Colleagues, I'll call this meeting to order if I may. Thank you very much.
I just have a quick housekeeping note before we get going.
We'll have a one-hour panel. We have three witnesses today, one by video conference and two in person. We thank you all for being here.
I believe, colleagues, that I'll go with five-minute interventions, so we'll have time for a total of nine questions.
Mr. Masse, that means that rather than a seven- and a three-minute question, you'll get two fives.
We also have with us, via video conference from Edmonton, Alberta, Mr. Ron Rea.
Mr. Rea, can you hear us?
Good day, members of the committee, and thank you for inviting me to attend and speak on my own behalf and that of other Canadian Forces veterans with regard to the government's strategy for hiring veterans for public service positions.
I am a seventh generation Canadian, a 21-year veteran of the Canadian Armed Forces, a 12-year corporate executive, and I have been unemployed for 18 months. In 2006, after 21 years of distinguished service, I was 3b medically released from the Canadian Forces, a medical release classification placed upon me for a lifetime due to the numerous operational injuries I sustained during my air force career in domestic search and rescue operations. I retired with the rank of sergeant as a SAR tech team leader.
I was fortunate that, due to the economic boom in Alberta at the time of my medical release, I secured a very good middle management position with a very large corporation in Edmonton that sought to exploit my military expertise in critical thinking and problem solving. I went seamlessly from working with the military one day to civilian work the next, due to the successful application of the SISIP vocational rehabilitation program.
Due to the quality of my military training, I consistently scored the highest yearly evaluations among 1,200 employees and was described as a valuable asset to the executive branch in my civilian occupation.
When the economic downturn hit Alberta in 2015, the effects finally hit me directly in November 2017, when the company I worked for began to significantly downsize. My position was eliminated after 12 years of service. I was very confident that I would find employment quickly because of my extensive experience and background and because I was a veteran. I knew that I would not be eligible for the priority entitlement program, but that did not mean I was any less a veteran. I decided to apply to every Government of Canada job that was appropriate to my level of experience, and in doing so I applied to more than 30 positions.
Applying for any position through the Government of Canada website meant potentially spending an entire day filling out a single application online. It is a very exhaustive process and pulls no relevant information from a well-prepared and detailed resumé commonly accepted by most non-governmental job postings.
I passed all but two screening processes for all 30 jobs I applied for. Ironically, after serving 21 years in the military, the two jobs I was screened out of were for Veterans Affairs Canada. For all the others, I was informed through the Government of Canada website that my application was being retained until a position was available.
After one year, I was finally selected to attend two separate RCMP interviews at the CR-4 entry level. These were exhaustive interviews conducted by three HR staff. I passed both, only to be advised by email that I was a successful candidate and, although I was not being offered a position, I would be added to a pool of qualified candidates and that this pool would only be valid for a three-month period, at which time I would have to restart the process from the beginning.
At the end of my last RCMP interview, I asked the RCMP HR staff, if they were only conducting these interviews to fill a pool of qualified candidates, how often did they conduct interviews? Their response was that it was their full-time job. Every response I provided during the interview was recorded in writing by each person on the panel and I had to speak very slowly. I personally found this to be very labourious and inefficient.
In August 2018, I applied as an integrity services investigator with Employment and Social Development Canada. This was a very long, full-day online application. After waiting a few weeks, I was informed by email that I did not meet the required criteria, even though it was detailed in my application that I had extensive related experience, both military and corporate. This was the catalyst that forced me to contact my member of Parliament to seek guidance on this matter. I felt that I had been dismissed prematurely from this application.
After I contacted Employment and Social Development Canada, they got back to me to ask if there had been an oversight in my application. They stated that I was an unsuccessful candidate because I lacked investigative experience, even though my online application clearly detailed that I had thousands of hours performing that task. They then concluded that I would not be contacted further.
To my complete surprise, just this past month I was contacted by this same department that had dismissed me. Suddenly I was now deemed qualified, even though I had not reapplied. I attended a three-panel interview and an in-depth security screening process within a week and passed all levels of the screening.
I have now been advised that they are pleased to inform me that I am part of yet another pool of qualified candidates and that I may be offered a position in the future. However, the application will expire on September 4, 2019, with the possibility of extension.
