(Canadian OH&S News) — The new federal budget proposed by the Conservative government has come under fire from national public-sector unions, who feel that the budget’s plan to create a $1.4 billion surplus comes at the price of the health and safety of federal employees.
Introduced by Treasury Board President Tony Clement on April 21, the budget proposes to replace the current sick-leave system, which gives federal public employees a maximum of 15 paid sick days annually, with a short-term disability plan with only six paid sick days per year. The intention is to save $900 million through the reduced amount of sick days.
The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) and the Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE) are among the organizations that have criticized the Tories’ plan, saying that it could damage labour relations as well as having a negative effect on public employees’ welfare.
“Their plan just doesn’t cut it, quite frankly,” PIPSC vice president Shannon Bittman told COHSN. “What this government is proposing is going to mean that our members will not have the income protection they need when they’re away from the workplace sick.”
Emmanuelle Tremblay, president of CAPE, agreed that federal employees would stand to lose a lot if the proposed plan went into effect.
“The model that they’re proposing, there’s a wait period between the time you start being sick and the time when you can actually have access to short-term disability,” Tremblay explained, saying that the period lasts for seven calendar days.
“So say one part of the year, you have pneumonia, so you’re off from work for two to three weeks, and another part of the year, you just broke an arm and you can’t type, so you can’t be working for another three weeks,” she said. “Let’s say you use five days in your first episode of pneumonia. Then you have one more day left in your sick bank, and maybe you have kind of a stomach flu one day.” With the waiting period, the broken arm would mean either using up a week of vacation days or going without pay before the short-term disability plan kicks in, Tremblay noted.
Bittman speculated that the plan would have a huge effect on public employees’ morale, adding that the government was ignoring more important problems with the system in order to discourage employees from abusing it.
“There are policies in place for those very few cases where there is abuse of sick-leave days, but it’s going to cause costs to skyrocket. It’s going to mean that our members will choose to come into work sick versus foregoing income,” said Bittman. “They’re going to adversely impact virtually each and every one of their employees to fix a so-called problem that really doesn’t exist that much. Because they’re not addressing the toxic workplaces, they’re not addressing the mental-health issues.
“It’s a disaster, and it’s not addressing the gaps that are there.”
Tremblay called the government’s planned surplus “artificial savings,” accusing Clement of misleading the public with accounting that doesn’t add up. “How can they announce the savings ahead of the conclusion of a current round of bargaining?” she asked.
“And there are horror stories that I’ve heard,” Tremblay added, citing examples of workers who had been denied short-term disability coverage when they’d needed chemotherapy treatment or recovery time after a miscarriage. “That kind of horror story tells me we cannot let them steal away not only the banked sick days, but the whole notion of having sick days that are paid sick days.”
PIPSC represents more than 57,000 government employees across Canada, most at the federal level. CAPE was founded in 2003 as a merge of the former Social Science Employees Association and Canadian Union of Professional and Technical Employees.