The Union of National Employees was placed in trusteeship by the PSAC National Board of Directors on October 21, 2022. Since then, several updates have been made to help the component progress on its journey out of trusteeship, with a goal of accomplishing this in time for next August when the Triennial Convention is scheduled.
UNE was placed in trusteeship due to governance issues and not for financial reasons. UNE currently finds itself in a very sound financial position. As a result, all elected officers were relieved of their positions and the membership will elect a new National Executive at the next Convention.
What does this mean for members of UNE?
For members looking for help, support and service levels remain unchanged, and every effort will be made to maintain business as usual. UNE staff and local officers remain available to provide assistance and support to the UNE membership. Elected officers have been replaced by Deputy Trustees who have been assigned to each region. The Deputy Trustees are here to support Locals with their work, including representing UNE on LMCC’s running general meetings, working on grievances and staffing complaints.
You can find each Deputy Trustee, their assigned region, and their contact information on the UNE website:
Chris Little-Gagne = Ottawa/Gatineau
Diane Levola = Ontario
Yvon Beaudoin = Quebec
Geoff Ryan = Alberta/NWT/Nunanvut
Gail Budgell = Atlantic
Gloria Pfeifer = Saskatchewan and Manitoba
Shirley Torres = British Columbia/Yukon
The trusteeship has not changed the roles and responsibilities of UNE locals or local officers. Members are expected to continue to contact their Locals as their first point of contact. They will then contact the assigned Deputy Trustee, as required.
Any questions about component business can be directed to the Deputy Trustees or UNE Staff.
Questions about Trusteeship should be directed to John Gordon, Administrator or Mark Pecek, Assistant Administrator.
The PSAC National Board of Directors (NBoD) has placed the Union of National Employees (UNE) in trusteeship, effective October 24, 2022. The NBoD has appointed PSAC National Executive Vice-President Sharon DeSousa as Trustee of UNE.
Maintaining service and representation to UNE members remains our priority. UNE members should continue to contact their Local representative or their UNE National Labour Relations Officer for representation assistance. The operations of UNE shall continue during this period, and PSAC remains dedicated to working with UNE members and staff to uphold the responsibilities of UNE.
Further information will be shared as soon as possible.
Passport program workers at Service Canada have been stressed and stretched to their max. As the Union representing these workers, UNE has created this corner for questions and answers as hard-working employees navigate these difficult times.
The Employer provided an update following a pilot project held during the spring/summer with respect to the qualification grid. As a result, as of November 10, 2022, the employer has moved forward with the new qualification grid. UNE asked how this change affect the qualification of Passport officers and if the change will make it harder to qualify. As a response, the employer noted that it will not make it any harder to qualify.
UNE asked for an update on previously asked questions with respect to the Team Leader (TL) ratio. The Employer responded that the TL ratio varies. Accordingly, the sizing guideline is based on multiple factors such as the number of employees, classification and duties performed. However the ratio is generally between 13-17 per TL. UNE asked that the guideline be shared with the Union.
UNE also asked for Regional updates with respect to mental health, staffing, attrition and overtime. The Employer responded that it created a wellbeing toolkit for managers. Joint Learning Program (JLP) sessions are being promoted and various training is in place to boost morale. Staffing continues and overtime is steady but the Union is concerned about employee fatigue. Finally, the employer noted that they systematically continue to have exit interviews and the main reasons for departures are either for a promotion or the position didn’t meet their expectations.
Lastly, UNE noted that, following the employer commitment to review the Passport Officer job description, a first meeting was held November 17, 2022, to map out the consultation process. As more information is made available and the process begins, UNE will continue to share the evolution of the review.
Generic Passport Email
Finally, the passport generic email box (firstname.lastname@example.org) was created with the intent for Locals and members to raise issues and offer suggestions during the crisis. Lately, UNE has only received emails that fell outside the spirit of its intended creation. As such, UNE will deactivate and archive the emails. Should you have any questions or concerns with respect to Passport issues in the workplace, your Local remains your first point of contact. Updates on bi-weekly meetings will continue to be posted.
November 7, 2022
UNE met with the Employer on November 3, 2022. Manon Boy, National Labour Relations Officer, Nathalie Fitzback, Local President, Local 10520 as well as Vanny Del Bianco, Local Vice-President, Local 20088, attended the meeting.
Discussion on Training
UNE raised concerns with respect to training. More particularly, skills training is lacking in areas such as experience working on computer, customer service experience, computer typing skills, situational judgement test, etc. In addition, UNE provided some solutions and process improvement ideas, so the training could provide more opportunities to improve efficiency.
The Employer appreciated the feedback, and it was well received. The Employer noted it will allow the employer to incorporate some changes into the training.
UNE noted that it has received an increase in communications from members who are being asked to go outside to manage/triage the line. UNE reminded the Employer that members that are not comfortable going out for health and safety reasons should not be forced to do so.
The Employer will recirculate the mitigation measures to management. Furthermore, the employer advised that health and safety measures be put in place to mitigate the risk such as the use of walkie-talkies, panic buttons, and teaming up in pairs.
October 24, 2022
UNE met with the Employer on October 20, 2022. Manon Boy, National Labour Relations Officer, Nathalie Fitzback, Local President, Local 10520 as well as Vanny Del Bianco, Local Vice-President, Local 20088, attended the meeting
Update on workload management strategy
The Employer provided an update regarding its strategies to achieve the best outcome for Canadians in processing passports in a timely and efficient manner. A new workload strategy was implemented to continue the significant progress made so far. As of October 3, 2022 the goal is to ensure that all completed applications are to be processed within the published service standard. As such, there has been some stability in the overtime hours worked. There is ongoing plan to staff positions for the remainder of the fiscal year.
Regional update on overtime and staffing
Atlantic: Since April, 120 staff in Customer Service Officer (CSO) and Passport Officer (PO) positions. Looking to staff 30 more.
Overtime is open – regular uptake of staff doing OT on a regular basis. There is no forced OT.
Quebec: POs being hired and training by module. CSOs being hired but only to do intake in Gatineau. 380 CSOs were hired. Objective is to have a hybrid approach.
Ontario: 136 new hires. Continued plans to staff 105. There is a steady stream of OT volunteers.
Western Canada/Territories: 200 new hires. OT is on a volunteer basis and varies widely from week to week.
UNE asked how many certified POs will be hired by end of fiscal year. The employer responded with respect to the National view of hiring: forecasted plans to hire an additional 400 processing staff. They do not have the actual number of how many will be onboarding as POs.
What is the plan to prepare for the next expected busy period? The Employer responded that its focus for the remainder of the year is to continue to train using the modularized training. Furthermore, the Employer is looking at the qualification period with IRCC and possibly bringing in a 3rd module to maintain the integrity of the program. The Employer continues to invest in training.
UNE raised concerns that the Employer is avoiding the standard Passport Program training for POs as they are offering module training.
The Employer agreed to have more of a deep dive discussion with respect to the training strategy. Furthermore, UNE asked for an update on the review of objectives and performance review.
Management is looking at property and finding alternatives as solutions so that clients have a warm place to wait in the coming winter months.
UNE raised concerns about the module-based training and the integrity of the program.
UNE also raised concerns with respect to OT and employee morale. OT should be a temporary measure to deal with an issue, but it is ongoing and pushing POs toward leaving.
There is also still inconsistent messaging at call centres taking in transfers so reinforcing information dissemination would be helpful.
October 12, 2022
UNE met with the Employer on October 6, 2022. Manon Boy, National Labour Relations Officer and Nathalie Fitzback, Local President, Local 10520 attended the meeting.
The Employer stated that it is responding to help clients because of the aftermath of Hurricane Fiona. Although there has been no change in the process at this time, the employer is discussing with IRCC how it could support clients in the event there are requests to replace lost or damaged passports.
The Employer noted that it recognizes the backlog and continues to work on a strategy to reduce it while also working on the updated process to triage application to the service standard.
