Since 1992, National Public Service Week has celebrated the achievements and contributions of Canada’s federal public sector employees.

But this year, with billions of dollars slashed from public services and more cuts on the way, Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) members aren’t exactly in a celebratory mood.

“People feel very disrespected (because) the whole process is not transparent,” said one worker, who wouldn’t give his name.

“Under other governments, like when the Liberals had to cut back, there was transparency. They gave us options. (With) this government, it’s a ‘for me to know and you to find out’ attitude.”

Outside the Arthur Meighen building on St. Clair Avenue east in Toronto on Friday, members of PSAC gathered on the sidewalk shortly before noon for a rally against the sweeping cuts to every federal government department.

A table was set up with sandwiches and juice. 

PSAC flags and placards that said “Standing Together For Our Public Services” were distributed. 

Some members wore buttons that said “Don’t Cut Me” or “We Are All Affected” to hammer home the point that all Canadians will be affected by the cuts – not just employees.

Others handed out flyers to passersby, reminding them what public services are all about.

“Shame on this government to even think that they wanted to give you a piece of cake or a hot dog when they’re slashing, cutting and burning,” said Robyn Benson, PSAC National President.

Thousands of members across the country have already received “affected” and “surplus” letters.

If an employee received a letter stating that his or her “services may no longer be required because of a workforce adjustment situation” this means they are an “affected” employee. 

It doesn’t necessarily mean that their employment will end. The notice simply gave an employee a “heads up” that there might be a change in the future.

But a “surplus” notice advised an employee that their job will cease to exist in 120 days. 

At the same time, a list of volunteers who wished to swap places with surplus employees was created. Surplus employees whose positions are being eliminated may then trade positions with these volunteers.

“This government is ruining our communities and we’re going to have to stand up to them.”

The Conservatives have already cut programs, some of which have been around for over 100 years. 

So Benson said now is the time to start a conversation with Canadians to let them know that gutting programs and services will affect all Canadians.

“We need to do something different in 2015 when those ballot boxes open because this government doesn’t care about Canadians,” she said. 

Over the summer months, PSAC members will engage with Canadians in their communities to explain how we all rely on federal government services like food inspection, environmental protection and Old Age Security.

“There can be no celebration when thousands of you from coast to coast are losing your jobs,” said Marie Clarke Walker, Executive Vice-President, Canadian Labour Congress, pointing out that corporations have had a 50 per cent tax cut over the last ten years.

“We won’t know the true price of what these cuts are going to cause for many years to come” added Nancy Hutchison, Secretary-Treasurer, Ontario Federation of Labour.

“(But) how hypocritical that during National Public Service Week, while cakes are being cut and appreciation certificates handed out, pink slips are being slipped in your pocket.”

Up to now, the government has already cut 20,000 workers, taken away the right to strike by legislating people back to work and made it more difficult to qualify for EI benefits.   

“And they will force us into any job,” she said.  

Workers don’t want cake or certificates. 

They want respect. That means decent working conditions. The right to strike. The right to organize. The right to speak.

“This government has no respect for you,” said Sharon DeSousa, PSAC Regional Executive Vice-President.

It’s forcing workers to abandon face-to-face service with Canadians, making sure timelines are too short to get the job done right and holding back the necessary resources to do the job properly.

“How is that fair?”

Especially when most “affected” employees haven’t received any other information from the federal government since they were given their letters in April.

“People are hanging,” said another worker who withheld her name for fear of reprisal. 

“You can’t make decisions about your life.”

John Bonnar

John Bonnar is an independent journalist producing print, photo, video and audio stories about social justice issues in and around Toronto.