MINUTES OF THE NATIONAL UNION-MANAGEMENT CONSULTATION COMMITTEE (NUMCC) MEETING BETWEEN
THE CANADA REVENUE AGENCY (CRA) AND
THE AUDIT, FINANCIAL AND SCIENTIFIC (AFS) GROUP
MAY 6, 2021
The President, AFS Group, welcomed everyone to the meeting. He introduced and welcomed Dan Quinn, the new AFS Headquarters Representative, to his first AFS National Union Management Consultation Committee Meeting (NUMCC). He expressed his best wishes for former Deputy Commissioner Christine Donoghue in her new assignment as the Chief Human Resources Officer at the Treasury Board Secretariat. He commented that challenging times continue for the Agency and AFS Members as they deal with the challenges and changes brought on by the ongoing COVID-19 Pandemic. He noted that while some work remains to be done, progress had been made in setting up safe and productive home offices. He commented that AFS members had not been treated equally across the Agency as members in the regions had been unable to carry over vacation credits in excess of 262.5 hours that they had been unable to use due to the pandemic. He noted that the Canada Revenue Agency (“CRA” or “the Agency”) was the only federal department or agency not to recognize the pandemic as a reason to provide more flexibility to carry over excess vacation credits. He remarked that AFS members continue to keep CRA programs running, to support critical income support measures, and to build and protect Canada’s income tax processing infrastructure. He noted that this had been accomplished while AFS members had been defending the Agency and Canadians from ongoing cyber attacks of an unprecedented scale. He said that we must leverage our pandemic experiences in order to build an Agency with a stronger commitment to flexible work arrangements and with a stable workforce of professional AFS members. He remarked that the AFS Group was looking forward to this first NUMCC meeting of the year.
The Commissioner began his comments by stating that it had been an extraordinary year with incredible accomplishments for the Agency, and that it had been done together. He said that it had been the team spirit among the whole Agency—employees, the management team, and the unions—that had allowed the CRA to succeed, and that it could not have been done without that kind of cooperation. He remarked that it was his proudest moment as a public servant in a career that had had many proud moments. He noted that although the pandemic was still with us, the demands of work continue, they continue to change, and they remain sensitive as the Agency proceeds with collection and compliance activities in a still-fragile economy. He spoke about the changed work environment and working remotely, and noted the significant challenges it had placed on employees and managers. He talked about challenges from a mental health perspective as everyone deals with changes to their work environments and their home environments. He stressed the importance of the Agency being conscious of those mental health challenges, looking out for them, and recognizing and supporting people who need it.
The Commissioner commented on the recent 2021 Federal Budget, and said that it was good news for the Agency. The Agency received a lot of funding to carry out its activities, and also got new responsibilities in the form of new taxes and new programs. He noted that some legislative changes would help the Agency do its work. He said that everyone would have to work together to accomplish the work set out in the budget, and that there would be an intense focus on implementation and achieving what is expected from the Agency. He said he had no doubt that the Agency would succeed.
The Commissioner spoke about Agency 2030, and said that the CRA was looking ahead to what the Agency should look like in 5-10 years. He noted that there had been discussion on remote and virtual work, and different ways for the Agency to organize itself. He said that the Agency needs to think through what is best for employees and the Agency. He noted that there are choices now, and that the Agency can do things it was not sure it could do a year ago. He commented that choices can be difficult, and noted that the Agency needs to be thoughtful in its approach and to communicate along the way. He said it was an exciting time to work together to plot out a really good future for the Agency as well as its employees and the union’s members.
He concluded his remarks by congratulating former Deputy Commissioner Christine Donoghue on her appointment as the Chief Human Resources Officer at the Treasury Board Secretariat. He said that she had accomplished great things at the Agency, and had supported its People First philosophy, digitization, and many other important files. He wished her all the best in her new role.
1. Workplace of the Future
The Assistant Commissioner, Finance and Administration Branch (AC, FAB), provided an update on the CRA’s Workplace of the Future. She began by stating that the health and safety of CRA employees continues to be a top priority; CRA continues to ensure employees who must report on-site are protected through the application of national worksite and re-entry protocols. She noted that COVID-19 forced the CRA to quickly adjust its ways of working, and that many of the changes seen would outlive the pandemic. The AC, FAB, stated that when looking to the future, the physical and mental well-being of employees is a key consideration in planning. She advised that since the outset of the pandemic, the CRA had actively been gathering employee feedback through the use of regular employee surveys. The feedback received indicates that more than 80% of employees would like to continue to work from home on either a part-time or full-time basis. She said the CRA was listening and taking these results into account as it adjusted its workplace strategies going forward. Workplace strategies must also be balanced with meeting the CRA’s mandate of delivering tax and benefit programs to Canadians.