UNE raised concerns with the communication in which it was noted that proof of travel was no longer a requirement and that it resulted in longer line-ups. As such, UNE reiterated its unchanged position with respect to the Health and Safety of our members and that they should not be asked to go out to triage the line if they do not feel comfortable doing so. The Employer responded that it is keeping an eye on lineups and how they are being managed.
UNE also noted it received many concerns from members where Team Leaders continue to be asked to do status updates in some offices, which takes time away from other priorities. It was also noted that not all offices offer this service and as such, requests are now coming from outside the service area. The Employer took note of the concern and will look into it and provide a response.
UNE raised its continued concern that work objectives and statistics associated with “number of files” do not equate to the reality of the work done because of the complexity of files. UNE provided concrete examples and asked again for the employer to review work objectives and how data is extracted so it is truthful.
Finally, the Employer noted that based on the review of the information provided by UNE and the commitments made, that it is getting ready to start the review of the job descriptions and will start consultation with the Union on its strategy in the next few weeks. UNE is looking forward to the discussions.
UNE met with the Employer on September 22, 2022. Manon Boy, National Labour Relations Officer, Nathalie Fitzback, Local President, Local 10520 as well as Vanny Del Bianco, Local Vice-President, Local 20088, attended the meeting.
Processing files in the Virtual Workload
UNE proposed solutions for processing files, to try to remove ongoing irritants and increase workload. These suggestions were welcomed by the employer.
10-day pick up locations
The Employer announced the location of the sites:
As more sites are launched, the Employer will advise the Union.
The Employer noted its continued work to improve the website. Through discussions with IRCC, the Employer continues to make progress to help with client experience.
The Employer noted that as of September 7, 2022, 1 million passports have been issued. The Employer thanked the employees for the hard work and dedication to the passport program.
The Employer also communicated that it continues to review the Performance Objective and Job Descriptions Review and is preparing for further consultation with the Union.
Continuation of weekly meetings
It was determined that weekly meetings will now be bi-weekly. The UNE advised that this is fine as long as discussions on our priorities and ad hoc meetings occurs. Furthermore, should issues occur from a local/regional perspective, the Local/Region should have ongoing discussions to resolve issues that are not National in nature.
September 15, 2022
UNE met with the Employer on September 15, 2022. Kevin King, National President, Manon Boy, National Labour Relations Officer, Nathalie Fitzback, Local President, Local 10520 as well as Vanny Del Bianco, Local Vice-President, Local 20088, attended the meeting.
The Employer provided an overview on the modernization of the passport book and printing to occur over a one-year period starting in March 2023. The UNE asked for continued consultation.
The Employer provided updates on previous subjects. It confirmed it is reviewing the performance objectives and will ensure they are reflecting the current operating environment.
The Employer is also reviewing the feedback received on the training held for CSO.
Frequency of meetings
The Employer asked about the frequency of the meetings. UNE noted that while there is a continued need to meet on a regular basis, we have met a considerable amount of time and would like to focus on priorities such as consulting on the review of the job description.
September 14, 2022
After cancelling the meeting of September 1, 2022, UNE met with the Employer on September 8, 2022. Kevin King, National President, Manon Boy, National Labour Relations Officer, Nathalie Fitzback, Local President, Local 10520 as well as Vanny Del Bianco, Local Vice-President, Local 20088, attended the meeting.
After weeks of not getting a response from the Employer with respect to questions and concerns of CSO’s performing work while not having the proper security clearance, UNE sent a notice of cease and desist on September 7, 2022.
Ms. Christine McDowell, ADM, responded the following:
“First, I would like to apologize on behalf of ESDC for the delay in responding officially and in writing to UNE’s request.
Thank you for the email sent to my predecessor on September 7, 2022. I can confirm that the department is diligent in the application of Government of Canada security policies and the protection of personal information, in the delivery of all programs and services.
The integrity of the Passport Program is assured jointly through shared roles and responsibilities between Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) and Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) in the application of IT security, internal controls and security screening. ESDC and IRCC have committed to taking all appropriate measures to maintain confidentiality and integrity of Passport Program information, and to safeguard that information against accidental or unauthorized access.
ESDC and IRCC ensure that access to IT systems is limited based on the authorized functions of each user and that all actions taken by those users in the passport issuing system are tracked and can be viewed in summary reports.
Internal controls are in place to further safeguard the integrity of the Passport Program. Duties are segregated to ensure that all passport files are completed by more than one employee. This results in the separation of activities including file preparation, data verification, and guarantor and reference checks. In addition, internal procedures such as alert functions to flag discrepancies and daily Quality Control and Quality Assurance Program procedures extend oversight across passport operations. Employees are trained on Integrity Awareness including internal and external fraud, Values and Ethics, and Protection of Personal Information.
Security classifications are based on the Treasury Board Secretariat’s (TBS) Standard on Security Screening. As UNE representatives may recall from briefings in 2018, a security classification review was conducted taking into consideration the information, technology, assets and facilities accessed to deliver the Passport Program, using this standard. Under the Standard, any position which requires access to assets of importance to the effective functioning of government and the national interests of Canada requires a secret security clearance. For the Passport Program, this means that employees with access to blank passport books, passport printing equipment and the physical space holding those assets require a secret clearance. All other positions require a reliability security clearance commensurate with access to Protected B information and systems. A printed passport, as well as the issuing system and information maintained within it, are considered Protected B. In all cases, access to information, assets, facilities or systems is provided on a need-to-know or need-to-access basis. Steps taken by the Department to update the security screening requirements reflect these results. Changes to security levels are aligned to agreements between IRCC and ESDC as well as with the Treasury Board Policy on Government Security.
In September 2019, the Treasury Board introduced Enhanced security levels with a requirement for full compliance over a 10 year period. This additional requirement is reflected in the conditions of employment of all new employees performing passport functions and is being applied in collaboration with security partners.
With respect to any staff currently trained on elements of passport intake, processing or print, including Citizen Service Officers, a security clearance reflective of the functions they are trained for and performing is in place before doing so.
The Government of Canada takes the safety and security of Canadians and its employees extremely seriously. ESDC will continue to review program requirements on a regular basis to ensure this is sustained.”
UNE is still reviewing and analysing the response.
The Employer provided an update on staffing and initiatives to help with the backlog.
Following the receipt of a written request by UNE to communicate the National Framework on Overtime to Managers, the Employer confirmed that it had communicated again with managers at all levels to ensure proper application of overtime.
UNE raised concerns with employee morale and as such, asked for the attrition rate for qualified Passport Officers. UNE also noted that the review of the Job description for Passport Officers is a priority for our members and pressed the employer to act on its commitment. UNE further reiterated its concern of the work objectives and that it should be reviewed to be reflective of the reality – since most files now take longer to process and are more complex.
August 30, 2022
UNE met with the Employer on August 23, 2022, to discuss Mental Health in the workplace.
UNE also met the Employer on August 25, 2022 as part of its commitment to meet weekly.
Kevin King, National President, Manon Boy, National Labour Relations Officer, Nathalie Fitzback, Local President, Local 10520 as well as Vanny Del Bianco, Local Vice-President, Local 20088, attended the meeting.
The Employer shared a draft plan to support mental health. The purpose was to consult with the Unions before presenting the plan to Senior Management. UNE provided recommendations to support our members on a short-term to a long-term basis. For instance, UNE asked that the Employer review its Onboarding plan to include coping skills for new hires, information and training on PTSD, and workplace assessments in workplaces where there have been incidents reported.
IRCC Integrity, Security and Training
The Employer invited an IRCC representative to answer any questions the Union may have. UNE repeated again and raised serious concerns with respect to the security and integrity of the passport document and the program as a whole. Moreover, UNE raised concerns again with respect to CSO’s who are performing non-complex files without proper security clearance. In fact, UNE asked both ESDC and IRCC for clarifications on the agreement and if there are exceptions regarding security clearances. From what UNE can tell, in accordance with existing policies, the Employer would be in breach of its own policy, notably a breach of confidentiality and article 2 of the code of conduct. As such, UNE asked if the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada was in fact consulted to ensure there were not issues. The Employer responded that it is finalizing its draft response and the UNE will receive a written response, stating that it is confident in its approach. UNE asked if there were any discussions with respect to simplifying the passport process for new Canadians. IRCC responded that it is part of the review of the passport program as a whole.