In conclusion, my value as a veteran is no different from any other veteran, regardless of how long I have spent away from the forces. Canadians have invested millions of taxpayers' dollars in training me to be a critical thinker, to make life-and-death decisions and to operate a business with the same fiduciary and human resource responsibilities as a civilian executive. One would think that hiring a highly skilled veteran, regardless of their entitlement priority, would be the most prudent financial option since the return on investment is significant. This is especially true in my case, with my additional years of executive/corporate experience.
From a strictly a human resource standpoint, I am surprised that the Government of Canada has not adopted this common sense, logical approach to the strategy of hiring a veteran first.
I'm a negotiator with PSAC. I've been with the union for about 12 years.
I'm here today because, as I understand it, there are members of the committee who may have some questions or are interested in what the union has bargained for with respect to years of service accrual for members of the union who work in the border services group.
PSAC represents about 8,000 workers in the border services group. It consists primarily of law enforcement personnel who work for the Canada Border Services Agency, but we bargain with the Treasury Board.
I'm going to be talking a bit about seniority. I'll be using that term. In our collective agreement with Treasury Board, it's referred to as “years of service”.
In the first contract we bargained for the border services group—this was in 2009—we negotiated seniority rights for shift scheduling and for vacation scheduling. Seniority is based on an employee's years of service in the public service.
In 2011, we negotiated with the employer because the union had been lobbying for years for military service to be recognized for vacation accrual. We negotiated with the Treasury Board language in our collective agreement, which says that vacation accrual will include former military service. The parties have never been in dispute on that matter.
When we reached settlement on that collective agreement, the one that got implemented in 2013, there was a dispute. We had started to hear from members of the union in the workplace, a number of different places. In Windsor, for example, we heard a lot from folks in the Windsor local that CBSA had come out with two separate seniority lists, one for vacation scheduling and one for shift scheduling, which is not what we agreed to. So, we filed a grievance.
We lost the grievance, and so we then went back into negotiations for the last round of bargaining, which resolved in 2018. This is the collective agreement that was ratified last year. In negotiations, we raised the issue with the employer again of years of service accrual. We took the position that we wanted to fix the collective agreement so that it would reflect the intent of what the parties originally negotiated and what we had expected. Our position was always the intent, which is that years of service are based on your time as a public servant in the public service and that military time counts for vacation accrual only.
We reached a settlement, and that's what the new collective agreement actually says. It says that seniority is based on your time as a public servant. Of course, under the law, if you are non-civilian military personnel in the Canadian Forces, you are not an employee. You are not considered an employee. You're under a separate pension regime. You are under an entirely separate employment regime than that of the public service.
As we prepared for this round of negotiations, the union went through what's called an “input call”. What we do is we ask the members what they want to see addressed in this round of bargaining. Every local talked to the membership. We had hundreds of suggestions from the membership about what they wanted to see addressed, and we had contradictory input from the membership.
Some members of the union said, “We think our military time should count for seniority for vacation scheduling, for shift scheduling and for other matters”; and we had other members who said, “No, we want to keep the definition exactly the way it is now.” In light of the fact that there was no consensus on this matter, and it was a contentious issue, the bargaining team, with the support of the elected leadership of the union, put this to a membership vote. We had a plebiscite. It was an online vote. People were mailed packages. It was explained to folks what they were voting on. The leadership of the union and the bargaining team took no position on the issue. People had two choices when they voted. Members could vote either in favour of the status quo, which is that, for scheduling, years of service are based on your time as an employee in the public service, or in favour of wanting the bargaining team and the union to advocate for former military service to also be included in the seniority definition for shift scheduling and vacation scheduling.
A website was set up. Webinars were done. As the union's negotiator, I did webinars with members who called in. The vote was held between February 18 and March 1. Just under 60% of the membership voted in favour of leaving the definition the way it is, so that years of service for shift scheduling, for vacation scheduling, and for who will work on holidays and who will not are based on your years of service in the public service. Of course, as always, your vacation accrual is based on your military time.
I spent all day today negotiating with Treasury Board before I came here. The position the union is taking is that the definition should not change because that's what the membership voted on.
I'll be happy to answer any questions.
