Don’t Blame Bargaining for Phoenix Failures
Earlier this month, PSPC Minister Carla Qualtrough asked me if I would be willing to negotiate simplifying some of the pay rules bargained over decades that, some claim, contribute to the dysfunction of the federal pay system. My answer was yes – provided it doesn’t result in any loss of pay to our members.
But my willingness to bargain changes in the practical best interests of our members should not be mistaken for believing such pay rules are inherently dysfunctional, or that Phoenix failures are the fault of bargaining or – far from it – of unions.
It is, frankly, absurd and offensive to accuse collective agreements of confounding the current pay system. The old pay system, built in-house by our members and still used in a few workplaces, managed such changes for 40 years without this kind of catastrophic failure. Many of these changes were introduced by management, not unions. Phoenix was sold to the federal government as the software solution to all pay issues -- including changes regularly negotiated through collective bargaining – bypassing the expertise and input of our members. The current government even assured us earlier this year that retro pay would be unaffected.
We are therefore entirely within our rights in demanding that any system as poorly planned, implemented and tested as Phoenix should be scrapped and a new one that works be built.
Our national and international economies are built on options and choices. We have different cars, different houses, different toothpastes. To suggest that we can't have a different pay system for the largest employer in the country is ridiculous. To suggest that we can’t afford it is to ignore the evidence of this week’s report by the Auditor General – who cannot predict when Phoenix will be fixed or how many hundreds of millions of dollars it will cost to do so – and to subject our members, Canadians and future governments to the most costly and dysfunctional pay system ever inflicted on our public service.
Bargaining didn’t create this mess. It may, however, help fix some of it while we continue to demand a new system built by our members that works.