Colleagues, I call this meeting to order.
Welcome to meeting 10 of the House of Commons Standing Committee on Government Operations and Estimates.
Colleagues, before we start, I would like to go over the schedule for committee meetings next week, as approved by the whips of all parties.
Next week, on Monday, May 11, we will be meeting from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. That's eastern time, of course.
On Friday, May 15, we will be meeting from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., again eastern time.
Colleagues, I would like to take five minutes at the end of today's meeting to talk about the witnesses we will be inviting to appear after May 15.
I have a couple of general comments that I think everyone is familiar with.
When speaking, wait until you are recognized. Speak slowly and clearly. If you are speaking in English, ensure that you are on the English channel. Conversely, if you're speaking in French, make sure you're on the French channel.
To the President of the Treasury Board, if you're planning to alternate between languages, just make sure you are switching the interpretation channel to the language in which you will be speaking. Also, we would ask you to please pause briefly between switching languages so that our interpreters will be able to make the necessary adjustments.
With that, colleagues, I would invite the President of the Treasury Board to make a brief opening statement.
Welcome, Mr. Duclos....
You might have to unmute your mike, Minister.
That's bizarre. It should be working. That is very strange.
Can you hear me?
The Chair: Yes.
Hon. Jean-Yves Duclos: Thank you.
Mr. Lukiwski, thank you for reminding me of the technologically appropriate steps. I will try to be as well behaved as I can and switch, as you said, from English to French as I move from one language to the other in my brief presentation.
Thank you for inviting me to be with you today. It's always a great privilege to be with your committee by whatever means it may be.
Joining me by virtual means today from the Treasury Board Secretariat are: Nancy Chahwan, the chief human resources officer for the Government of Canada; Francis Bilodeau, acting chief information officer for the Government of Canada; Marcia Santiago, executive director, expenditure strategies and estimates; and Kathleen Owens, assistant comptroller general, acquired services and assets. They will be with me to provide you with the most accurate information possible.
I would like to speak briefly about the government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as it relates to public servants working remotely.
As you're well aware, the Government of Canada has directed its employees to work from home, whenever possible, to protect their health and safety and comply with public health advice. This has meant a large-scale shift of the workforce to home offices and makeshift offices in dining rooms and at kitchen islands in homes across our country.
Regardless of where they work, however, federal employees are continuing to be productive in their efforts to provide Canadians with the government services they depend on every day and to provide critical services and the many new measures quickly developed in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Public servants at Canada Revenue Agency and Employment and Social Development Canada, for example, have rolled out services and such benefits as the Canada emergency response benefit and the Canada emergency wage subsidy. As of May 5, there were more than 7.5 million applicants and 10.7 million processed applications for the Canada emergency response benefit alone.
At Global Affairs Canada, public servants have worked to bring 20,000 Canadians home safely from locations all around the world. Canada's Armed Forces has sent its members to help out at hard-hit long-term care homes in Quebec and Ontario.
Like private citizens, employees and owners of businesses across the country, public servants are contributing their skills and know-how to the fight against COVID-19. And since mid-March, a large portion of these public servants, including those supporting critical services, have been working remotely whenever and wherever possible. A critical service is one that, if disrupted, would result in a high or very high degree of injury to the health, safety, security or economic well-being of Canadians, or to the effective functioning of the Government of Canada.
Departments have identified their critical services and we continue to work with them to ensure the alignment of resources under established business-continuity planning processes.
Of course, sometimes delivering services through working remotely simply is not feasible. For these employees, departments are ensuring that proper protocols are being followed, including the provision and the use of personal protective equipment, proper cleaning practices and other measures.
For the most part, though, working from home has become the new normal for many public servants who are carrying out their duties during the pandemic.
As noted, a great many public servants are working hard to develop and deliver support to Canadians, including a host of new emergency measures.
While many public servants already have the necessary tools to do this, some require additional equipment, such as laptops, tablets, and monitors, as well as specific accommodations to allow them to do their work. Requests for equipment are being considered on a case-by-case basis, giving priority to those employees who are delivering critical services and those for whom the employer has a duty to accommodate.
With respect to using the government Internet network, the Treasury Board Secretariat, Shared Services Canada and departmental chief information officers have worked together to maximize and expand Internet bandwidth to support remote work and prioritize network access for critical operations. Our guidance to departments has recommended that anyone not supporting critical operations, service and program delivery should limit their use of the network....
