I call the meeting to order. Good afternoon, everybody.
Pursuant to the order of reference of Monday, January 29, 2018, the committee is resuming its consideration of Bill .
Today in committee we will hear from witnesses on the subject of the work environment and resources available to employees of the Parliament of Canada.
We're very honoured and pleased to be joined today by a number of witnesses, including Charles Robert, Clerk of the House of Commons. Thank you for being here, sir.
Joining him is Monsieur Pierre Parent, chief human resources officer. Thank you for being here, sir.
From the Library of Parliament, we have Lynn Potter, director general, business support services, and Michelle Berry, director of human resources. Thank you both for joining us.
Each group will have seven minutes for opening statements, followed by rounds of questions.
Up first, we have Monsieur Robert, Clerk of the House of Commons. The next seven minutes is all yours, sir.
Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. Chairman and committee members, I am here today to speak about the House of Commons harassment prevention and conflict resolution framework and its occupational health and safety measures.
These policies and practices are in place to support members, House officers, research offices, and their staff, as well as employees of the House of Commons administration.
As parliamentarians and employers, members have an obligation to ensure a safe workplace for their employees. As Clerk of the House of Commons, I also have this obligation.
The framework and measures in place to support us include policies, training, and other mechanisms that Monsieur Pierre Parent, chief human resources officer of the House administration, will explain in further detail.
The House administration is committed to maintaining a safe and harassment-free workplace. When necessary, we will resort to conflict resolution to deal with harassment cases, but our ultimate aim is prevention.
Prevention starts with promoting awareness of the importance of a harassment-free workplace. We achieve this through various educational activities as well as ongoing communication. Increasing the level of awareness and proactively addressing potential safety hazards and harassment situations at their earliest stages minimize their damaging impact. Up-to-date training is provided to members and their employees, both on and off the Hill, as well as to House administration employees.
We also provide a variety of resources that are adapted to the complex work environment of all employees, on and off the Hill: shifts, extended working hours, travel to and from constituency offices, etc.
Foremost, prevention and conflict resolution start by setting the example. Guided by a set of core values, such as respect for the democratic process and inclusiveness, the House of Commons administration strives to provide effective support to members and their employees and acts as a responsible steward of the House. The administration is committed to being a leader and to raising the standard in harassment prevention and conflict resolution.
Furthermore, the House of Commons administration is monitoring Bill and will make appropriate recommendations to the Board of Internal Economy, which is responsible for establishing bylaws, policies, and guidelines relating to the use of resources provided to members to carry out their parliamentary functions. I'm sure the board and the House administration will follow the work of this committee with great interest and be fully prepared to comply with Bill should it receive royal assent.
For my part, I have been looking at best practices on harassment prevention and conflict resolution, and most recently I have carefully reviewed the Westminster bicameral report of the cross-party working group on an independent complaints and grievance policy. Our determination to make this workplace harassment-free is a goal that is shared.
Also, as a responsible and diligent employer, the House administration has always followed the spirt of the Canada Labour Code and has been continuously committed to following the highest health and safety standards.
I will now turn it over to Mr. Pierre Parent, who is monitoring the implementation of the House of Commons policy on preventing and addressing harassment as well as the occupational health and safety policy. Mr. Parent collaborates with the Board of Internal Economy in the development of new initiatives relating to the issue at hand. He will now provide further details regarding the existing framework.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Mr. Robert. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you for the opportunity to speak about our organization and how we currently deal with safety and harassment prevention at the House of Commons. The following items detail the guiding principles, mechanisms, and tools that we have put in place to guide and assist us.
Let's start by addressing the prevention of harassment. We currently have in place a framework with various components that provide members of Parliament, House officers, research offices, and their employees, as well as House administration employees, with mechanisms to prevent and resolve alleged harassment situations.
In December 2014, the Board of Internal Economy adopted the first House of Commons policy on preventing and addressing harassment, which applies to members and House officers as employers, as well as to their employees and employees of research offices.
In June 2015 the Standing Committee on Procedure and House Affairs adopted a code of conduct for members of the House of Commons regarding sexual harassment. The code came into effect at the start of this parliament. It covers member-to-member situations only, and secures the commitment of members to provide an environment free of sexual harassment. Every member is required, under the code, to sign the pledge form, and all members have done so.
In addition, the House administration's policy on harassment prevention and resolution in the workplace has been in place for several decades and applies to all House administration employees. The latest version was updated in April, 2015.
Clear processes are in place for filing informal and formal complaints, investigating and reporting, appealing decisions, communicating findings, and ensuring that corrective actions are taken when appropriate.
