From the President…
I’m writing this message as we near nine months of dealing with the worst pandemic in generations. I am incredibly proud of the support our members have provided to Canadians while working under less than ideal conditions for both our physical and mental health.
Your union has been busier than normal dealing with both routine and pandemic-related challenges faced by our members. You can be assured that your AFS Executive and your local stewards have your back and will continue to do so.
The fall and winter will provide more challenges, but there is some good news with progress being reported on the development of vaccines and improved medical treatments. Hopefully we can now envision a time when we can again spend time together with colleagues, friends and family.
Until then, I’m wishing the best of health to all of you, your families, and your loved ones.
From the Editor…
Welcome to our AFS Newsletter. We hope that you enjoy this edition and look forward to receiving your comments and suggestions for future content. This newsletter includes articles on AFS National Elections, COVID-19, 699 Leave During COVID-19, Employee Wellness Support Program, Scheduling of Vacation Leave from a Previous Fiscal Year, Official Languages, Credit Checks as part of Security Screening and the PIPSC AGM. The newsletter concludes with AFS contact information.
AFS Secretary and Newsletter Editor
AFS National Elections
The AFS National Elections concluded recently. There were five positions of the executive that were up for re-election. The five successful candidates were: Emmanuel “Manny” Costain (CS Regional Representative), Jean Couillard (Quebec Region Representative), Dan Quinn (Headquarters Region Representative), Alnashir Ravjiani (Toronto Region Representative) and Robert Trudeau (Prairie/NWT Region Representative).
Thank you to all of the candidates who stepped forward the run for office in this unprecedented time. A special thank you to Brian Hassall and Steve Parent for their years of service to the AFS National Executive.
We are now almost a year into this pandemic and many of us are adjusting to work at home. With an increase in cases in many provinces which appears to be the beginning of the second wave a return to work for many of our members does not appear to be in the near future. As the Employer has previously stated “work from home will be the default and only critical services that cannot be performed at home will be completed in CRA offices”.
Our members have performed key services to provide much needed benefit programs to Canadians in need. Our CS members have been instrumental in providing IT equipment for employees to work from home. They have worked diligently on various systems to ensure that benefits have been paid out to people who need it.
For those working from home who need an accommodation, the Employer has recently announced that ergonomic assessments can now be completed virtually by the service provider. Virtual assessments will be the default however in complex cases it may be possible to perform an ergonomic assessment at a CRA office. If you feel you need an ergonomic assessment please contact your team leader. Depending on the need an assessment may not be required as managers now have authority to purchase equipment without a doctor’s note being required.
No doubt the last several months have taken a toll on your well-being. If your well-being is suffering do not hesitate to use the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). The EAP program offers you access to qualified mental health professionals who understand the stresses this pandemic has caused and want to help. There are internal CRA coordinators who can provide you with access to external professionals in your area for help. These coordinators can be accessed during working hours either via phone or email. For emergencies external service providers are available to you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For more information you can access the EAP page from the Infozone home page.
699x Leave During COVID-19
The Treasury Board recently made a change to the directive on the use of 699 leave (6990-6994 leave for the CRA). This directive which took effect on November 9, 2020 states that “this leave should be granted on a case-by-case basis, and only after remote or alternate work, or flexible work hours have been considered, and generally only after other relevant paid leave has first been used by the employee.”
The AFS Group is concerned that the CRA will follow the lead of Treasury Board regarding this leave. We do not believe that earned leave such as vacation credit should be used for unseeable issues caused by this unprecedented pandemic. Members such as single parents, those with medical conditions and even those in rural areas where Internet service is far behind the services enjoyed in larger urban areas require access to the various 699x leaves. At the start of the pandemic AFS members stepped up for the Employer by building solutions to provide benefits to Canadians in need and volunteering for call centre work to handle the calls of those trying to access these benefits. We had their back. It is time that they have ours.
Worker’s Compensation Claim for COVID-19
The AFS Group is recommending to members who have been exposed to COVID-19 in the workplace to file a Worker’s Compensation claim. As many of the long term impacts of COVID-19 are not yet fully understood, it is important that such exposure be reported even if initial symptoms are mild. As AFS members are federal employees you are covered by the Government Employees Compensation Act.
If you contract COVID-19 due to contact in the workplace you may be entitled to compensation for expenses such as:
- loss of earnings
- medical care and
- rehabilitation costs
You should file a claim within 3 days of the positive diagnosis. To file a claim, it must go to the Federal Workers Compensation Service through your provincial Workers Compensation Board. You can find the contact information for your province at the following link: https://awcbc.org/en/boardscommisions/
Employee Wellness Support Program
Work continues on the EWSP. The EWSP Review Team is reviewing the finalized wording of the plan as well as the wording to be included in the collective agreements. This work is expected to be completed early this year, with Town Halls following soon after. Due to the pandemic the Town Halls will be held virtually.