I am sorry for this delay. Thank you for your patience.
Thank you for your guidance.
Thank you for your recommendation. I will try to translate into French what I have here in English.
In addition, we are asking employees to use their government-supplied mobile devices, whenever possible, to send and receive emails, in line with security requirements. We are also asking that, whenever possible, they connect to the network during off-peak hours and for short durations to get what they need.
To support continued and necessary collaborations within and across teams, we're also asking employees to use public cloud services, such as Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts and Slack, for unclassified work, and to use the BBM Enterprise application to secure messages for up to Protected B work.
In addition, we are working with thousands of public servants at home to support them with the safe custody and control of sensitive and classified information.
We also understand that working remotely, especially with long periods of sheltering-in-place, can be hard on our employees' mental and physical well-being, like for all other citizens of this country and others who are telecommuting in the current conditions. So we have connected them with specialized mental health services, and we are encouraging them to do things to remain productive and, more importantly, healthy—common sense things like setting a suitable schedule, staying connected, even if only by virtual means, with colleagues and loved ones, and making time for self-care—getting enough sleep, eating healthy, and exercising regularly. These are public health guidelines.
Thank you very much, Mrs. Block. We're completely out of time.
Before we go to our next intervenor, colleagues, and for the minister, if you are going to be asking your question en français, please ask the entire question for the entire six minutes en français. Minister, you can respond on the appropriate channel.
If you are going to ask the minister a question in English, please carry out the entire question and answer period in English. Minister, you can then switch to English on your channel, rather than switch back and forth. There are a few technical difficulties when we do that.
With that, I'll go to Mr. Weiler for six minutes, please.
Thank you for your patience and for your guidance.
Thank you for that very good question, MP Weiler. I think you make allusion to a broad context, in which we have to both provide the benefits and services that Canadians absolutely require in this emergency situation as well as maintain the health and safety of our public servants.
By the way, we are all mindful—and you reminded us of that as well—that public servants may also go through difficult personal situations. They might need to look after children, they might have someone sick in their household or they might have their own personal health circumstances.
It's a combination of the two things. Nancy Chahwan, the chief human resources officer, is on the line as well, and she might want to add a few things, but the key word from the start was “flexibility”, because of the importance of respecting individual circumstances while ensuring that the machinery of government would operate appropriately.
Thank you. I apologize to the chair, the committee and the minister for the technical difficulties this morning.
We have been able, through collaboration with Shared Services Canada my colleague Francis Bilodeau, who is at this meeting, and with others, to maximize productivity for the public service, even in these very exceptional times.
Essentially, we were able to augment the technical capacity to make sure that employees who were abiding by public health instructions and staying at home whenever it was possible were the same time able to conduct the critical business of government, and even more than that.
I should mention that we still have some employees showing up at the workplace when it is absolutely necessary to do so. We also have a great contingent of employees who are teleworking without necessarily needing constant access to the network. This is how we were able to redistribute the work and make sure that our employees—the vast majority of public servants across the country—are still contributing to the work.
Thank you, and thank you for the question.
It has been said that mental health is actually the second silent pandemic behind COVID-19. We have been extremely attentive from the get-go. The Treasury Board Secretariat has developed a tool kit that addresses several aspects of mental health for workers, including a very specific focus for front-line managers who have been asked to connect with the workers to make sure the essential work is continuing and the expectations are understood, but also that they are attentive to the accommodation needed for the individual situations of our employees working from home.
That tool kit is on our website. It is accessible to other employers too, and it's been used tens of thousands of times.
We also have made sure that we have reached out with webcasts. Just this week, we had a webcast, and 6,000 people accessed it to talk about how to cope with the current situation. This is not just about self-care. It's also about the care of our teams. It also gives tools, very practical tools, that allow managers to learn how to manage a team remotely. This has been a significant opportunity for us to learn about that.
We don't have an indication that the composition per se would have changed. There is some lag for us to get the numbers, but what I can tell you is that with regard to the term, indeterminate and casual employees, we have made sure that people were as productive as they could be, using telework, as we discussed before.
As for students, we know that there has been a significant drop in referrals compared to last year. The Public Service Commission is responsible for the programs for student recruitment. They and Treasury Board Secretariat have worked together to make sure that our students are provided with a good opportunity to contribute to resolving the crisis and to help us as we work on recovery.