National Workload Management
The Employer noted its continued work to help clearing the backlog, clearing oldest first. The Employer stated it is discussing how to enable managers and Team Leaders.
The Employer further shared that it is still working on regional breakdowns for staffing numbers.
UNE asked if the Employer could provide overtime hours being worked on a regular basis, from a National perspective to have an idea of how much is work and look at the trend.
UNE also raised concerns with respect to the Employer’s lack of understanding of the role of the Passport Officer and CSO. In fact, UNE noted that since PO are essentially looking at complex files, which take more time, the Employer should be looking at productivity quotas since they are not in line with the work. UNE further reiterated that objectives have to change to be reflective in the Performance appraisal as measures are not comparable to the past.
August 24, 2022
UNE met again with the Employer on August 18, 2022, as part of their commitment to meet weekly. Manon Boy, National Labour Relations Officer, Nathalie Fitzback, Local President, Local 10520 as well as Vanny Del Bianco, Local Vice-President, Local 20088, attended the meeting.
The Employer shared the final version of the National Strategy on Overtime. UNE is sharing it for reference.
UNE raised concerns that although weekend duty was expanded and overtime is still not voluntary, if not enough people come in they will be forced to draw names. It is essentially like forcing overtime. The Employer took note.
Key Performance Indicators
UNE asked again if Performance Appraisals will be updated to reflect the actual work being performed. The Employer commented that the Labour Relations team is currently reviewing the objectives for each level of the appraisals and how they can be proactively updated to reflect the reality of the work during this crisis situation.
The Employer provided a breakdown of staff at different levels. UNE raised concerns since the reported number of Passport Officers does not seem to coincide with reality. UNE asked that numbers be representative of the regions and indicate if they are Passport officers in Training or Qualified Passport Officers. The Employer will provide a breakdown of actual numbers by region.
The Employer will take a closer look at the attrition rate. UNE raised concerns with respect to attrition. Notably, low morale, having the correct level of pay and how to attract employees who want to enter and remain within the Department. UNE took this opportunity to remind the employer of its commitment to review the Job Descriptions. Both UNE and the Employer commented on a way forward.
UNE noted that it has raised concerns in the previous weeks, in writing to the Employer. UNE raised serious concerns that Employees without the correct security clearances are entitling passports. UNE stated that it has not yet to receive a response on this request. The Employer responded that it would respond in writing shortly.
UNE asked if the website will be updated to reflect that passports are at 80 day wait times. Passport Officers are currently working on passport requests submitted in April. This is resulting in transfers which seems to be the new normal when, it should be the exception. UNE also noted that the Employer has to stop publicizing transfers. UNE warned that if the Canadian Passport is not up to accurate standards, this will create more problems down the road.
The Employer noted that it is looking at how the backlog can be cleared and advised there is a working group assigned. UNE asked for details on who participates in the working group and asked if more Passport Officer positions will be created. UNE noted that MP referrals and transfers should also be considered in looking at solutions to reduce the back log.
UNE raised concerns that Passport Officers statistics on the work being performed is not accurate, thus it is creating more stress. In fact, these statistics are not reflective of the real work being done. For example, only the files being closed are counted versus the files that have been worked on and not closed. The Employer took note of it.
August 18, 2022
UNE met with Minister Gould on August 16, 2022. Kevin King, National President and Manon Boy, National Labour Relations Officer, attended the meeting.
Security and Integrity
UNE raised serious concerns with respect to the security and integrity of the passport. To support its concerns, UNE raised that the Department is not following its own policy with CSOs entitling simple passport application without having the proper security clearances. UNE further stated that it has not seen the Memorandum of understanding between IRCC and ESDC. Finally, UNE noted it is aware of Immigration fast-tracking requests for passports, which is adding pressure on Passport Officers.
Member of Parliament (MP) Referrals
UNE raised many concerns with respect to MP referrals, what it was originally intended for and what it has become. The Minister noted that MP referrals should be triaged as emergency and non-emergency travels. UNE responded that although this is what the intention is, the practice does not reflect this. In fact, UNE stated that MP referrals are inconsistent by regions and that MP referrals often receive preferential treatments – no matter the urgency of the request.
When asked about the taskforce, The Minister clarified that contrary to a House of Commons taskforce or Committee, they are under Cabinet confidentiality and no information can be disclosed.
UNE noted that the Passport Officer position is distinct based on the level of complexity of the program, which is different from all other ESDC programs. As an example, Passport Officers used to be called “Examiners” which implies more than program functions. UNE is seeking support from the Minister is her discussions with Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) to have a specific benchmark to be conducted prior to Occupation Group Structure transition in 2024.
Passport Program Needs to Return to the Way it was Most Successful
UNE asked the Minister to consider having the Passport program returned to Global Affairs Canada.
UNE stated that our members have been placed under undue stress and situations such as violence and harassment. We provided specific examples. UNE stressed the importance of having a solid Mental Health plan. There is a need for a concrete plan for members members suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder as an outcome of different situations. The Minister concurred.
UNE offered solutions for the Minister to consider. The Minister was very receptive to UNE and will be following up on different issues raised. UNE commented that Passport Program staff have a high level of dedication to their work and they would do anything to get one more passport entitled. The Minister agreed and gave her appreciation for the hard work and dedication to our members.
August 17, 2022
UNE met again with the Employer on August 8 and 11, 2022, as part of their commitment to meet weekly. Kevin King, National President, Manon Boy, National Labour Relations Officer, Nathalie Fitzback, Local President, Local 10520 as well as Vanny Del Bianco, Local Vice-President, Local 20088, attended the meeting.
The Employer listened to mental health concerns to which UNE provided multiple examples. Particularly, UNE raised concerns not only with the current situation where our members are exhausted, that they have been living through a very difficult situation, there is shortage of staff, they are pulled in all directions and morale is at an all time low. UNE is concerned about mental health in the workplace, but also how mental health will be supported in the long term.
UNE raised concerns that often, the employer will suggest that members seek help from their Employee Assistant Program (EAP). However, at this time, resources are very limited, and it may take time to have help. As such, the UNE shared that we would like to collaborate to see what other tools can be developed and provided examples.
The Employer also asked what we thought would be a good start. UNE noted that managers at all levels need training, more particularly how to recognize burnout, basic understanding of mental health and Duty to Accommodate. There will be more meetings scheduled to continue the discussions.
Update on Training
The Employer provided an update on the training of CSOs that are entitling passports. It also provided a one-pager on simple versus complex files that was created by IRCC.
UNE reiterated its position on CSO entitling passports and asked for a copy of the memorandum of understanding with IRCC. UNE also raised concerns on the training, the security and integrity of the passport. UNE also noted that IRCC should also be part of these discussions. Finally, the UNE asked if the CSO entitling passports was coming from the revolving fund. The employer noted that since it is a passport entitlement function, it is coming from the revolving fund.
August 10, 2022
UNE met again with the Employer on August 4, 2022, as part of their commitment to meet weekly. Kevin King, National President, Manon Boy, National Labour Relations Officer, Nathalie Fitzback, Local President, Local 10520 as well as Vanny Del Bianco, Local Vice-President, Local 20088, attended the meeting.
Key Performance Indicators
Discussions were held on the subject of Key Performance Indicators, notably requesting managers to communicate to members that they shouldn’t be stressed out regarding these indicators at this time of increased pressure. UNE raised concerns that work objectives should be realistic and concerns about performance appraisal should be put on the backburner. The Employer noted that it would be having further discussions on this topic.
