Canada Employment and Immigration Union (CEIU) members serve Canadians across the country and around the world. A component of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), our members are federal public sector employees from Service Canada, Citizenship and Immigration Canada, and the Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada. Our members ensure that employment insurance (EI) and Canada pension plan (CPP) payments are received, help asylum seekers, and reunite Canadians with their families.
This last month has been disheartening for our members, first with the passing of Bill C-51, the Anti-Terrorism Act, which became law against all reason and virtually every expert witness’s advice to the government. While we applaud the honourable Peter Julian, Jasbir Sandhu, and Jinny Sims, for their steadfast opposition to the bill, we noted with disappointment that Conservative MPs Kerry Lynn Findlay, Randy Kamp, and Mark Wawara supported this shameful piece of legislation. In addition, the government’s unprecedented attack on collective bargaining with the budget implementation bill, C-59, is extremely troubling. Bill C-59 seeks to circumvent collective agreement negotiations and legislate changes to the collective agreements of federal public sector workers—a disturbing pattern we’ve become all too familiar with in British Columbia.
Our members continue to rally in support of the ability to provide quality services to Canadians. We will not stand idly by while our employer chips away at the rights and freedoms of ordinary Canadians. Our scientists have been muzzled, our food inspectors have been fired, and our coast guards shut down. Yet our members continue to rally together for public services and healthy workplaces—guaranteed through collective bargaining—which don’t just benefit our members; they ensure quality public services for all Canadians.
However, if these violations of workers’ rights aren’t enough to upset members of the public, financial implications of imposing a short term disability plan on federal government employees might. Turning over sickness benefits to a private insurance company puts all Canadians at risk in potentially the biggest tax grab in Canadian history.
The current sick leave program between the federal government and the unions allows for a maximum of 15 days per year (1-1/4 days per month times 12 months) for sickness which creates a ceiling on how much can be paid towards illness benefits in a year. This is an insurance policy that cannot be cashed out upon retirement, or traded in for vacation time. Additionally, employees are rarely replaced when they are off on sick leave. The liability being suggested by the Conservative government, therefore, simply does not exist. This insurance policy is only to be used in the case of a serious illness, and our members have given up provisions for decades to protect this insurance policy for our health and security.
However, if the program were handed over to a private insurance carrier we now have to deal with a “for profit” company handling the benefits. Short term disability programs are designed with the employer and employee paying a monthly premium to the insurance carrier, and in turn, the insurance carrier decides if they will pay out any claims submitted to them. The government would thereby be asking the Canadian taxpayer to cover 100 percent of these premiums.
Since the insurance carriers are a “for profit” industry, any time they feel their profits are not high enough for their shareholders, all they have to do is raise the premium that all Canadian taxpayers would have to pay into to create larger profits.
Tony Clement has stood up in the House of Commons and stated that removing the current sick leave program and replacing it with a short term disability program is necessary because modernization is required. However, modernizing is not synonymous with better or fair.
We know it won’t be fair for the employee because they will have to fight with the insurance carrier each time they file a claim, and it is definitely not fair to the Canadian taxpayer who is now on the hook for paying 100 percent of the premium, no matter how much it increases.
If the federal government turns sickness benefits over to a private insurance company in the form of a short term disability program, they will lose all control over how much it will cost Canadians and there will be no ceiling to that cost. Again, current sick leave provisions are an insurance that cannot be cashed out upon retirement—they cannot be traded in for extra vacation. Canadians need to ask themselves who is creating the real liability here—hard working federal public sector employees, or a deluded federal government.