This is important for our students. It can affect their graduation, but this would also allow us access to a qualified workforce that typically continues and forms la relève and—
Thank you for your question, Mr. Drouin.
You brought up two very important things. Let me quickly summarize them.
First, we owe a very great debt of gratitude to public servants, since their personal conditions during the crisis also affect them and because their professional responsibilities have increased in recent weeks.
Second, you asked me what we are doing to support public servants so they can continue to work for Canadians. We have implemented measures for mental health and physical health. We are giving them the tools they absolutely need to be well and do a good job. This includes all the steps they can take to protect the health of their loved ones and, in some cases, to care for their children.
There is a lot more to it than that. Ms. Chahwan can tell you more about how we take care of employees and those around them.
Colleagues, I'm calling this meeting to order. We are reconvened.
For the benefit of those witnesses who have joined us, I'd like to make a couple of comments to assist you in your presentations.
Before speaking, make sure you are recognized by the chair.
When you are ready to speak, you can either click on the “unmute” button or press on the space bar if you're using a desktop computer. When you release the space bar, you will automatically go back to mute.
When you're speaking, please speak slowly and clearly for the benefit of our interpreters.
I'd also like to explain some of the guidelines regarding the interpretation. If you are speaking in French, please go to the French channel. If you wish to make your comments and remarks in English, please make sure you're on the English channel. If you are going to be switching from one language to the other, please pause briefly before going to the second language to allow our interpreters to catch up with you. If a question is asked of you in one language, I would ask that you give the response in the appropriate and corresponding language.
I understand we have four presentations. We will go immediately to them, but I would remind colleagues that we must adjourn at 1 p.m. sharp, because our technicians need time to start setting up for the next meeting, which will start approximately an hour after ours.
With that, I'm not sure of the order of speaking, but I have representatives from the Canada Employment and Immigration Union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada, Service Employees International Union Healthcare and the Union of Taxation Employees.
First up, I have Mr. Bourque.
Dear members of the standing committee, as national president of the Canada Employment and Immigration Union, please allow me to begin by thanking you for the time to speak on behalf of our 20,000-plus members from Service Canada, IRCC and IRB. It is our members who work to serve the public and ensure the delivery of key government services every day, such as old age security, CPP, employment insurance, as well as processing applications for citizenship, permanent residency and refugee status. It is our members who have been responsible for the enormous task of responding to the initial influx of EI claims and inquiries, and adjusting quickly to the changes in program delivery across our three departments at a crucial time.
It is worth noting that over 70% of our CEIU members are women. Many are single mothers, and many are among the lowest income earners within the public service. They are disproportionately responsible for child care and domestic labour while also being on the front lines of the pandemic, physically and virtually. They have been working across Canada in various offices and call centres where they serve the public and ensure the delivery of key government services and initiatives every day. Needless to say, our members have gone above and beyond in an unprecedented fashion while being heavily impacted by this pandemic.
As we focus on Mental Health Week, we must highlight the importance of providing a safe and healthy workplace for all. As the surge in EI claims placed unprecedented pressure on our members at Service Canada, the number of incidents of verbal abuse and physical violence increased drastically. Our members deserve safe and healthy workplaces and fair working conditions.
Our members fear for their safety and fear being vectors of transmission for their loved ones or also for anyone accessing in-person service centres. While closing the centres has postponed the urgency of the matter, it is critical that personal protective equipment is available and that safety measures are upheld by management. There were many reports of managers coercing members to continue to work in unsafe conditions. While the response from the employer was tepid to past requests for plexiglass barriers and security presence, the pandemic underscores the importance of these measures to protect against the risks of the pandemic and also to reduce the risk of physical violence.
In call centres, the downtime between calls is inadequate especially when calls involve verbal abuse or other triggering matters, and the emphasis on limiting call time often leads to frustrated Canadians calling back with new problems. It's time to provide more adequate training and support to call centre staff, allow appropriate downtime between calls and place an emphasis on successful resolution of calls rather than rushing through the queue.
Overcrowded offices, bedbugs, bat-ridden buildings and outdated telework policies conspire to create a toxic environment where members working in close proximity become vectors of transmission as their own health deteriorates. The alternative of working off the kitchen table for months on end highlights the need for a modern, humane and sustainable approach to office space use and teleworking within the public service that is consistent with promoting mental health, reducing medium- and long-term health risks and reducing the risk of spreading the virus.