Introduction of the Ten-Day Pick-up Service in Additional Offices
The Employer gave a brief overview of the project in Service Canada Centres and noted that it will be rolled out at four sites to start but the intent would be to eventually offer the service in thirteen offices. UNE asked if this is a temporary or permanent measure, to which the Employer responded it will be a permanent measure. Sites will be announced shortly. UNE is concerned about the roll out of this program and reserved additional comments pending further discussion.
There have been a number of recurring topics over several weeks.
Overtime National Strategy: UNE provided comments on the National Strategy on Overtime. It will be posted shortly. However, our understanding is that it has already been communicated in the workplace.
Mental Health and Stress: A meeting is scheduled to discuss Mental Health in the workplace and to collaborate on a strategy.
Annual Leave: UNE raised concerns that members are being coerced and pressured by management to delay leave. The Employer confirmed that leave requested in April was approved and that other leave is approved based on existing operational requirements. As such, should any member feel pressured to move leave, they should discuss with their Local or through the Passport Corner generic email with examples.
August 3, 2022
UNE met again with the Employer on July 28, 2022, as part of their commitment to meet weekly. Kevin King, National President, Manon Boy, National Labour Relations Officer, Nathalie Fitzback, Local President, Local 10520 as well as Vanny Del Bianco, Local Vice-President, Local 20088, attended the meeting.
The Employer asked Unions for ideas to help increase productivity. UNE noted that any increase in productivity should not be to the detriment of the security and integrity of the passport document. The UNE provided a list of solutions that could help however it raised concerns with MP referrals and had a lengthy discussion on this situation. UNE asked for a commitment from the employer to review the MP referrals to ensure proper protocols be communicated so there is no preferential treatment in accordance with existing guidelines. UNE further asked if the review from the “audit team” and the “task force” had made any recommendations on productivity specifically and would be interested in hearing what they were.
UNE asked for ongoing updates on many subjects it has raised over the past few months; specifically, updates on official languages, overtime and mental health.
Upon review of the directive, the Employer confirmed that the intent was not to service clients based on language, but more to ensure unilingual employees had a workload. UNE noted that although this was the intent, the reality is that this directive was interpreted differently and still is to this day. As such, UNE recommended that this directive be archived since there is sufficient work in both official languages. Finally, UNE stated that files should not be treated in accordance with their language, but rather chronologically, from oldest to newest.
Our members are working significant hours of overtime to support the Passport program. As previously committed to the UNE, the Employer introduced a draft of the proposed National Framework on Overtime based on discussions and concrete examples of how overtime was applied across the Department. This will ensure the Collective Agreement is respected, that hours of overtime are distributed on an equitable basis and finally, to support our members who are available for overtime to work either in the office or remotely, based on the work available. Once the framework is approved and translated in both official languages, it will be shared with our members.
Workplace Mental Health
UNE asked how the Employer can improve mental health in the workplace. The Employer concurred that this subject is a priority and as such will be organizing a series of meetings to look at what is available and what else can be done. UNE noted that it looks forward to collaborate with the Employer.
July 25, 2022
UNE met again with the Employer on July 21, 2022, as part of their commitment to meet weekly. Kevin King, National President, Manon Boy, National Labour Relations Officer, Nathalie Fitzback, Local President, Local 10520 as well as Vanny Del Bianco, Local Vice-President, Local 20088, attended the meeting.
The Employer provided an update on previously discussed subjects. With respect to the language disadvantage, it advised that since it was a regional directive, the review and discussions would be held at a regional level. UNE responded that since this issue was brought up previously at the regional level and that again in this forum, that the Union would like to hear what the employer has to say about the outcome of discussion. Furthermore, UNE had submitted a list of questions in writing and was awaiting the response/data:
How many passport officers are bilingual and how many are unilingual French
What was the breakdown by language for files in 2020, 2021, 2022
How long were French files in the queue as opposed to English files in 2020, 2021, 2022.
The Employer further noted that it is continuing work on the national strategy for overtime while ensuring it supports the needs of every workplace. UNE would like to know the data on the distribution of overtime such as how much overtime was worked per office/region. This will provide a true picture of how the overtime was distributed.
UNE raised concerns of the weekend duty which has allegedly been extended to all offices and would like to understand why and how this strategy is happening. UNE further noted that it has been asked to go in person on weekends to provide status updates. It seems to be a national initiative for which UNE was again not consulted. Our hard-working members deserve to spend a little bit of what’s left of the summer with their families. As a response, the Employer said they would seek information from the regions and provide a response to the Union.
July 18, 2022
UNE met again with the Employer on July 14, 2022 as part of their commitment to meet weekly. Manon Boy, National Labour Relations Officer, Nathalie Fitzback, Local President, Local 10520 as well as Vanny Del Bianco, Local Vice-President, Local 20088, attended the meeting.
The Employer, in its commitment to provide more transparent communication to staff, shared its strategy to better acknowledge the hard work of its employees, including a message from the Deputy Minister and from Minister Gould.
French Passport Applications
UNE raised again with the Employer its concerns about French files being disadvantaged, compared to the ones submitted in English. UNE asked if, following the submission by the Union of evidence that would suggest that French clients were overlooked, the Employer was investigating the situation. The Employer noted that it will be looking into it and follow up with the Union.
UNE raised concerns on the equitable distribution of overtime. For instance, in some offices, the POs have carte blanche with the amount of overtime they can work while in some offices, they can only perform overtime in the office and only during core hours. UNE commented that some offices only allow overtime on Sunday if the Saturday was worked, which is inconsistent with the interpretation of the Collective Agreement. As such, UNE asked for a national strategy to be shared regionally. The Employer concurred and will work on it.
The Employer shared its staffing strategy with measurables actions to both increase staffing numbers and streamline the training.
The Employer has a multi-pronged approach to identify the workforce capacity by:
Realignment of the existing ESDC workforce from outside the Passport Program to Passport work
Redeployment of resources from other federal departments
The Employer shared its Q2 onboarding forecast which includes the hiring of 500 Passport Officers. UNE asked for the complete list of locations of the new hires. The Employer provided a partial regional breakdown since not all regional representatives were in attendance. UNE will provide the information once it is made available.
July 13, 2022
UNE met again with the employer on July 7, 2022, as part of their commitment to meet weekly. Kevin King, National President, Manon Boy, National Labour Relations Officer (NLRO), Nathalie Fitzback, Local 10520 President, as well as Vanny Del Bianco, Local 20088 Vice-President, attended the meeting.
To continue its plan to find solutions to the Passport crisis situation, the employer shared its plan to provide training to CSOs so they are able to entitle simple renewal applications. The training would consist of 5 days and the department provided a high-level overview.
UNE shared serious concerns with the integrity and security of the passport and provided concrete examples of why this decision is detrimental to the passport program and ultimately, the reputation of the travel document. UNE also noted that this tactic by the employer to further deskill and devaluate the work of qualified Passport Officers. UNE asked how the specific, complex and intense training, and the qualification period that take 4 months, can be watered down to 5 days without thinking of the long-term consequences of this decision.
UNE further asked if IRCC was consulted, a MOU signed, and which policies were updated to reflect this change. The employer responded that IRCC was engaged but that no MOU or policies had to be updated/modified. UNE asked that the employer take a step back and rethink this strategy and again highlighted its concerns for the security and integrity of the passport. The employer confirmed its position that it was going ahead with the training.
UNE asked for further discussions on distribution of overtime across the country as some offices only offer overtime during core hours while some offices offer unlimited overtime. UNE would like to know what the national strategy is.
UNE also would like to have further discussions and clarifications, with respect to client applications, and have confirmation of clients being discriminated against based on the language of the passport application.
July 7, 2022
UNE met again with the employer on June 30, 2022, as part of their commitment to meet weekly. Kevin King, National President, Manon Boy, National Labour Relations Officer (NLRO), Nathalie Fitzback, Local 10520 President, as well as Vanny Del Bianco, Local 20088 Vice-President, attended the meeting.
