of the strike to qualify for strike pay.
- Members who usually work 20 hours or more each week will receive the following strike pay: Per Day: $75
- Members who usually work less than 20 hours per week will receive the following strike pay: Per Day: $53
- In the case of a ‘strategic strike’—that is, a targeted strike involving no more than 10% of the bargaining unit and lasting no longer than two weeks—strike pay will be 60% of a member’s gross salary.
Strike pay is not considered taxable income by the Canada Revenue Agency.
7. Will call centre employees lose out on OT if there is a strike?
While we know that many employees are used getting OT during tax season, the unions position is that this is caused by chronic understaffing. The overuse of OT put lots of pressure on employees and combined with a lack of sufficient rest periods and over monitoring of employees, we are seeing lots of stress related illness and burnout. If an employee still wants OT, even if we go on strike, we will still have work, and likely a backlog of work when we finish strike and workplace action. We cannot say for sure that there will be OT once the strike is over (if we go on strike in the first place) but we know that the call centre is understaffed and overworked as it is.
I encourage all steward to read the section of the PSAC/UTE PIC proposal that discusses call centre break times as it is a good overview of our union’s position on call centre workers. I have included the report below:
Call Centre Break Times
For several years the Union has been raising issues related to work in CRA’s call centres. The Union has raised matters related to call centre working conditions in every National Union Management Committee Meeting since this collective agreement took effect. Minutes from these meetings reflect the Union’s speaking to workload problems, stressors, the need for management to do more to focus on the well-being of employees. Indeed, call centre problems are such that the Union has struck a Call Centre Committee. The Agency introduced this year a new system for call centre monitoring employees that is extremely unpopular with the employees, known as the Call Centre Agent Assessment Tool (CCAAT). In its March memo to the Union’s membership, the Union’s Call Centre Committee indicated that the Union is opposed to the CCAT for a number of reasons. The memo states: “We made it clear to the employer that we do not approve of the use of CCAAT in its current format. We believe this tool should be used solely for quality assurance purposes and not for performance or rehire”. Employees in call centres are monitored by management at all times under the CCAAT program, and the expectation is that employees be on the phones at all times when on shift. The pressure on employees is immense and has increased over the last several years. Time spent on calls, or waiting for a call, is monitored and tracked. What is said is tracked. These figures are used to determine employee performance and – in the case of term employees – whether or not an employee is rehired. In light of these conditions, the Union is proposing language that would help improve morale and mitigate against the effects of the constant pressure being applied by the employer in these settings – namely that these employees be afforded a five-minute break for each hour that they are on shift, consistent with what PSAC negotiated with the employer in the previous round with the Treasury Board for call centre workers in the PA group.
The PA language states:
Employees working in Call Centres shall be provided five (5) consecutive minutes not on a call for each hour not interrupted by a regular break or meal period.
In negotiations with the CRA, the Union rejected this proposal as it does not get ultimately at the root of the problem in CRA call centres – namely that employees need a break from phones and associated paperwork for 5 minutes, not just 5 minutes off of the phone. Most importantly, what was agreed to for the PA group is already the norm at CRA. Were the Union to agree to what the CRA is proposing there would be no material improvement for call centre workers.
To summarize the situation in CRA call centres:
- A significant number of call centre employees are term employees. Indeed in some workplaces, a majority of the workers are term employees.
- Most call centres require evening work at some point over the course of the year. At present, there are no clear rules around how evening work is assigned amongst employees.
- The employer has been ratcheting up the pressure on call centre employees in an effort to maximize productivity. These pressures include new constant surveillance and monitoring systems.
The Union has been raising call centre issues regularly over the life of this collective agreement, both at National Union Management Committee meetings and at the bargaining table.
The proposals being made by the Union in this round of bargaining concerning break times for call centre workers and concerning hours of work assignment for evening and weekend workers would serve to greatly alleviate conditions in call centres and improve labour relations between the parties.
The Union submits that the current model cannot continue, and that these issues will need to be addressed in this round of bargaining.