Members are now reporting that they are being pressured to return to unsafe working conditions when what they need is empathy and support from management to do their jobs. The mental health impacts of the pandemic present an opportunity for our government to lead the way through compassionate, safe and humane approaches to management that are conducive to good mental health outcomes and good service to Canadians.
Just before the pandemic, our members rallied to mark four years of continued service through the Phoenix nightmares. Many are still doing their jobs in the middle of this pandemic while still sorting pay issues and continuing to show up and get the job done.
CEIU is proud of the work done by our members every day, but especially the tremendous work accomplished in processing a record-breaking volume of activity and delivering critical government supports to Canadians in need.
If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that sweeping changes across the public service are possible. Telework works, and the barriers we thought existed can be overcome. Health and safety at work is a critical public health issue, mental health awareness is a success factor in delivering quality services to Canadians and communications between the union and management are critical for everyone's safety, especially during a pandemic.
We hope that the federal government will remember the incredible dedication and commitment our members have shown throughout the pandemic and every day, and we look forward to talking about it further at the bargaining table.
Good afternoon, and I want to thank the committee for the opportunity to participate today.
I would like to start by commending the federal government for its rapid response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Our 140,000 members in the federal public service are proud to be a major part of this response and proud of their contribution in this very difficult time. Many are on the front lines battling the virus and delivering emergency financial support to millions of Canadians.
The government has been in unprecedented regular communication with our union as the pandemic has unfolded, and we are encouraged by the spirit of co-operation. It has allowed us to facilitate significant changes across the public service in order to help Canadians but also to support the tens of thousands of public service workers who have had their work and personal lives upended.
Our members at Canada Revenue Agency and Service Canada have helped process literally millions of applications for financial assistance for individuals and businesses and are continuing to do so every day. Border service officers deal with potentially infected travellers daily, and food inspectors are in grave danger at meat-packing plants that have been overrun with COVID-19. Our members in our federal corrections institutions face similar threats, and thousands have stepped forward to do completely new jobs whenever there has been a need to support the government's relief efforts. They have done so around the clock when needed, with their children by their side, with family members to care for and with the constant stress of changes that the virus has brought to the daily lives of each of us.
These are just a few of the examples of how our members are putting Canadians first during this crisis, but as time passes, their employer's words of gratitude are beginning to ring hollow. That's because 140,000 of these PSAC members have been working without a new contract for years, and many have been waiting up to four years. There is no reason for this continued delay.
Elsewhere in Canada, the need to provide stability to the public service and fair compensation to public service workers during this pandemic has been recognized. The Government of Ontario bargained and settled with its teachers' unions in the first weeks of this crisis, and the Quebec government is at the bargaining table with unions representing over 500,000 public sector workers. Canada Post, a large federal employer, reached a tentative agreement with Public Service Alliance of Canada members just weeks ago.
The government implemented massive changes at lightning speed across the public service with the help of our members, yet it has refused to move forward on the comparably modest task of settling a round of bargaining. PSAC members represent 50% of the federal workforce, and these are the same workers who continue to experience four years of Phoenix pay nightmares and have yet to be compensated for their hardships.
Canadians need a stable public service that is well supported during this difficult time, and our members certainly deserve the right to a basic, fair collective agreement. As part of their response to COVID-19, we are urging the federal government to get their negotiators back to the table with a mandate to reach a fair settlement for the benefit of PSAC members and all Canadians.
On a separate matter, the government must continue to make the health and safety of federal public service workers a top priority. Despite some exceptions that we continue to work through, we acknowledge that the federal government has worked hard to keep the vast majority of our members safe during this pandemic. Moving forward, whether on the front lines or in offices, our members need to know that protective measures and training will be in place and that personal protective equipment will be in stock and available. In addition, working with provinces to speed up testing and contact tracing is very important for our members in addressing any future outbreaks at their work sites.
The government has done a commendable job at supporting workplace mental health in the federal public service in these extraordinary times. As the emotional and physical strain of the pandemic continues to grow, this should remain a top priority for the government.
More broadly, PSAC is pleased that the government has responded to the crisis with progressive measures to support Canadians. Actions such as expanding access to employment insurance; the CERB; supports for students, parents, seniors; women's shelters; food banks; and emergency housing have all been welcomed and much needed.
Many of PSAC's non-federal government members, such as the almost 30,000 workers we represent in universities, have been hit hard by closures and have been helped by the government's financial support.