The employer provided an update on measures taken with clients such as toilets and bottled water.
UNE noted that the employer has taken measures to ensure the health and safety of the clients but asked, while working extended hours, what it is doing so our members get home safely. UNE asked what specific measures were in place if members were not comfortable with taking public transit after hours or if public transit was not available to them. The Union noted that this concern has been raised in Montreal and that work is underway. However, we wanted to know what was being done from a national perspective. The employer responded that they are currently having discussions and will have more details soon.
The employer noted that additional printers will be made available in Montreal and Vancouver. UNE asked for more fulsome discussion on maintenance of the printers.
The employer shared that a new training strategy is being finalized to increase capacity, which would include Citizen Services Officer (CSO) training to be able to process renewals and entitle simple files. UNE raised serious concerns with the entitlement aspect, more particularly with respect to security. The employer agreed to have a subsequent meeting to discuss/consult with us.
UNE raised concerns that to date, we have not seen the detailed staffing plan and that we have been raising this issue on a weekly basis. UNE wishes to see what the hiring plan for Qualified Passport Officers is. Again, the employer noted that it is working on the plan.
June 27, 2022
UNE met again with the employer on June 23, 2022 as part of their commitment to meet weekly to have a more fulsome discussion. Kevin King, National President, Manon Boy, National Labour Relations Officer and Nathalie Fitzback, Local President, Local 10520 as well as Vanny Del Bianco, Local Vice-President 20088, attended the meeting.
Since UNE requested through different forums, that information sharing be transparent from the department and had asked a list of documentation, the employer responded that it finally got the documentation requested ready and will forward to Unions. They also noted they will continue to forward reports on a weekly basis.
The employer advised that they are undertaking an internal review, through the Audit team, of the passport situation. The desired outcome is for the review to present recommendations for management to consider. Furthermore, they are looking for input from Unions and employees in different positions throughout the organization.
UNE responded that it welcomed the discussions and is looking forward to providing input and hearing the findings of this review.
UNE raised concerns on the health and safety of our members. Passport Officers are currently working long hours and can work 65 hours and more per week. They are not being forced to work all these hours, but they hear the frustrations and cries of clients on a daily basis, and they want to help. They are exhausted, they are discouraged, but they continue to commit to get the job done.
UNE further noted that although it appreciates the efforts taken by management, these actions taken are just band aid solutions on the real problem that caused this crisis and until there is a realization of what the real problems are, the problems will just get deeper.
UNE stated that it hopes that the Employer is seriously listening to what we are saying when we say our members are exhausted. The elastic has been stretched to the max and is about to break.
Finally, UNE reiterated that it has asked for transparent and meaningful consultations with the employer. Although UNE understands decisions are made quickly for the benefit of the citizen, it is often time at the detriment of the member. As an example, if the employer would have taken a step back to consult on the disastrous ticket system that was proposed, we could have worked together to find a better solution.
June 24, 2022
The ESDC National Union Management Consultation Committee was held on June 21, 2022 with Kevin King, National President, Manon Boy, National Labour Relations Officer and Luc Paquette, National Labour Relations Officer attending.
The Passport situation was an item submitted on the agenda. The employer provided an update of the situation and its plan in support of the Passport Program: Health and Safety, Program Streamlining, Deployment of Resources and Communications.
With respect to Communications, UNE shared its frustrations regarding the lack of transparency from the Department when communicating with clients and with our members. UNE further noted that clients deserve to know the truth about the issuance of passports and that the Minister should change her message to the citizen and tell them not to make any travel reservations without having their passport in hands. Furthermore, our members should not get information or learn about changes in the workplace through the media and provided the example of the article that was published in “La Presse” stating that Passport offices would be open June 24 and July 1, 2022.
UNE further noted, that through various consultation forums, informal or formal, that we have requested documentation and reports, without, to this day, any answers. UNE once again asked the employer for a list of “hot spots offices”, a list of Passport Offices that have extended their hours – without consultation or any prior notification with the Union – a detailed staffing plan as well as a list of locations of the new hires, the actual number and actual position that were staffed, for clarity, the number of Citizen Services Officers and the number of Passport Officers.
Finally, UNE raised concerns with the raise in escalation requests from Members of Parliament. In fact, the UNE failed to see a written policy on this subject. On the contrary, these escalations are being issued on a preferential basis, for files that are less urgent than others, at the detriment of Canadian citizens who have followed the proper process. This is a breach of the code of values and ethics. UNE further referenced the policy of preferential treatment and urged the employer to review these MP escalations that are not for humanitarian reasons.
UNE met again with the employer on June 20, 2022 as part of their commitment to meet weekly to have a more fulsome discussion. Kevin King, National President, Manon Boy, National Labour Relations Officer and Nathalie Fitzback, Local President, Local 10520 as well as Vanny Del Bianco, Local Vice-President 20088, attended the meeting.
Employer representatives noted they wanted to have more “deep dive” discussions, particularly with respect to a metropolitan strategy for passport, program streamlining, deployment of additional support, staffing and extended hours.
The Employer noted that actions were taken over the weekend that were put in effect immediately to increase Commissionaire and security with a police presence in the Montreal area in specific response to some of those acute issues. The employer says it reached out to any employee who would like to help out on a temporary basis and that more help is on the way. They further noted that they have asked for additional Passport Officers to help with triage, manage line-ups and answer client questions while they are waiting.
The UNE responded that the Union sent a letter to the employer asking them to cease asking our members to step outside and have direct interactions with the public as this a serious safety issue. The UNE further noted that it would support any member that exercise their right to refuse dangerous work
The Employer noted that they have started consultations with IRCC to streamline different processes and they would keep the Union informed.
The UNE raised concerns with how this could affect the security and integrity of the passport.
Deployment of additional resources/Staffing
The Employer informed the Union that it has ask for temporary deployment of resources and that a plan will be shared.
UNE raised serious concerns with respect to staffing and retention of Passport Officers. More particularly, the job content and classification issues that continue to exist. UNE pressed the employer to seriously consider the distinct function of the duties of a Passport Officer. As a response, the Employer committed to initiate a review and update of the work description.
UNE welcomes these discussions and is looking forward to consultation on the subject. UNE further noted that this project would need to be done in a timely manner to be concluded before PA conversion (Occupational Group Structure) in 2024.
The Employer committed to provide a list of sites where it has extended hours.
UNE advised that it wanted to know what these extended hours were. UNE told the employer that it was completely unacceptable to have our members work until 2:30 am in order to serve every client and when it realized it was not possible, had staff come back the following morning. The employer concurred and advised it would follow up.
June 21, 2022
UNE met again with the employer on June 16, 2022 as part of their commitment to meet weekly. Kevin King, National President, Manon Boy, National Labour Relations Officer and Nathalie Fitzback, Local President, Local 10520 as well as Vanny Del Bianco, Local Vice-President 20088, attended the meeting.
Employer representatives reported on their regions and updated the Union with respect to security measures in place, more particularly how the employer has increased its security.
Security & Communications
UNE appreciated the update and the effort to increase security, but it’s not enough. Notably, UNE indicated that Le Devoir had posted an article where Minister Gould said that “it is up to her Public Servants to offer, to those who show up in person, to process the passport application service 45 working days before departure or less.” This is not helpful. The offices are at capacity dealing with requests for those traveling within 24-48 hours, not days.
Discussions continue surrounding the health and safety of our members, and communications with clients and staff.
Our members are exhausted and overworked. The announcement of the lifting of the vaccination requirements to travel will cause another surge just before a long weekend and the simple fact is that the department will be even more short staffed with employees taking well deserved leave.
UNE recommended again, that the communication to the population be changed to be transparent: Do not make plans to travel if you do not have a passport. Furthermore, close comments sections on different social media platforms. They are not helpful at this time.
Although UNE is pleased to hear about some measures taken, we questioned the employer about how it intends to support staff that are witnessing acts of violence.
