Dan Butler, General Secretary to the National Joint Council (NJC), opened the 2003 annual NJC Seminar in picturesque St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador. He began by greeting close to 160 participants from across Canada, making this the largest Seminar to date. Following this, Darryl Roode and Cathy Drummond, Co-Chairs of the seminar, welcomed the participants and made special mention of the importance of bringing individuals in the labour relations field together, especially in the more remote regions of the country. Finally, Kevin Breen, a Councillor of the City of St. John's, took his turn in welcoming all Seminar participants on behalf of the Mayor. He commended all attendees for their efforts in resolving labour issues and providing more harmonious workplaces.
Mr. Butler then presented an overview of some of the challenges and achievements of the NJC from the past year. One of the most significant events was the proposed recognition of the NJC in law for the first time in Bill C-25, the Public Service Modernization Act. Successes over the course of the year included: completion and implementation of a new Travel Directive, conclusion of a new Relocation Directive, introduction of a comprehensive communications strategy for NJC, and facilitation of discussions between the Task Force on HR Modernization and NJC Bargaining Agents. Priority issues facing the NJC to which the General Secretary drew attention were implementation of Bill C-25, resolution of the mandate for the Service-Wide Committee on Occupational Health and Safety, renegotiation of the Public Service Health Care Plan, and implementation of agreed to changes in mandates for both the Dental and Disability Boards of Management.
NJC Co-Chair Steve Hindle and Vice-Chair Brent DiBartolo (representing Chairperson James Lahey) added their own opening remarks about the activities of the NJC during the past year. Mr. Hindle began by noting the importance of the modernization of the NJC Travel Directive and the fact that this accomplishment provides Public Service employees with tangible results. He also went on to identify some of the more intangible results of the NJC, including the importance of dialogue between the parties and the unique ability required to understand issues from both sides. Mr. Hindle emphasized his concerns regarding some of the issues identified by the General Secretary, such as the resolution of the mandate for the Service Wide Policy Committee on Occupational Safety and Health, the planned implementation of HR Modernization and the renegotiation of the Public Service Health Care Plan. Mr. DiBartolo also acknowledged the value of the NJC and its importance for Public Service employees. His main concerns echoed those of Mr. Hindle, in addition to the importance of explaining the role and the value of the NJC more broadly throughout the system.
Edna Hall, Provincial Director of Canadian Heritage, Newfoundland and Labrador introduced the "Regional Realities" session designed to canvass issues faced by public employees working in her province. During her introduction, she noted:
- Newfoundland and Labrador has the highest rate of charitable giving yet the lowest average income across the country
- the youth of Newfoundland and Labrador are highly educated and yet a literacy problem persists
- many living in the region consider themselves to be the other "distinct society" in Canada
Panelist Doug May, Professor of Economics at Memorial University, provided participants with an insightful presentation on some the demographics of Newfoundland and Labrador. His main points included the decreasing population in the region, its falling fertility rates and the fact that out-migration is primarily employment-related. He also highlighted the fact that, unlike the rest of Canada, almost half of the population of Newfoundland and Labrador lives in rural areas, posing significant challenges in addressing economic issues and in the delivery of public services.
John Butler, Regional Director, Canadian Coast Guard, Newfoundland and Labrador Region, further outlined challenges that the public service faces in providing services to the province. These challenges included declining resources, communication problems with the centre and with other levels of government, transportation issues and lack of employment. In his region, the average age for new recruits is 40 and among those recruits the ratio of term employees to indeterminate employees is 9 to 1.
Introducing the session on HR Modernization, Mr. DiBartolo noted that the key to Bill C-25 and a vision that all public servants seem to share is a desire for more collaborative working relationships. Mr. DiBartolo outlined six key subjects targeted for reform with the planned implementation of HR Modernization:
a) HR policy reform
b) positive workplace environment
c) modernize compensation
d) leadership continuum
e) learning organizations and accountability
f) enabling systems
Following Mr. DiBartolo's presentation, seminar participants divided into five groups to discuss subjects relating to the implementation of Bill C-25. The five topics for discussion were: co-development, alternative dispute resolution, staffing, the role of the new Public Service Labour Relations Board and Training and Learning. Armed with a set of basic questions to answer, each discussion group spent the rest of the afternoon debating issues and preparing an oral report to be delivered to the plenary the following morning.