Lastly, our union urges the government and all parliamentarians to look carefully and optimistically at the future. The COVID-19 pandemic has created enormous hardship, suffering and tragic loss for so many, but it has also created an opportunity for big change. The horrific living and working conditions in the long-term care sector have been exposed, as have other dangerous consequences of decades of government cuts, low wages and corporate greed. People are more conscious of their own vulnerabilities and understand better the importance of having robust social support systems in place and the need for strong public services.
There is a consensus that going back to the way things used to be is not an option. The government has made important decisions to support Canadians, decisions that have required significant funding. The impact of the pandemic is severe, and a lasting recovery will take time. The federal government's expenditures are an investment in Canadians and in the future of this country.
What this pandemic has shown is that public services are unique and indispensable. We cannot return to an austerity mentality and cutbacks to social services and programs. Instead—
Thank you. Good afternoon.
Members of the committee, thank you for hearing from me today. More importantly, thank you for taking the opportunity to hear from SEIU.
We represent over two million members across the United States, Puerto Rico and Canada. I proudly serve as international vice-president of our union and as president of SEIU Healthcare, which represents over 60,000 front-line health care workers in the province of Ontario.
Many of these members are employed in the long-term care facilities that have become an epicentre of the COVID-19 pandemic. The crushing impact on these homes, their staff and the residents they care for cannot be overstated. Simply put, our system of care has failed.
We knew two things about this virus early on: one, that this was severely contagious; and two, that the elderly were especially susceptible to illness and death. You would think that subnational governments responsible for congregate care settings of the elderly would immediately recognize the risk of inaction around the long-term care sector. But provinces like Ontario overlooked the privately run long-term care sector and the inherent vulnerabilities that underpin those facilities.
Please note that I want to highlight the role of provincial governments only to stimulate discussion about what role the federal government could have in the future as we overhaul the long-term care sectors across Canada.
In black and white, the data tells us that these outbreaks and the resulting death toll seem to be concentrated in for-profit facilities. Deaths in for-profit homes are 50% higher than in non-profit homes. The rate of death is nearly double in for-profit homes.
Behind each COVID-19 number is a tragic story. Christine Mandegarian, Arlene Reid, Sharon Roberts: each a woman, each in her 50s, each a person of colour and each a personal support worker. If you are now willing to recognize them as health care heroes, then I submit to you that it will be an injustice to the families in mourning if we do not reveal the failings of our system.
First, Canada must maintain an ongoing supply of personal protective equipment. This is our number one concern. There is a chorus of cries from our nurses, personal support workers, dietary aides and cleaners. You name the job classification; they will tell you that there is rationing of PPE. Workers who should have been supplied much earlier continue to be left without the appropriate masks, shields and gowns, leaving them to wear garbage bags instead.
Second, out of concern for public health, employment in long-term care facilities should require full-time jobs with such benefits as paid sick time and a pension. Then workers would not be labelled as “wrongdoing pollinators” and be restricted to only one facility, as if they had done something wrong other than seek a living wage paycheque.
Third, mandate higher staffing levels to improve quality of care for residents and seniors. Providing higher levels of front-line staff would ensure that we have the human resources available to bathe, change, feed and care for our elderly, not just during a pandemic but always.
The failings we experience today were made worse because of the competing self-interest at the core of for-profit long-term care corporations—namely, the fiduciary duty to their shareholders. The failed experiment of for-profit operators in our long-term care system must come to an end.
Members of the committee, whatever form an overhaul might take, the federal government can and should play a role in supporting these precariously employed women who deliver our care. We are calling on the federal government to strengthen the retirement security of precariously employed, low- to modestly paid care workers without access to workplace pensions. After a career of serving our communities, they deserve to retire with the economic dignity they have earned. Without the support, the home care and long-term care sectors will leave behind workers incentivized to seek employment in other parts of our health care system that provide a more secure retirement.
Before I end, I want to point out the big elephant in the room. Each member of this committee, and your colleagues in Parliament and across government, are going to be heavily lobbied by massive for-profit long-term care corporations and their industry associations.
Are companies like Chartwell, Revera, Sienna and Extendicare going to lobby for higher standards for senior care with mandated staff-to-resident ratios, for transparency into transfer payment agreements for government contracts, or for full-time jobs for the women who deliver the care? Instead they will push to reduce regulations or for the government to pay for expenses the company itself should be paying.