UNE also noted that it has again received inquiries about the right of employees to refuse dangerous work.
Training, Staffing & Quality Control
The UNE raised that the quality of training is causing concerns with our members. Our members have noted that there is such a push on service delivery and production, to the detriment of the integrity and security of the passport. UNE would like to have further discussions on this subject in a future meeting.
Finally, UNE raised concerns with respect to the staffing plan and would like to discuss in depth at a future meeting.
June 15, 2022
UNE met with the Employer to follow-up on the ongoing Passport issues. Kevin King, National President, Manon Boy, National Labour Relations Officer and Nathalie Fitzback, Local President 10520, attended the meeting.
The employer and the Union discussed different priorities such as communications, service response and acceleration of training. The employer noted that it is currently reviewing the feasibility to provide more simplified training however, since every site is designed differently, the department will have to review this proposal by individual site.
UNE raised concerns with communications to clients and highly recommended that real-time wait times be posted on the website for each dedicated passport centre. This will improve client expectations because as the system works right now, people are showing up and becoming increasingly frustrated that the wait time is not as advertised. UNE also recommended that call centre messaging to clients be better scripted to minimize inaccurate information that may cause for more client irritability. Finally, UNE recommended that the employer be more present in real time on social media platforms, however, if the employer does not use social media in a more responsive way, that it closes the comments to minimize misinformation.
UNE further noted that the consistent messaging it heard through the site visits was the appointment system simply doesn’t work. UNE provided the example that appointments are supposed to be 10 minutes long, however simply put, just processing the payment takes 2 minutes. This doesn’t leave enough time to process a simple file, let alone complex files. Although it understands that the employer has put a lot of time, effort and funds into the online appointment system, it simply doesn’t work and should be phased out.
Finally, UNE commented again on overtime and that the employer should let employees work from home on paperless files and that the employer should have a more consistent and standardized approach. This will ensure not only the health and safety of our members but also provide for a better work/life balance.
June 14, 2022
UNE met again with the employer on June 9, 2022 as part of their commitment to meet weekly. Manon Boy, National Labour Relations Officer and Nathalie Fitzback, Local President, Local 10520 attended the meeting.
Employer representatives reported on their regions and updated the Union with respect to security measures in place and how each region manages their lines. They also shared that executives and managers were on site and discussed strategies regarding commissionaire presence and particular issues that occurred, such as the printing challenges at the St Laurent office.
UNE raised concerns with ongoing security problems. Specifically, clients blocking entrances and having too much access to staff. The wait times shown on the website are inaccurate, giving clients unrealistic expectations. As a result, more people show up and lines become crowded with frustrated clients. Providing the correct information and managing misinformation coming out of social media would improve line ups and client expectations.
Overtime and Virtual Work
During our site visits we have asked how the overtime is distributed and managed.
Some sites offer virtual work, while others ask employees to work in the office on paperless files. This came as a surprise and is a concern for UNE since there are inconsistencies on how the overtime is managed from site to site. While we understand that this is up to the workplace, UNE hopes that the employer, on a national level, would encourage uniformity and virtual work.
As mentioned before, the passport officers are tired, and deserve a work/life balance, but they also want to be productive members of the team and work where they can. Offering virtual work would benefit both the employer and our members by files being done, and giving the opportunity for employees to go home and have dinner with their family (as an example) and then logging on and work on files a few hours. We hope that by raising this at this forum, the employer will communicate with their respective centres to support virtual work.
June 6, 2022
UNE met with the Employer to follow-up on the ongoing Passport issues. Manon Boy, National Labour Relations Officer, Nathalie Fitzback, Local President 10520 and Vanny Del Bianco, Local Vice-President 20088, attended the meeting.
The Employer provided a brief overview of the ongoing work being done to help with the Passport issues in the past week with some regional updates and noted they have worked on updating the website, simplifying processes and maximizing staffing plans.
The Employer also noted they have added management team members and increased the number of Commissionaires in some locations to improve employee safety.
Finally, the Employer shared that they now have extended hours in some centres with high volume.
UNE responded, raised concerns and asked questions, more particularly but not limited to:
Ensuring safety of our members by better managing queues, the website and transparent communication with clients. If all of this is well managed, the aggressiveness and anxiety of clients will decrease.
The website should show the processing time of each office (24h, 48h, etc.) and not the waiting time. This would be more transparent when it comes to realistic expectations. If the Employer insists on continuing to have daily reports, it would be important that they reflect the reality of the wait times.
Concerns with inconsistency of the office closures. UNE was surprised to hear that the Employer stating that it has, in some offices, extended the hours, and that there was no consultation. The Union is concerned that some offices turn away clients when they are at full capacity while others serve all clients and end up closing the office at 11:30pm. This causes employee fatigue and mental health issues.
It is false to claim that the surge will be in 2023. It has been known that clients renew their passports a year in advance and that part of the incoming traffic is in relation to the 10-year passport renewal.
UNE Commented on the different topics discussed during the House of Commons meeting on the passport service standards
When asked what the status of the vaccination was and calling these employees back to work, the response was that there are only a low number of employees not vaccinated and overall, it would not affect the numbers. UNE disagrees with that statement. Because of the urgency of the situation, UNE recommends that the Employer place a moratorium on the policy. UNE has members that have been denied duty to accommodate and are ready to work. The employer can easily accommodate them with rapid testing and teleworking.
Predictability of passport issues
UNE agrees with the comment on the predictability and foreseeable of the passport issues. What has the employer done during the pandemic to prepare?
Minister Gould commented that 85% of passport requests are first-time applicants. UNE questions the validity of this statement since we have learned that majority of the passport requests are applications for children’s passports and usually not their first application.
Service standard limited to 45 days: Why the changes when passport officers cannot handle 25 days out? Also, the UNE questioned why no information about this change was shared with UNE.
Increasing Staff and Organizational Issues
When asked about the 600 new hires and how many Passport Officers were already on staff, the answer was before pandemic 1500 / post pandemic 2100 were processing passport. The UNE questions this statement and further asked the employer: How many passport officers can entitle a passport? All the applications can be accepted faster by having employees who are processing passports, but there is a big difference in the outcome if at the other end there are not enough qualified Passport Officers who can entitle the passport. As such, this does not provide the true picture of how the employer’s staffing plan will help accelerate the production of passport.
With respect to the plan to increase staff and the 3-prong approach: realigning of staff, hiring and technology, UNE asked for the human resources plan and we would be interested in the discussions on that topic. With respect to comments made on management and organizational issues – the UNE would be interested in continuing the discussions since we have long term solutions to recommend.
Reaction from Employer
The Employer agreed to provide answers. Additionally, as a result of the overwhelming amount of information provided by UNE, it was agreed that, further to the weekly discussions, “deep dive” meetings would be scheduled to focus on discussing and finding solutions on specific subjects.
This is another update from Passport Corner. UNE is YOUR UNION and we are here to help! Contact us with your questions, concerns and suggestions at email@example.com.
May 27, 2022
UNE National President Kevin King, National Labour Relations Officer Manon Boy and Local 10520 President Nathalie Fitzback met with the Employer on Friday May 27, 2022. The purpose of the meeting was to follow up on the passport discussions that occurred during the Service-Union Management Consultation Committee (SUMCC) meeting.
Following incidents in some centres, the Employer agreed that actions must be taken in order to support the health and safety of our members and solutions be developed to ensure these types of incidents don’t happen again.
UNE noted that our members are anxious and afraid to go to work. They are also tired. The UNE further raised that the Employer should look into heightening security in what are considered “hot spots”.
UNE further raised that the Employer should look at processing simplification, updating its service standard online to manage clients’ expectations, and look at system reporting.
The parties agreed to meet on a weekly basis to continue the discussions.
May 25, 2022
UNE National President Kevin King and National Labour Relations Officer Manon Boy met with the Employer on May 25, 2022. The purpose of the visit was to report UNE’s observations and concerns raised during recent site visits.