Confidentiality and impartiality are at the heart of our policies. We want to ensure that everyone, regardless of position or title, feels safe addressing those situations, while protecting their privacy. Protecting the rights of both the complainant and the respondent will ensure that both parties benefit from fair and due process.
Reporting is an important part of our framework. As the CHRO, the chief human resources officer, I am responsible, under the policy, for reporting annually to the Board of Internal Economy. The report is made public on a yearly basis.
There were 10 cases in the 2015-16 report, and 19 in the 2016-17 report. The report categorizes the cases as either inquiries or complaints. For example, seven of the 10 cases in the first reporting period were categorized as inquiries, as were 13 of the 19 in 2016-17. The next report will be tabled at the Board of Internal Economy meeting in June 2018, covering the period of April 2017 to March 2018.
To further support the framework, various initiatives have been introduced. The House of Commons offers its employees, members, and staff access to an informal conflict resolution program known as Finding Solutions Together. A key element of this program is access to a full-time resource who is available to offer counselling on workplace conflicts, including harassment prevention, and, if appropriate, mediation. This program has been used frequently in the past two years and has been instrumental in resolving some of these cases as early as possible in the process.
Another essential service under the harassment prevention framework is training. In December 2016, an online training session was launched to raise awareness among members and their staff of what constitutes harassment and to inform them about available services.
The hour-long training features short information segments, scenarios, and questions to provide additional support with regard to harassment prevention. Participants can self-identify in a voluntary declaration at the end of the training session. As of January 31, 2018, 647 individuals had completed the training.
Online training provides employees with the flexibility to work the sessions into their schedule and enables staff in constituency offices to participate. It goes without saying that we also recognize the added value of offering in-person training in a classroom setting. We have been working with external training experts to develop a three-hour in-class session. We anticipate being able to offer this session to all members before this year's summer break.
We are also developing additional training sessions for staff both on the Hill and in constituencies.
Within their first week of work, new House administration employees are strongly encouraged to take the introductory training, which is a three-hour session. The program also provides more specific training as required. Many teams from human resources services have recently taken the civility course aimed at encouraging civil and respectful interactions with each other. Providing a harassment-free workplace for everyone in the parliamentary community is our priority.
Let's now discuss health and safety in the workplace. Although the Canada Labour Code does not currently apply to the House of Commons, the House administration, pursuant to its occupational health and safety policy, has accepted the responsibility of ensuring a safe and healthy workplace for its employees.
The policy approved by the board states the following: “the House of Commons Administration does accept the following standards as the basis for its organizational obligation to ensure a healthy and safe workplace for employees”.
The standards include, first, the obligation to ensure a safe and healthy workplace for its employees based on the standards found in the Canada Labour Code, part II; second, the regulations established pursuant to the Canada Labour Code, part II; third, the requirements established by the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board; fourth, common law requirements; and finally, compliance with the provisions of the policy.
The House administration holds joint occupational safety and health committee meetings with employee representatives to discuss issues and opportunities. Again, as Mr. Robert stated earlier, the House administration is monitoring Bill and will make appropriate recommendations to the Board of Internal Economy in order to comply with it should it receive royal assent.
Thank you for inviting me to appear before you today. As director general of business support services, I am responsible for providing leadership in managing the library's internal services, including the HR directorate where policies that deal with the subject matter of Bill are developed, administered and monitored.
I am accompanied today by Michelle Berry, director of human resources for the library.
Like our Hill partners, the library is separate from the federal public service and is not subject to Treasury Board policies. Our roles and responsibilities as an employer derive from the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act. While we are not subject to Treasury Board, we do follow best practices in public administration. We often develop policies similar to those of Treasury Board and adapt them in accordance with PESRA, the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act, and the needs of our organization.
Our workforce of about 400 employees carries out the broad and diverse mandate of the library. These employees provide reference services to you and your staff. They respond to your research requests and provide research support to parliamentary committees, such as this one, and to parliamentary associations. They welcome visitors to the Hill every day and they inform the general public about how Canadians govern themselves.
The library is committed to promoting a culture of dignity and respect and to providing a safe and harassment-free work environment for all of its employees. We take this matter very seriously and have devoted considerable efforts to prevent and resolve harassment at the library.
I would like to outline for you the steps we have taken to prevent harassment in our organization and the processes that we have established to address and resolve incidents of harassment when they do occur.
In March 2011, the library introduced a new policy on the prevention and resolution of harassment in the workplace. We reviewed the policy in 2016 to ensure it was up to date and consistent with best practice models in the field.