When the lobbyists of the for-profit providers knock on your door, I want you to remember all those who have died and ask yourselves whose side you will be on: the side of shareholders profiting from our care system, or the side of the elderly and the women who care for them, too many of whom we have already lost.
My opening remarks will be in both official languages. I will do my very best to go from one language to the other and to stay within the six minutes.
Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.
I, too, would like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to participate in this forum today.
The Union of Taxation Employees, commonly known as UTE, is a component of the Public Service Alliance of Canada and represents some 28,000 employees at the Canada Revenue Agency.
I want to start by extending my compliments to the federal government, especially the Canada Revenue Agency, for stepping up in these difficult times due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
While the Union of Taxation Employees and the Canada Revenue Agency have enjoyed, for the most part, a history of meaningful, respectful and collaborative consultations, the COVID-19 crisis called for a new era of collaboration, innovation and timely decision-making. During this time UTE set aside our difficulties and polarization around the collective bargaining process in an effort to deliver the government's mandate and promises to Canadians, and we called upon our members to step up to do what was needed in these trying times.
I am pleased so far with the co-operation, which has allowed us to agree on key issues, such as leave for our members who cannot work due to the pandemic and also the postponing of any set guidelines in regard to staffing or grievance issues.
It is important for me to mention the commitment and the exemplary work done by our members, who have been assigned new tasks and additional programs like no other department in the federal government. They work evening shifts and weekends from their homes, juggling work with their family obligations and child care obligations as well.
UTE members have shown unwavering dedication and commitment to their work as they rapidly implement the government's various financial support measures for the public during the pandemic, such as the massive Canada emergency response benefit, the wage subsidy, the student benefit and extensions to the GST credit and the Canada child benefit, all of this without forgetting that they must continue to process the benefits that are normally remitted to the public, as well as the tax returns for individuals and corporations during this tax season.
When COVID-19 hit, UTE was in the middle of conducting strike votes in an effort to engage the CRA in returning to the bargaining table to negotiate a fair and reasonable collective agreement for our members and to take job action if necessary to achieve an agreement. In light of the crisis, the PSAC UTE decided to suspend the strike votes in an effort to do our part to assist in controlling the spread of the virus and, more importantly, to assist the CRA and the Canadian government in their efforts to provide economic benefits to those Canadians who are greatly in need at this time.
Initially, the CRA scrambled to outfit some critical workers with equipment so they could work from home. At the same time, other large numbers of critical employees were required to physically report to the workplace to provide service to taxpayers. Through collaborative efforts between the CRA and UTE, we were able to reduce the number of employees required to be physically at the workplace and to increase the number of employees able to telework to meet the ever-changing new and efficient demands for the delivery of economic benefits and services to Canadians.
When the CERB was implemented, CRA needed to expand its capacity to help Canadians with the process of applying for the new benefit. CRA put out the call to its non-essential employees, employees who were at home, asking them if they would volunteer to work the phones, answering questions from applicants and providing other services, notwithstanding that these functions were not part of their work descriptions and were outside their normal hours of work. CRA's employees responded loudly and proudly, with over 7,500 volunteers stepping forward, the vast majority of whom are UTE members.
These volunteers agreed to work long hours and on weekends answering questions and processing applications from Canadians, some four million of whom have applied for support since the the onset of the pandemic. The agency's virtual call centre hours run to 11 p.m. to ensure service is accessible from coast to coast, in contrast with the normal extended hours to 9 p.m. offered during the regular tax-filing season.
Our members have also been asked to complete verifications for eligibility—and this requirement will continue as time goes on—in order to ensure compliance and safeguard the country's economic interests. Other members are working from tax centres, supporting the government's boost to the GST/HST credit and the Canada child benefit in response to the pandemic.
UTE lauds the government with respect to its initiatives to safeguard the economic interests of Canadians, and we are proud to be a contributing and critical component of the delivery of these initiatives. At the outset, and with the ever-increasing levels of service and effort required to deliver these benefits, we knew that this would be a daunting task, but at the same time, we had confidence that our members would accept the challenge and deliver the necessary services with the professionalism, dedication, loyalty and integrity that they have always shown.
I reiterate that UTE members are working hard despite the fact that they have not had a wage increase since November 2015 and are working under a collective agreement that expired on November 1, 2016.
In addition, term employees, many of whom have worked loyally for the CRA for many years, are uncertain about their future and are treated very differently than the rest of the public service in terms of entitlement to indeterminate employment.