Specifically, UNE raised the following concerns:
Line management (between appointments/no appointment, transfers, pick ups)
Staffing, onboarding and transfers
Health and safety issues including violence, hair pulling, shouting, aggressive behaviour by clients, long term effects on mental health, stress and anxiety (some members have been followed in the parking lot), and fatigue
Lack of communication between Service Canada and Passport offices
Inconsistency of signage (Proof of travel, harassment and violence)
Inconsistency of screening processes between offices and call centres
Lack of training spaces
Ineffective use of social media (always answer with links to complaint/link to follow up the status of the request)
Unrealistic client expectations
Concerns with the security and integrity of the passport
Ensure staff finish their workday on time
Time to disconnect from the workplace
Fear that due to the operations, leave requests for the upcoming summer would be cancelled or not approved
Lack of communication between IRCC and Passport Canada regarding long and short passport demands (Review system harmonization)
Capacity management and predictability ahead of time
All level of employees feel they are not heard by upper management. In fact, they wish more executives would actually visit and observe their daily struggles and listen to ideas that could easily be implemented at low or no additional cost.
UNE proposed the following recommendations/solutions:
Review of transfer processes
Review of policies
Review of the services standards: Update Service Standards on the web and call centres
Clear communication line between Service Canada service centres, call centres, and Passport centres. Be clear, truthful and transparent. This will certainly help manage the clients’ expectations
Have a clear staffing/HR plan
Use social media effectively by providing concrete answers
Ensure staff can disconnect and can plan their evenings
Plan for proper staffing
The Employer noted the concerns and agreed there was much work to be done.
Future meetings will be scheduled to continue the dialogue.
The Council for Global Equality have partnered with Franklin and Marshall College in Pennsylvania to launch the first ever global LGBTQI perception index, which is aiming to get a comparative sense of how LGBTQI people in different countries feel about their human rights and safety in their countries. They’ve received 165,000 responses so far, but have indicated to me that the responses from Canada are fairly low, with only about 1,800 Canadians responding. They’d like to increase that number and if you are able to share this out to your networks, that would be great. I did the survey and it really is only a few questions and doesn’t take more than a minute.
Chris Little-Gagné (he/him/il) UNE National Equity Representative for 2SLGBTQ+
PSAC has filed an unfair labour practice complaint against Treasury Board for refusing to begin talks to negotiate a new dental care plan for tens of thousands of federal public service workers.
After surveying members, receiving thousands of responses, and preparing a package of proposals, PSAC has been pushing the government to come to the table to begin negotiations for the dental plan. However, Treasury Board continues to delay talks to address the important issues our members have identified with their current plan.
PSAC negotiates changes to the dental plan separately from the regular collective bargaining process. This process is also different than the recently concluded negotiations for the Public Service Health Care Plan agreement. PSAC negotiates the dental plan independently of other federal public sector unions.
Canada is fortunate to have a population that is made up of numerous distinct ethnic and cultural groups. Since the 1970s the Canadian Government officially adopted the ideology of Multiculturalism because of its emphasis on the social importance of immigration.
In the early days of the promotion of Multiculturalism, the dominant culture was very intimidated by the influx of various ethnic and cultural groups. It was often said that “if you come to Canada, you should be forced to adopt the Canadian culture”. This confused me because I didn’t fully understand what exactly “Canadian culture” was? My Canadian friends identified as Italian, French, or even European. Should I be adopting one of these cultures to be considered Canadian? Should I be eating more poutine, or adopting the word “eh” into my vocabulary? I was already using a tuque and ordering a double, double from Timmy’s. I even bought a Two-Four from the beer store for the May 2/4 long weekend, but I was still not considered Canadian enough.
When local governments began promoting multicultural events in various cities, that is when I “came out of the closet” and openly practiced my ethnic culture. I was no longer afraid to be me. I did not have to be embarrassed about practicing my culture openly in public. I could freely wear my ethnic clothing, eat my ethnic food and observe my culture’s art and music being appreciated by all. It also gave me the opportunity to learn about and appreciate the food, art and music of other cultures. It made me a more aware and appreciative person. To me, appreciating the cultures of all communities is what made me a true Canadian.
Multiculturalism is intended to encourage the various cultures to thrive in our society. I believe that a true “melting pot” would only flourish in a society that shows respect and appreciation for all cultures within that community. Some people believe that the promotion of multiculturalism would promote tribalism…. It would cause people to only interact within their own communities. That is not true. People tend to be intimidated by what they don’t know or understand. When people don’t understand the language that you speak or the religion that you follow or the food that you eat, they tend not to make the effort to integrate. This gives rise to tensions between people of different cultural backgrounds. People are too afraid that multiculturalism would result in their culture being eroded. However, the more one is exposed to other cultures, the more comfortable one become with integrating.
I believe that there are a lot more advantages to Multiculturalism than most people realize. It promotes a higher level of tolerance towards minorities, which in turn leads to a more peaceful society. When we learn from different cultures, life becomes much more exciting. It helps us to be more respectful of others and appreciate the cultural values and social norms of all. Beyond the Food and the Festivals, interacting with people of various backgrounds helps us to breakdown the ethnic or social stereotypes that one may have previously adopted. This helps us to look at things from various points of view and to work collaboratively in diverse ethno-social groups. In a multicultural society one is exposed to new ways of doing things and a different perspective of looking at things. This could only benefit us as a society.
The most important benefit of Multiculturalism is that it promotes the adoption of social justice for all. On this Multiculturalism Day let us all celebrate the diversity of all the communities in Canada and to affirm our commitment to democracy, equality, and mutual respect to all cultures in our world.
Sam Padayachee National Equity Representative for Racialized Members
PSAC has successfully negotiated long overdue improvements to the Public Service Health Care Plan (PSHCP), which provides benefits to most federal public service workers and retirees.
As part of the agreement, PSAC secured improvements to vision care and massage therapy benefits. Plan members will also see a major increase to psychological services, as well as an expansion of eligible psychological practitioners covered. Acupuncture will now be covered when performed by a licensed acupuncturist, and a prescription will no longer be required to access paramedical benefits like massage therapy or chiropractic treatment.
PSAC also won a significant victory to protect the rights of 2SLGBTQIA+ members, increasing coverage for gender-affirming care and procedures.
These improvements reflect priorities identified by PSAC’s membership during a comprehensive survey. The changes will take effect on July 1, 2023.
The PSHCP hadn’t been reviewed since 2006 and needed significant updates, especially to reflect increased health care service costs.
PSAC negotiates the health care plan directly with Treasury Board, alongside other bargaining agents of the National Joint Council and the National Association of Federal Retirees, representing retired members. This is done outside the regular bargaining process for collective agreements. This final agreement is subject to Treasury Board approval.
PSAC is pushing for a quick resolution as Treasury Board continues to delay implementation of a pay parity arbitration ruling that is meant to close a pay gap for many TC group members.
PSAC won a successful arbitration ruling in January 2022, with the arbitrator ruling that the pay gap should be closed between Engineering and Scientific Support (EG) members in the Technical Services (TC) group and EGs at the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA). The TC group covers nearly 10,700 members, with the EG classification making up more than 60 per cent of its members.
Since then, Treasury Board has refused to make payments to any EG members in the TC group, arguing they won’t implement the changes until PSAC and the government reach a new collective agreement.
We believe this is a clear violation of the arbitration ruling. We are addressing this situation with the arbitrator to have it resolved favourably in the near future. Closing this pay gap is long overdue and the government should not deny workers amounts that they are rightly owed.
These new rates will be subject to any further gains made in the current round of negotiations, which are underway now with Treasury Board. PSAC will be seeking regular annual economic increases for EGs and for all TC members, along with allowances for specific groups.
This arbitration decision has no impact on what PSAC is seeking at the table in this round of bargaining. Check out our bargaining toolkit to learn more about this round of bargaining, the issues that matter most, and how to get involved.