September 11, 2003
The second day of the seminar began with oral reports from the discussion groups examining issues in the implementation of Bill C-25. Overall, this session was a great success with many groups reporting similar messages that they wished forwarded to senior decision-makers. Underlying each of the reports was a strong sense of the importance of joint co-operation and co-development to tackle implementation issues, and the willingness of the parties to move forward with the task.
The Chairperson of the Public Service Health Care Plan, Martha Hynna, presented a compelling update on the largest employment health plan in Canada. Ms. Hynna canvassed trends in the usage of plan benefits, identified the principal factors driving up plan costs, and reviewed some of the options available to the parties to deal with cost issues. Noteworthy points from her presentation included:
- 10% increase in health plan costs over the past year
- 39.7% increase over the past three years.
- prescription drugs account for the majority of these cost increases
- 56.7% increase in prescription costs over the last three years.
2004 will be a crucial year for the Plan as negotiations begin for renewing the plan and its funding agreement in time for implementation April 1, 2005. The parties must also decide whether and how they would like to continue the PSHCP Trust.
Participants devoted the afternoon of the second day to a site visit to the National Research Council Institute for Marine Dynamics. This world-renowned facility gives Canadian scientists and industry state-of-the-art capacity to simulate and test the performance of vessels and structures in the world's oceans, with special emphasis on the dynamics of ice flows in northern seas (http://imd-idm.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca/).
In the evening, the National Joint Council welcomed the Honourable Lucienne Robillard, President of the Treasury Board, as the keynote speaker for the Seminar. The President addressed a range of current issues in public service labour relations and human resources management, including her hopes for Bill C-25. (For the full text of the Minister's speech, see http://www.tbs-sct.gc.ca/media/ps-dp/2003/0916_e.asp).
Minister Robillard opened her speech by thanking NJC members for their important contribution in collaborating and speaking openly and frankly on labour-management issues. The Minister continued by outlining fundamental changes intended to accompany the planned implementation of Bill C-25. These include a change in the approach to people management and an emphasis towards building a culture of continuous learning.
The second segment of the President's speech covered new initiatives relating to values and ethics, which she acknowledged as the "cornerstone of modern public management." These initiatives include the Values and Ethics Code for the Public Service, a guide for Deputy Ministers and the Management Accountability Framework.
Lastly, the Minister dealt with the concept of whistle blowing. Initiatives such as the new internal disclosure policy and the appointment of the first Public Service Integrity Officer were implemented to allow employees to discuss concerns without the fear of reprisal. In a key section, the Minister promised that, "the Government of Canada is committed to a public service where employees can honestly and openly discuss their concerns without fear of reprisal. We will do whatever it takes to ensure that whistleblowers are protected. We want cases of wrongdoing brought to light and dealt with."
September 12, 2003
Paul Morse from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 2228 and Georges Nadeau from the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada kicked off the final morning of the seminar with a lively and insightful presentation on the Duty of Fair Representation, viewed from the perspective of bargaining agents. The presentation outlined general principles guiding unions in representing a member, essential legal elements of the duty of fair representation, and recourse mechanisms and some of the challenges that may arise if new features of Bill C-25 are implemented.
Bruce Holden (Natural Resources Canada) and Howie West (Public Service Alliance of Canada) summarized the mandate, work and experiences of Joint Career Transition Committees (JCTC), a successful experiment in union-management collaboration. JCTC's were established beginning in 1998 with the objective of facilitating co-operative efforts to maintain employment continuity and to support career transition in the face of a changing Public Service. Programs jointly developed by the JCTC include the Career Opportunities System, Career Pathways and AGORA. The growing list of successes for this initiative proves that collaborative working relationships can make a difference in the Public Service (see http://www.jctc-cctc.gc.ca/main_e.html).
Nycole Turmel and Brent DiBartolo closed the Seminar by thanking all participants and organizers for the valuable opportunity that the annual NJC seminar provides, bringing together representatives from both sides to discuss fundamental labour-management issues. Ms. Turmel acknowledged the superb engagement and participation demonstrated throughout the Seminar and commented that all seemed to profit from this experience. Mr. DiBartolo indicated that he found the Seminar informative, useful and enjoyable. He was encouraged by the consistent message heard throughout, which was that participants recognized the need to work together and that there was a strong desire from both sides to get on with the work that lies ahead.