We respectfully request that the federal government follow the lead of provincial and municipal governments, which moved quickly to settle contract negotiations with their employees and employee unions during the pandemic.
In closing, I want to thank you once again for giving me the opportunity to address this committee. I remain available to answer any questions you may have.
Witnesses, thanks for your comments.
Mr. Brière, let me start with you. First of all, thanks very much for your very upbeat and positive report on what your workers are doing. It's inspiring to hear that message, as opposed to a constant attack and a self-centred focus.
Do you know how many of your workers are actually working from home and how many are in the office? The reason I ask is that a lot of work is being done, especially around the CERB, which is great, but there are still a lot of outstanding tax issues with the CRA that we're hoping to get looked after for our constituents. We're told that it's going to wait. We understand that, 100%, but we're just trying to get an idea of how many are working on past cases and how many are still in the office with access to files.
As a follow-up question, what's going to be needed at your offices for us to move forward in a safe manner, such as space in the workplace and so on? I'd like to hear back from you.
To answer your first question regarding the number of people working either on-site or remotely, there are about 2,500 employees at the CRA who are still working on site as we speak, and there are, I would say, about 30,000 people working remotely.
The CRA has expanded its bandwidth greatly, and it's a bandwidth that's shared with the Canada Border Services Agency. We can have almost 40,000 people, the entire staff of the CRA, working remotely right now. The vast majority of these workers are critical workers. On site, they are all critical—2,500. There are also roughly 22,000 who are doing critical work from home, and over 8,000 who are doing non-critical but still important work.
To your question about what we are looking for to go back and resume the normal activities—if that ever happens—we are in discussions with CRA, and all the departments are looking at making resumption plans.
With the new reality, it looks like not everybody will be going back to work on site. There will be a portion of employees who will be able to go back on site, but we need to have physical distancing to work safely. It's harder in some locations like the big tax centres in Winnipeg, Jonquière, and Sudbury, with a massive office. I think you cannot ask 3,000 people to work in that kind of office while still keeping a safe distance.
It looks like a percentage of employees will go back to work, and some others will be working remotely. That seems to be the way of the future. That's what we envision. The CRA is looking into its resumption plan, but it's far from being ready right now, in my opinion.
Thank you very much, Chair.
I'll be splitting my time with my colleague MP Fergus.
Thank you very much, Mr. Brière, for your testimony.
There was a terrific article in Maclean's magazine this week. The title is “Pulling off a bureaucratic miracle: How the CERB got done”. It's an excellent article, and I highly recommend everyone have a read of that. It talks about the fact that when the call went out to the CRA folks to get folks to work the phones to help people process their payments, their applications and whatnot, 7,500 folks from your outfit raised their hands and volunteered—tremendous work.
I know the UTE folks have been asked to work, as the article states, seven days a week, including an extra five hours on weekdays and a combined 15 hours on weekends, which amounts to about 80-hour workweeks.
I just want to read one excerpt from the article, which I think is important. It highlights the tremendous, heroic work of UTE folks:
Julian Nicholson, a CRA resource officer in Hamilton, Ont., helps colleagues navigate the CERB and, in spare moments, talks directly with taxpayers. He works 12-hour weekdays, as well as a shorter shift on Saturdays. Nicholson says in early April, he once took 185 calls in a single day. “This has been our moment,” he says.
Knowing the tremendous work the folks here have put forward, how have they managed to strike a work-life balance, with the tremendous pressure they've been under in the last few weeks?
Thanks for your nice words about our members.
Obviously, those who are processing all the benefits and answering questions from millions of Canadians have been working around the clock. The people working 75 to 80 hours a week obviously have a very hard time balancing their work and personal lives. The job had to be done. The call was made, and we had to deliver. People at CRA are used to processing a high volume of transactions, but this was unprecedented, so it's not easy.
I am always trying to be positive in talking to the media and to the public, but obviously—I have notes here from my different regions—there is a lot of anxiety. Some people are exhausted. Some people are starting to ask for vacation or to slow down a little bit and have somebody else helping out. It depends on every individual, but to say that it is easy would be lying. It's not easy. We are processing millions of transactions in record time, so it's difficult, but people are keeping good spirits.
If you noticed, I mentioned in my remarks that the challenge, the cloud over our heads is not having a contract. Imagine, we are doing this without having a contract for three and a half years. People are finding that unacceptable. We are trying to get back to the table, but right now we're holding on. Obviously, we'll need to follow up closely for the mental health of our members.