In 1834 the British Parliament abolished slavery in the British Empire. In March 2021, Canada’s House of Parliament finally voted to recognize the end of this atrocious part of our history by designating August 1st as Emancipation Day.
Although this day marks the end of the enslavement of People of African descent, Emancipation Day must be observed as the recognition of the struggles of all marginalized communities. A struggle that continues to this day. When we recognize the struggles of the past, we can take steps to avoid repeating those mistakes and move forward to improving the lives of all the people.
We need to realize that signing a piece of paper to abolish slavery may have ended the physical bondage of Canadians of African descent, but the mental bondage, the mental slavery still exists. Nelson Mandela said, “For to be free is not merely to cast of one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others”. I believe that one way in which we can begin to erode this mental bondage is to teach the next generation of Canadians the parts of our horrendous history that has been ignored and to ensure that these atrocities never happen again. We need to learn about our true history and heritage so we can begin to move forward with the healing.
As a society, we need to come up with new and innovative ways of combating all forms of oppression that we experience today. In other words, we need to identify the social, economic, legal and political restrictions imposed on marginalized communities and ensure that appropriate steps are taken to liberate these communities. We still experience discrimination in health, housing, employment, gender, sexual orientation, and economic equality, to name a few. Until we overcome these obstacles, Canada will not be a free and just home for all of its people.
On this second Emancipation Day in Canada, let us all remember the past, reflect on the present and plan for the future. Peace, Justice and Freedom for all.
“A luta continua”
Sam Padayachee UNE National Equity Representative for Racialized Members
A look back on John Watkins and the 2SLGBTQ+ Purge by the Canadian Government
By Kay Hacker
Content warning: This article includes explicit descriptions of systematic, institutionalized homophobia and transphobia, as well as non-graphic descriptions of violence against members of the LGBTQ2S+ community. This article also contains non-graphic mentions of torture and death. Finally, this article talks in-depth about police violence and police brutality involving the RCMP.
Every June, the rainbow flags come out for the ultimate celebration of love and all the diverse forms it takes- a way to celebrate our Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Two-Spirit and otherwise Queer and Trans (LGBTQ2S+) siblings in all their beautiful diversity. Many people wonder- why June, specifically?
Well, Pride isn’t always in June. In fact, in Vancouver, Pride is usually celebrated in August! This year marks Vancouver Pride’s 44th anniversary. But internationally, June is recognized as Pride month as a result of the Stonewall Riots in New York City. The Stonewall Inn is a well-known gathering place for LGBTQ2S+ people. In the 60s, it was subject to frequent police harassment. When the police raided the bar in 1969, the patrons (many of whom were trans women of colour) fought back and rioted against police brutality.
See, that’s the thing about Pride: it’s more than just a rainbow party, and more than just a celebration. Pride is a reminder to keep fighting. Pride is a reminder that we as LGBTQ2S+ people are still here, a rebuke and vindication against those who have tried to erase us.
Let me tell you about this fight. Let me tell you about the history of LGBTQ2S+ membership in the public service.
In the 1950s and 60s, the Canadian government made a concerted effort to remove any “suspected homosexuals” (not the words we would use today) from the public service. At first, the focus was mainly on MSM (men who have sex with men), as well as men who acted in ways that did not conform to their expected gender roles, such as wearing the wrong kind of clothes, since the vast majority of public servants were men. WSW (women who have sex with women) and women who acted outside their expected gender roles were also subject to persecution.
Why? Because they stepped outside of what society expected and that was considered dangerous. This was the Cold War, and for the Canadian government it was Us against Them. And there could be no “homosexuals” on our side, therefore They must be against Us.
It was considered a threat to national security to have LGBTQ2S+ people in the public service and specifically in the diplomatic apparatus, since gay public servants might be vulnerable to blackmail. Anything other than perfectly adhering to the gender you were assigned at birth and being attracted to the correct gender in the correct way left folks exposed to violence, discrimination and even criminal prosecution. So, according to the Canadian government, the best way to make the public service less vulnerable to blackmail was to uncover and uproot every possible weak spot (read: LGBTQ2S+ person) before the Russians could.
Despite the fact that there was no evidence of any successful attempts to blackmail LGBTQ2S+ members of the public service, the RCMP launched a massive campaign to unearth any member of the public service suspected of “perversion”. They monitored LGBTQ2S+ establishments and photographed patrons, conducted brutal interviews of suspected and confirmed gay public servants and tracked people down in their private lives. I invite you to think of each violation of these peoples’ basic human rights as an act of violence. LGBTQ2S+ public servants were forced into hiding, fearing for their jobs and for their safety. Thousands of “suspected homosexuals” were put on file in what is now called the LGBTQ purge.
All of this happened at the same time that the Public Service Alliance of Canada was taking shape and stepping up for public servants. This happened when my grandparents were finishing high school. You might have been alive when this happened- you certainly know at least one person who was.
I’m only telling you a small portion of the story today. I want to include so much and I know that there is still so much left to uncover. And at the same time, writing this article has been very difficult for me. Each personal narrative that I read, every article trying to capture the sea of pain in a tidy bucket… it feels like a punch in the gut. This is my community- both the LGBTQ2S+ community, and the public service.
To end this article, I want to tell you the part of the story that hit me the hardest and has stuck with me, even now: the story of one man, one victim of the LGBTQ purge. For me, the entire LGBTQ purge is filtered through his experience.
Let me tell you about John Watkins.
John Watkins was Canada’s first ambassador to Moscow. By all records, he was quite good at it, arranging for a landmark meeting between Lester B. Pearson (then-minister for external affairs) and Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union. He was a good diplomat, and a good man- popular in the public service, always with a story to tell. He was also a man who was attracted to other men. John Watkins died in 1964 at the age of 62, in a hotel in Montreal, of a heart attack. He died at the end of a four-hour long interrogation by the RCMP. By that point, he had been under constant surveillance and daily 3–4-hour interrogations for almost a month.
I would classify 28 days of interrogation as torture. The RCMP classified it as “need-to-know” information, had him declared dead of a totally coincidental heart attack and kept the reality of the situation secret until 1981. The purge of LGBTQ2S+ public servants continued until the early 1970s. LGBTQ2S+ purges continued in the RCMP and the military up until the 1990s.
The government apologized for the purge in 2017, a year before I joined the public service, and paid out a settlement to many of those affected, after victims spent years fighting for recognition.
This is not ancient history- this is living memory. As we celebrate Pride this year, as we lift up LGBTQ2S+ people in our lives, we must remember what came before- the bloody, brutal fight for recognition, and the many barriers towards LGBTQ2S+ survival. Those of us in the PSAC must recognize the history of violence against our LGBTQ2S+ members and work to avoid perpetuating this harm ourselves. The union was not able to protect LGBTQ2S+ members in the past. We will do better this time. We must.
I ask you, this Pride season, as you put up rainbow stickers and temporary tattoos, to remember John Watkins. Remember where we came from. Allies must learn to live with this tragic history, hold space for our pain, because for LGBTQ2S+ public servants, this tragedy is inescapable. It is part of the burden taken on when we chose to be public servants, and it is a burden borne most heavily by public servants who are out and proud.
We must all work towards a better future. The battle for LGBTQ2S+ rights is not over just because June has passed. LGTBQ2S+ people invited you to the party. Now, we invite you to the fight.
Kay Hacker –Local 20278.
Levy, R. (2018, October 3). Canada’s Cold War purge of LGBTQ from public service. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved June 2022, from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/lgbtq-purge-in-canada
Our history. Public Service Alliance of Canada. (n.d.). Retrieved June 2022, from https://psacunion.ca/our-history
UPI. (1981, December 23). RCMP interrogation of Canada’s first ambassador to Moscow, John Watkins, was kept secret to prevent scandal and to keep counter-espionage operations under wraps. UPI. Retrieved June 2022, from https://www.upi.com/Archives/1981/12/23/RCMP-interrogation-of-Canadas-first-ambassador-to-Moscow-John/1926377931600/