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Canada's largest public service union is warning of another era of emaciated civil service systems following a second round of unsuccessful contract negotiations under the Liberal government.
Five bargaining units from the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), representing nearly 100,000 civil servants, met with teams from the Treasury Board in Ottawa last week to discuss new contracts.
The workers have been without collective agreements since the summer of 2014, and little progress was made at the bargaining table under Stephen Harper's government.
"There was no progress made," PSAC president Robyn Benson said of last week's negotiations.
"Our membership is very frustrated…because they anticipated a Liberal government would bring something different to the table and that they would make negotiations a priority so we could achieve collective agreements and we could all move forward."
The Treasury Board's insistence to remove the workers' sick leave plan from the collective -- a proposal made under the Conservatives -- continues to be a key issue.
"They're doing exactly what the Conservatives did," Benson said.
"[While] they have proposed a different plan with some modifications, it is certainly still the same mindset with respect to sick leave."
On the issues that PSAC believes are important, there has been little ability to have open conversations, she said.
"We need to look at the services we provide and how to provide them."
Prolonged wait times and processing periods for Employment Insurance (EI) are a direct result of service cutbacks in the past 10 years, she said.
Figures tabled in Parliament last week showed thousands of jobless Canadians waited more than a month to find out if they qualified for unemployment benefits.
According to the data, between April 2015 and January this year, it took more than 28 days to process about 300,000 EI applications.
Nationally, the average wait time was 39 days.
The figures also showed calls regarding employment insurance to the federal call centre were answered with an automated message nearly 7.4 million times during this period.
Benson, who has worked in the civil service for more than 30 years, said improvements to the EI application process would only occur if more individuals were hired by the government.
"There wouldn't be wait times and there wouldn't be a backlog if there hadn't been such severe job cuts.
"They need to look at the downsizing the Conservatives did and make improvements there," she said.
Labour Minister MaryAnn Mihychuk said in a statement that the government is working on a plan to address problems with the EI system.
Despite this, Benson said the mandate being pursued by Treasury Board president Scott Brison and his team was disappointingly similar to that of the Harper Conservatives.
"We thought, based on the campaign and the open letter from Trudeau to our membership, that there would be a difference," Benson said.
"But when you come to the table, and it's the same, then one needs to wonder what exactly it is that they're planning."
PSAC and the Treasury Board are due to return to the bargaining table next month, and in June.
Teuila Fuatai is a recent transplant to Canada from Auckland, New Zealand. She settled in Toronto in September following a five-month travel stint around the United States. In New Zealand, she worked as a general news reporter for the New Zealand Herald and APNZ News Service for four years after studying accounting, communication and politics at the University of Otago. As a student, she had her own radio show on the local university station and wrote for the student magazine. She is rabble's labour beat reporter this year.
Photo: flickr/ Michael Lokner
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