One of our policy's objectives is to prevent harassment by fostering a respectful workplace. We believe that one of the best ways to address workplace harassment is to prevent it from happening in the first place. As part of our prevention strategy, we identify and address situations of conflict that, if left unresolved, could lead to allegations of harassment, and we take the necessary steps to resolve these situations in a timely manner.
We provide regular mandatory harassment prevention training to all our employees in order to educate them on the role we each play in ensuring a respectful workplace, on what constitutes harassment, and on what avenues of resolution are available to them.
We provide our management community with the training and support they need to address conflict in the workplace when it arises.
We make a number of tools and resources available to employees and managers, such as guides and Q&As that provide further detail and explain the content of our policy.
And finally, we are putting in place a core competency that will apply to all library employees around respect and ethical behaviour in the workplace.
Despite our best efforts, inappropriate behaviour sometimes arises.
Our policy provides a framework for addressing and resolving harassment-related incidents, allegations, and complaints through a variety of both informal and formal processes. Early resolution, through discussions and informal resolution mechanisms, such as counselling, coaching, facilitation, and mediation is encouraged. Managers make every effort to resolve the issue between the parties as quickly as possible to prevent the situation from escalating.
Library employees always have the option and the right to file a formal complaint under our harassment policy. Any formal complaint is subject to an internal review and an investigation by an impartial and experienced person from within or outside the Library. The findings and recommendations following the investigation are reviewed to determine any corrective measures or disciplinary action to be taken.
It is important to note that even if the complaint is unfounded, the Library will undertake to apply resolution initiatives to help correct the situation that led to the complaint.
We want our employees to feel comfortable coming forward with issues without fear of embarrassment or reprisal whether allegations are founded or not. By using this type of process, we strive to send a strong message to our employees that offensive behaviours or harassment in any form will not be tolerated, that complaints will be addressed, and that they can trust us to help if they do experience harassment.
The library has already implemented measures contemplated by Bill through its policy on preventing harassment and related conflict resolution processes.
We recognize that our efforts must be ongoing. We are always looking to improve our policies and processes and we will continue to coordinate our efforts with those of our partners on the Hill to ensure that all employees enjoy a healthy work environment that is free from harassment and sexual violence.
Ms. Berry and I are happy to answer any questions you may have.
Yes, I think all the complaints received in those two time periods were resolved to nearly everyone's satisfaction. If the complainant loses, however, that is another matter.
I should also mention that there is a big difference between the member's context and my own environment, at the House administration. I am the chief human resources officer for the House administration. Since they are our employees, those cases are much easier to deal with. In the case of members' offices, each MP is their own employer. In those instances, I serve more as an advisor. As to the situation you mentioned, I sometimes have to advise the MP on managing the case. The difficulty is that sometimes the MP is both the employer and the respondent. That calls for sensitivity and tact on my part, especially in recommending best practices.
When a formal complaint is made, one of the best practices I recommend, which is accepted in the industry and that I would use in my own environment, is separating the parties for the duration of the investigation. In some cases, that is not possible. In those instances, giving the employee paid leave for the duration of the investigation is recommended.
My role includes providing sound advice to the MP on best practices, but it is always up to the MP to make decisions within their own office. In any event, my staff and I are always willing to advise MPs in this regard.
Thank you very much for joining us. Mr. Robert, I'm happy to see you, and especially to see you up close. My first question is for Ms. Potter or Ms. Berry, but then I would really like to know what you think. My question will be brief.
When it comes to time frames, we have heard a number of witnesses say that they were long, and that could affect victims. As you said, when it comes to the work environment, members often work in very small teams that are sometimes made up of only two or three people.
I would like to know whether you think the bill before us will do more to help reduce processing times. I would also like to know how we could improve, if necessary, the communication of reports to survivors and whips.
It all depends on how the case unfolds. We are not talking about strategic advice here, but about advice on the procedure to follow.
People can contact me or Myriam Beauparlant, who manages the workplace conflict resolution program. Occasionally, the employee will contact me. So then we look at how we will manage the case, but we often split the task between us. For example, Ms. Beauparlant may take care of the employee, while I take care of the member. I really want to specify that we do not give advice on how to get rid of the complaint, but rather talk about best practices and the next step to take.
One of the things I explain all the time is mediation, which I strongly support. Over the past few years, we have resolved extraordinary cases through mediation. I have training in mediation; I am a mediator. I would not oversee the mediation myself in the cases we are talking about now, but I can at least explain to both parties what mediation involves, so they can make an informed decision.
We tell people that they can use mediation, and we explain what it is and what it is not. That's the type of advice we provide. Talking to both parties at the same time does not involve any ethical problems because that advice does not lean one way or the other. The advice is more about moving the case forward.