The AC, FAB, said that with the new ways of working, the CRA’s office space would also have to change post-pandemic; the amount and type of office space may need to change with more employees working remotely. She expected that there would be less of a need for typical cubicle arrangements, and an increase in collaborative space to support activities better suited to being physically on-site. She noted that with a reduced presence in CRA worksites, it would be very wasteful to have assigned cubicles that would sit empty for a significant portion of time. Unassigned shared seating, like what auditors have been using for many years, would allow the most efficient use of taxpayer dollars.
The AC, FAB, said that the CRA is committed to continuing meaningful consultations with its employees, union partners, and other stakeholders in the development of its future workplace. She said that an increased work-from-home posture may offer opportunities to expand our diverse and inclusive workforce. The CRA may also be able to attract and retain the talent needed now and in the future, ultimately reducing traditional geographical barriers. She also noted the impact of a Work from Home posture could significantly reduce the CRA’s national carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions through reduced commuting requirements.
The AC, FAB, said that achieving this vision would take time. Modernizing the office space for 45,000 people will span over the next 5 to10 years, if not more. She advised that the CRA is committed to providing a workplace of the future that is employee-centric, accessible, flexible, technology-enabled and offers various workspace as well as work-from-home options suited to the Agency's diverse workload. She said that the CRA will continue to look at the work from home environment in conjunction with the corporate policy instruments on virtual work to ensure employees have the right tools and are appropriately equipped to work efficiently from home or from a CRA worksite. She said that the CRA would continue to work with the union and seek their input on key steps.
The Commissioner emphasized that as the CRA looks to the future, it will not be all or nothing. He said that the workplace will be built for all employees including for those who like to work remotely, as well as those who want or have to work in the office. He said the CRA will have to find something that works for employees and the organization.
2. Discrimination and Harassment
The union requested an update on the implementation of Bill C-65 including training and statistics on new occurrences.
The Toronto Region AFS Representative opened the topic by providing an update on the activities of the National Health and Safety Policy Committee (NHSPC) Working Group focusing on the implementation of Bill C-65 and the new Workplace Violence and Harassment Prevention Regulations which came into effect January 1, 2021. He advised that a final version of the new procedures for handling Workplace Violence was expected to be sent for final approval shortly. With respect to training, he advised that a CRA module had been developed to complement the Canada School of Public Service (CSPS) course, and was currently with the Working Group for feedback. The module should be launched in the coming months. The Toronto Region AFS Representative said that staffing was underway to hire new harassment and violence resolution officers, who will fulfil the “designated recipient” role under the regulations. A training approach is being developed and will be shared with the Working Group. Finally, he also advised that the Working Group was beginning work on jointly developing a list of investigators.
The Assistant Commissioner, Human Resources Branch (AC, HRB), thanked the Toronto Region AFS Representative, as well as the NCR-IT Region AFS Representative, for all the work they had contributed on this file. He provided an update on the Workplace Harassment and Violence Prevention (WHVP) Program, and noted that the Working Group had met close to a dozen times since October 2020. In addition to the work already mentioned by the Toronto Region AFS Representative, the Working Group has also developed an interim process for dealing with cases received between January 1, 2021, and when the new harassment and violence resolution officers will be in place. The AC, HRB, advised that on March 18, 2021, the CRA announced that all employees must complete the employee training developed by the Canada School of the Public Service, and in mid-May, the short training module, which addresses how the Regulations apply at the CRA, would be launched. He said that there were 54 open cases under the previous process, and 9 new cases in 2021.
The AC, HRB, also confirmed for participants that the current Discrimination and Harassment Centre of Expertise (DHCE) would be clearing out its harassment cases from the previous year. Existing cases will be completed through the former process. He said that the former DHCE will have to be renamed to reflect the changes in its function. Communication will take place to ensure that employees and managers understand its new function/role.
The Commissioner noted that this is a significant undertaking for everyone, and a great deal of effort had been made. He appreciated that the parties were working well together on this file.
3. Audit, Evaluation, and Risk Branch Report – write-offs
The union asked if there were new systems or enhancements being planned to identify and minimize uncollectible accounts. In particular, the union asked what requests had been received by the Information Technology Branch (ITB) to improve the use of data analytics and business intelligence.
The NCR-IT Region AFS Representative also asked that management provide a breakdown of how the funding announced in the budget will be allocated; how much will go directly to program delivery, and how much would go to support areas such as Human Resources (HR) and Shared Services. He also requested that the union be provided with an overview of what requests had been made to ITB and what the deliverables were. The NCR-IT Region Representative also noted that when the Audit, Evaluation, and Risk Branch (AERB) has completed reports in the past, sometimes the union is asked to be involved and sometimes not. He said the union would like to be involved so that it can provide its feedback and perspective.
The Assistant Commissioner, Collections and Verification Branch (AC, CVB) replied that with respect to the announcement in the budget, some funding goes to internal services, and some goes directly to program funding. He advised that this was currently being worked on, and discussions were taking place with the Regions in terms of their capacity. He said that the CRA was developing the best plan to achieve the objectives the government has set, and there would be more to come on how it will structure that. He noted that the CRA had received similar funding in 2016 and had been successful in increasing collections amount. As such, the CRA has a good understanding of how to do more and is well-positioned to deliver the expected results.