Scheduling of Vacation from a Previous Fiscal Year
A question was recently raised by a member whether the Employer is within its rights to schedule vacation credits earned from a previous fiscal year. Article 15.05 of the AFS Collective Agreement states the following:
15.05 Provision for vacation leave
(a) Employees are expected to take all their vacation leave during the vacation year in which it is earned.
(b) In order to maintain operational requirements, the Employer reserves the right to schedule an employee’s vacation leave but shall make every reasonable effort:
(i) to provide an employee’s vacation leave in an amount and at such time as the employee may request;
(ii) not to recall an employee to duty after he has proceeded on vacation leave.
In article 15.05 (a) it explicitly notes to take vacation leave credits in the year the credits were earned. Article 15.05(b) notes that the Employer may schedule an employee’s vacation however it does not speak to credits that were carried over from previous years.
The AFS Group is of the opinion that the Employer cannot schedule vacation leave on credits earned and carried over from previous years. There is some jurisprudence that supports this argument. In Ladouceur v. Canada (Conseil du Trésor - ministère de la Défense nationale), 2006 PSLRB 89 the grievance challenged, in part, the employer’s decision to require the grievor to use up five days of vacation that had been carried over from the previous year. In granting the grievance on this point, the adjudicator relied on Article 16.07(b) of their collective agreement, which stated that:
During any vacation year, upon application by the employee and at the discretion of the Employer earned but unused vacation leave credits shall be compensated at the employee's daily rate of pay as calculated from the classification prescribed in the employee's certificate of appointment of the employee's substantive position on March 31st.
The article 16.07 used in this case has very similar wording to article 15.07(b) in the AFS collective agreement, which states:
During any vacation year, upon application by the employee and at the discretion of the Employer, earned but unused vacation leave credits in excess of one hundred and twelve decimal five (112.5) hours may be paid in cash at the employee’s hourly rate of pay as calculated from the classification prescribed in his certificate of appointment of his substantive position on the date of the request.
The adjudicator concluded that this provision set out the only method of using carried over vacation leave, thereby precluding the employer from unilaterally requiring the use of leave carried over from a previous year. The analysis led the adjudicator to conclude that the employer could not unilaterally schedule five days of carried-over vacation leave.
If you have any questions or concerns about the Employer scheduling of vacation leave please consult a steward.
The AFS Group has been made aware of the lack of bilingual meetings since the beginning of the pandemic. For our francophone members the lack of French content limits their ability to actively participate in meetings. Even in those meetings where the written content is provided in both official languages almost all, and in many cases all of the verbal communication is in English only.
This appears to not only be an Agency issue but rather with the entire core public service. Employees from several other departments are reporting the same frustrations as our AFS members.
It is enshrined in the Official Languages Act that the Employer must commit to equal opportunities and equal participation for both anglophones and francophones. The Agency has previously taken the position that providing documentation in both languages satisfies the conditions of the Act. The AFS Group does not agree. Merely providing documentation in both official languages does not mean equal participation during a meeting, especially in the age of virtual meetings.
Credit Checks as Part of Security Screening
The purpose of a credit check is to assess whether an individual poses a security risk to the organization or the Government of Canada, based on their financial pressure or history of poor financial responsibility. Credit checks conducted for the purpose of security screening have no adverse effect on the individual's credit score or their credit bureau file.
The credit check does not impact your credit rating and only CRA security officials will have access to the data.
There are some scenarios that could be flagged as part of a credit check. They are: a failed bankruptcy, a high credit utilization given the income amount, or past financial fraud. The risk assessment may look at the credibility of the employee’s statements, whether the employee can be trusted with public funds, or if their income may be coming from illegal sources.
It must be noted that the Institute did file a court injunction in 2015 to in regards to the changes to the Treasury Board’s new Screening Directive, specifically the use of credit and criminal checks. While the Federal Court did agree that the changes to the directive did raise serious issues the injunction was ultimately dismissed.
For more information on credit checks as part of the security screening process you can consult with the Infozone page.
The 101st PIPSC AGM is scheduled for Saturday December 5th. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic for the first time in its history the AGM will be held virtually via Lumi and Zoom. AFS delegates who have registered for the AGM prior to the October 16th deadline will be requested to participate in a virtual AFS Delegates meeting on Friday December 4th to review the resolutions to be presented with the AFS Executive. It is also very important for all delegates to attend the AGM Orientation session to ensure familiarity with how Lumi and Zoom will be used.
Look for a PIPSC AGM report in our upcoming spring newsletter.