Yes, I'll provide the opening remarks.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, for inviting us to appear before this committee as representatives of the Treasury Board.
Our sector undertakes all collective bargaining activities for the core public administration and we establish terms and conditions of employment for non-executive employees, including vacation leave entitlements. Our sector also provides interpretation services for departments when they have questions with regard to all terms and conditions of employment or the intent of the policies and directives.
In light of the prior testimony, we understand that this committee has a particular interest with regard to the policy considerations of prior service or seniority when calculating vacation leave entitlements for veterans upon hiring them in the federal public service. We can confirm that prior to April 2012, veterans' prior service was either not considered or addressed inconsistently in various collective agreements.
This inequity was identified in budget 2012 to be rectified. On June 20, 2012, the directive on terms and conditions of employment for the federal public service was amended to include service with the Canadian Forces in the definition of “service” for vacation leave purposes. That was effective April 1, 2012. This allowed prior service as a member of the Canadian Forces to be consistently taken into account in the calculation of vacation leave credits for all employees in the core public administration. This language was subsequently negotiated and added to all collective agreements in the core public administration.
Any former service in the Canadian Forces for a continuous period of six months or more, either as a member of the regular force or of the reserve force while on class B or C service, is included in the calculation of vacation leave credits.
Veterans who join the public service can contact their compensation adviser or the public service pay centre with a record of service—if they have eligible prior service—and compensation staff will review their file and make adjustments as required per the relevant collective agreement.
I want to thank all the witnesses for being here.
My first question is for the Treasury Board with regard to what we've heard at committee. I know you've probably read some of the testimony delivered here.
For a lot of the veterans who want to apply, their years of service are not recognized. You've alluded to that a little bit in your testimony. Yes, vacation is recognized, but when it comes to shift scheduling and whatnot—I think Mr. Gay just mentioned it—their years of service are not being considered. Is there any leadership role that's being taken to potentially educate members of the public service to support that? I think it's pretty unanimous on this committee that we should be recognizing military service as years of public service when they apply within government.
The other issue has to do with transferring skills. Are we trying to help the military? Is there collaboration between the military and Treasury Board or the Public Service Commission? I know you can't speak on behalf of them, but is there a leadership role from Treasury Board to ensure that there is that transfer and knowledge of their skill, so that if they've served as a private or done whatever job in the military when they serve our country, they can apply for these types of jobs within the government? We've heard that consistently across testimony on our committee.
Mr. Rea, I'm going to start with you. First of all, welcome to our committee and thank you for your many years of service to Canada. You made a comment that really hit to the core. You said that you're always a vet, even after the five-year priority hiring time is up.
One of the things we've heard from other vets is that perhaps we should extend the five years. Is that something you would agree with?
One of the reasons I'm asking is that we've also heard that some issues, medical discharge issues—perhaps PTSD or other medical issues—come up after the five-year period. I think you were medically discharged. Would it serve veterans better to extend the priority hiring past five years?
Okay. In my case what happened was that when I was advised by the medical authority that I was going be released under 3B medical, suddenly the wheels went into motion. SISIP contacted me and said, “You are now eligible for the vocational rehabilitation program. Would you like to take that?” Then they explained how it works. For six months, I am still attached to the unit in which I'm serving. However, during those six months, I can go and find employment elsewhere. I can pick up a phone and say, “Excuse me, Company X, Y, Z, would you like to hire me for six months? You don't have to pay me. It would be like an on-the-job training program. I just show up for work every single day and you train me on a skill. At the end of the six months, if you're happy with my service, you can retain me and put me on as an employee. If not, you can tell me thank you so much and have a nice day.”
In my situation, I went to work for West Edmonton Mall. I called them because I was very impressed with their security program. I thought they looked very professional. I happened to be visiting my children in Edmonton at the time, so I approached the management there. I asked them if I could become a security agent for the company, which I would use as a stepping stone to find what I considered to be “real” civilian employment. They flew me from Winnipeg. I was serving at the survival school in Winnipeg at the time. They flew me to Edmonton and put me up in a hotel—the whole nine yards. They brought me in for a job interview.