It's a challenge for many people at Service Canada also, but at CRA the load is pretty heavy. We're hanging on, but we are following up closely. So far it's going okay, and if people have some anxiety and difficulty, we're helping them out in collaboration with the employer.
Yes. Thank you very much for the question. It's an extremely important one.
The statistics already show that the majority of senior care workers in home care and long-term retirement homes are marginalized people. They are predominantly women and, of course, women of colour.
In the inquiry that we're requesting from the Ontario government, that is absolutely a question that we have on the line. All three of the members...actually, all six now in Ontario have been men and women of colour. That's in the workforce, but we're also asking in the communities to take an examination of that. I believe it's tied to a number of things, predominantly income and the fact that so many of these workers have to work in multiple jobs so they're in the community a lot and on public transportation. They come in contact with very many clients and residents, so that just adds to the potential of spreading the viruses.
Absolutely, I think that's an important examination we all have to look into.
Thank you. That's a great question as well.
There's definitely something broken in the system. We all know that front-line health care is managed and delivered by the provinces, but I think there is a role for government to play, to oversee what the governments are doing on the front line. Senior care is an issue for federal, provincial and municipal governments—the accountability and regulations and what the provinces do with that money, especially for the for-profits.
All of the homes, for-profit and not-for-profit, get the same money through envelopes. As I said, the for-profits are accountable to shareholders, so where do those dollars come from? Then when the transfers are going through, there need to be regulations and accountability taken over that.
I think the federal government needs to take a look and find the answers. I'm not sure exactly what they might be, but I think there's a role here for the federal government to oversee some of what's going on in the provinces.
I appreciate the time. I'll claim it all.
My comments will be directed to Ms. Sharleen Stewart.
I'd like to begin by acknowledging the families of Christine Mandegarian, Arlene Reid and Sharon Roberts, as well as the untold number of other workers who have succumbed fatally to COVID on the front lines of health care. It could be argued, of course, that LTC is solely within the provincial jurisdiction, but given the scale of the tragedy and the magnitude of the loss within LTC, I think taking that line would be gravely irresponsible.
I want to cite something from investigative journalist Nora Loreto. She identified, through her research, that of the 4,408 Canadians who have died from COVID-19, 3,790 were in residential care. That's 85.9% of the deaths.
In previous questions, we heard about the ongoing inquiry into Ontario's LTC homes. Back in 2018, CBC reporter John Lancaster stated that he was shocked at how many of these facilities spend less per capita on feeding their residents than our prisons do on feeding their inmates. Of course, you referenced Pete Seeger's famous line, “Which side are you on?”
I'd like to talk about that and start there. Just how big is a company like Chartwell?
Chartwell is a big company. It's a North American-wide company. In Canada it is definitely one of the for-profit homes. I can share some numbers with you. Chartwell is valued at over $2 billion a year, and last year it paid out almost $130 million in dividends to shareholders.
These are nursing homes that are supposed to be.... Well, the public sees them as being not-for-profit because, of course, money comes from the public purse. The same amount of money goes to not-for-profits as goes to for-profits, so they are cutting money from the public envelope somewhere. I can tell you exactly where it is. You see it. It's on the front line. It's in the care for those seniors.
Not providing full-time work for personal support workers causes them to have one, two or three jobs. As to the hours of care, residents are getting, on average, about 1.9 to 2.25 hours of care per day. We are calling for it to be at least a minimum of four hours a day.
You have companies like Extendicare, which receives over $263 million a year in revenue from the Ontario government, and I can tell you, that money is not going to the front line. You can see it through this pandemic. The numbers are astounding. Notice the difference between deaths and infections in not-for-profit homes versus for-profit homes.
We need to do better, and that's what we're calling for in the inquiry. We're looking across the country to do the same thing.
Yes, certainly, Mr. Chair.
The witnesses that we suggest from the work plan are, on the distribution of medical supplies, the , the president and chief executive officer of Canada Post, the vice-president of Amazon Canada and the president of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.
As for the ninth meeting on cybersecurity, the proposed witnesses are the , the president of Shared Services Canada and the chief technology officer of Shared Services Canada, as well as the director general. Also, we have officials from the Communications Security Establishment and, finally, a witness that we had today, Mr. Bilodeau, the acting chief information officer.