Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada
Submission on Proposed Changes to the Official Languages Act
May 21, 2019
The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) is the bargaining agent for some 60,000 public service professionals across the country, the majority of whom are employed by the federal government. The Institute appreciates this opportunity to participate in this important public consultation.
Given our unique perspective on employment in the federal public sector, our comments focus on how any forthcoming changes to the Official Languages Act (OLA) could affect the working conditions of our members, and the delivery of services to the Canadians they serve.
Our overall position is that PIPSC supports bilingualism both as an organization, and in the public service of Canada.
The Charter of Rights and Freedoms establishes English and French as the official languages of Canada. Both the Canadian Constitution and PIPSC support and recognize this fundamental Canadian value.
In areas of federal jurisdiction and, therefore, in the majority of our members’ workplaces:
- English and French enjoy equal status and rights. The Official Languages Act ensures the respect of language rights and provides a legislative base for the use of both official languages as work languages in the federal public service.
- Everyone has the right to use English or French in the Parliament of Canada.
- Federal legislation must be adopted in both English and French.
- Everyone has the right to use English or French in a federal court.
- Canadians have the right, subject to the stipulations of the Charter, to receive services in the official language of their choice when dealing with federal departments and agencies.
In this context, PIPSC supports:
- The protection of both official languages, as well as indigenous languages.
- The rights of all workers to work in their official language of choice – including full time or part-time public servants and government contractors.
- The obligation to provide services in designated government offices in both official languages – whether service delivery is effected by full time or part-time public servants or government contractors.
- The work of the National Joint Council (NJC) on the upcoming reopening of the Bilingualism Bonus Directive, with an aim to better support the use of both official languages amongst federal government employees.
The Institute is, however, concerned that:
- The federal government is failing to uphold bilingualism in the federal public service by not properly funding language training for its employees.
- Tools used for the daily activities are not always available in both official languages, including printed material, teleconferencing systems, software.
- Inequality in the evaluation of the second language abilities, and the designations of language requirements on positions leads to work related issues.
- The lack of a coordinated, well-funded language strategy for the federal public service is having a negative impact on our members’ career opportunities – especially in light of recent developments in the fields of telework, cross-country virtual teams, national portfolios distribution, and digital service delivery.
Similar concerns are expressed by the Commissioner of Official Languages in his 2018-2019 Annual Report:
“Whether judging by the observations made by the Office of the Commissioner over the past few years or looking at the number of complaints that continue to be filed, one thing is certain: there is still a lot of work to do to ensure that language rights and obligations are ingrained in the corporate culture and processes of the public service and that federal institutions fully respect those rights and meet those obligations” (p 11).
“Respect for linguistic duality in the federal public service tops the list of the Commissioner’s concerns, particularly when it comes to ensuring that federal employees’ language rights are respected and that members of the public have access to services of equal quality in both official languages. For that to happen, employees in the federal public service must have the language skills that their positions require” (p 12).
“Since 2014, commissioners of official languages have conducted more than 500 investigations into complaints involving more than 30 federal institutions regarding the language requirements of positions under section 91 of the Act. There is a systemic problem in the federal public service, and the Office of the Commissioner is conducting an in-depth analysis of this issue with a view to issuing recommendations to help resolve it. In the meantime, federal institutions need to acknowledge their responsibilities and take concrete action to ensure that the language requirements of positions are always established objectively” (p 12).
The Institute fully supports the Commissioner’s findings and recommendations pertaining to Canada’s public service and the Canadians that it serves. Our union urges the Minister of Tourism, Official Languages and La Francophonie to make every effort to incorporate them as she proceeds with the modernization of the Official Languages Act. Our senior representatives would be pleased to meet with the Minister to discuss our position and concerns in the months ahead.
Office of the President
The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada
(613) 228-6310 ext 4928