After the 30-minute to one-hour interview, they told me that, yes, they'd really like to pick my brain as a critical thinker, and they wanted to bring in someone with a military mindset, but they didn't want to hire me for the position I thought I was going to get hired for. I said, “Oh? What is it you'd like to hire me for?” They told me they wanted me to run their building's entire infrastructure—all the systems that run the entire building. I thought, “Oh, my goodness. This is ridiculous.”
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to your House of Commons.
First of all, Mr. Rea, I want to pay my respects to you for your service to our country, especially given the fact that you want to work for Canada instead of elsewhere. Through you, I want to thank all the people who serve our army, our country and our liberty so well, and who still want to work for us. I know it's not easy to address the medical release issue and I deeply appreciate you for doing that. On behalf of my colleagues, thank you for what you have done for this country.
My speaking time is limited. I would like to talk to Mr. Williams about the seniority that veterans are assigned.
Could you tell me who decided to negotiate the seniority of veterans and why some of their seniority rights were set aside? How were the negotiations that led to this decision conducted?
I am referring specifically to the seniority rights of veterans. That's what this is about. It is a matter of determining how their seniority can be recognized.
It is always more difficult to express this in French. In English, the expression is so beautiful: “civil servants.”
Civil servants and military people serve our country so well. There is no better way to identify them than as a “servant”, and now they're trying to work in civil society, in the fonction publique. Civil servants and members of the military are so close because they serve our country.
Let me ask my question again, very specifically.
Could you tell me who told you that the seniority of veterans should be negotiated and evaluated and when were you instructed to do so?
Absolutely, and we made that proposal because there have been issues in the past when people have been called up for service. In the case of the Canada Border Services Agency, which is an employer we deal with directly, there has not been consistency. For example, when the war was going on in Afghanistan, there were people who got deployed overseas and their continuous employment was recognized. There were other people, though, who got deployed and their continuous employment was not recognized.
What we propose in bargaining is based almost exclusively on what we get from the membership. We get a lot of proposals from folks, and it's an entirely democratic process. We have an elected team that vets all the proposals we get, and there's a prioritization exercise. I'm not in a position to say, one way or the other, what's going to happen in the future. It depends on these democratic processes.
I can tell you, though, that we have made proposals in the past. I expect this will continue to happen because this bargaining unit is a law enforcement group predominantly. In this bargaining unit, perhaps more so than in others, there tend to be a lot of former Canadian Forces personnel who come to work there because it has to do with law enforcement. There's a certain skill set folks get in the forces that can transfer over to border services.
To Mr. Williams and Ms. Hassan, one of the reasons I was asking about the correlation before the medical discharge is that PTSD and other issues are in fact quite often linked to mental health. I know you have a memorandum of understanding on mental health. How is that going with enhancing or bridging that?
That would seem to be a mechanism that we have in place right now that actually helps in this matter.
What is in place with our memorandum of understanding on mental health? How are we looking to enhance that? That would be a natural bridge to some of the problems. We know from our previous discussion that we have a gap in the medical discharge information coming from our good veterans, like we have with Mr. Rea here.
How are we looking to augment our memorandum of understanding on mental health, to use it perhaps as a jumping point to make a more formal improvement in the connection between medical issues and discharges from one department, being that of Mr. Rea's, to that of the public service?
I want to give the last word to you, Mr. Rea, for this. I want to thank you.
I think it needs to be more than an understanding. In a country like Canada, there should be more than just an understanding at this point.
Mr. Rea, I have about a minute left. I don't know if you have qualifications to fix a payroll system, because we desperately need your help on payroll.
But if you have some advice to the committee, please give it, because it's the last minute. I invite you to sharpen us in the last moment.
Thank you, Mr. Chair, for your indulgence.
Maybe we can export that expertise over to Phoenix some time in the near future.
To all of our witnesses, thank you for being here.
To Mr. Rea specifically, thank you for your service to your country. Thank you for attending today by video conference. Your suggestions, recommendations and observations have been helpful.
To all witnesses, once again, should you have further recommendations or suggestions that would assist this committee in developing our final report, please submit them as quickly as possible to our clerk, because we'll probably start drafting a report within the next week or so.
With that, once again, thank you for your attendance.
Colleagues, we are adjourned.