The AC, CVB, said that in its response to the AERB report, there was a recognition that more could be done if there were systems to better manage the workload. With respect to the system changes referenced in the report, it is a reference to the Collections Verification Workload Management System (CVWMS) which is a project that has been ongoing for many years. Recently the project was put on hold as resources had to be diverted to the new pandemic emergency measures administered by the CRA. However, planning on that project has resumed and ITB has been re-engaged. The AC, CVB, committed to sharing the funding allocation plan once it has been finalized. With respect to the question of union consultation, he stated that they are committed to having those discussions when there are changes to the way the work is done, and as programs are transformed. However, in response to the AERB report, there were no changes to how the work was being done or to technology.
With respect to the final AERB report, the NCR-IT Region AFS Representative noted that the union was only made aware of it when it was published on the InfoZone. He said it would have been nice to have seen it sooner, and that it would not hurt to engage the union earlier.
The AC, AERB, addressed the NCR-IT Region AFS Representative’s comments regarding union consultation in the AERB process. He noted that the unions had been consulted on certain audits and evaluations in the past. However, it is management that is responsible for developing action plans and responses to AERB recommendations. He noted that when management completes its action plans and responses, they should be consulting with the unions, where appropriate. The AC, AERB, said that in future he would be happy to give the union advance notice prior to reports being published on InfoZone, and to provide briefings on final reports where appropriate. The NCR-IT AFS Representative responded that it would be appreciated.
∙ The AC, CVB, committed to providing a breakdown of funding allocation once completed.
∙ The AC, AERB, offered to provide advance notice, through the Union-Management Relations Team, prior to final reports being published on InfoZone, and to provide the union briefings on final reports where appropriate.
4. Telework and Virtual work arrangements
The union requested an update on the successes and challenges of telework during the pandemic and on opportunities to update CRA policies and collective agreement language.
The President, AFS Group, opened the topic by saying that, as he had mentioned during the last NUMCC meeting and in all the recent rounds of collective bargaining, the CRA needs to provide employees with the ability to work from home for those who want it. He said that this had become the normal way of working and it is a high priority for AFS members to have
telework language included in their collective agreement. He remarked that it is unfair to expect members to take on all the responsibilities and risks of working from home after having fought for decades to have protections for these same employees while working in our offices. He noted that there were concerns with members facing accommodation needs who were simply being returned to an office. In his view, this was discrimination based on a disability as other employees are not being forced back into the workplace. The President, AFS Group, concluded by saying that AFS members need collective agreement protections that reflect current and future working environments, not those that only reflect the past. The AFS Group will seek to introduce new flexible work language in the upcoming bargaining round and proposes that the parties engage in pre-bargaining discussions to explore options for telework language which would be a win-win for the Agency and its employees.
The AC, HRB, remarked that the COVID-19 pandemic had resulted in an abrupt widespread shift to virtual work arrangements for CRA employees, and had substantially altered the way we live and work. He advised that following feedback received from various stakeholders, including the unions, the updated Guide to Virtual Work Arrangements had come into effect on April 1, 2021. The updates to the Guide were made to clearly delineate between the different types of voluntary work arrangements, such as Telework and working remotely from another CRA office, from both our current situation during the COVID-19 pandemic and future situations where “working remotely under other circumstances” is required. He noted that it is not necessary for employees to enter into a telework agreement when “working remotely under other circumstances” such as during the pandemic. However, managers wishing to support telework beyond the pandemic can follow the steps outlined in the telework section of the Guide. The Guide will continue to be updated as needed.
With respect to next steps, the AC, HRB, advised that a new suite of policies related to virtual work arrangements was being developed, including a new directive, procedures, and additional support tools. The new policy suite is anticipated for release in the fourth quarter of 2021-2022. Collaboration with unions with respect to the flexibilities set out in CRA policies, including virtual work arrangements, will continue to be undertaken outside of the bargaining process.
The AC, HRB, then provided an update on the CRA’s employee surveys. To better understand employee perspectives and experiences, the CRA has sent surveys to employees four times since the start of the pandemic. The AFS Group was consulted on questions for surveys #3 and #4 and has been provided with survey results. Results from survey #4 will be reported once they are analyzed and available; the survey asked again about preferences for workplace locations. The AC, HRB, said that the information gathered is being used to inform business decisions and implementation plans are being developed for larger scale telework/virtual work.
The AC, HRB, provided an update on status of the Flextime pilot projects the CRA had committed to under the memorandum of understanding (MOU) to the current collective agreement between the CRA and the AFS Group. He advised that following the COVID-19 pandemic, the launch of the Prairie pilot to introduce the Flextime initiative had been delayed given that the majority of the CRA employee population was working remotely under this exceptional circumstance. At the request of the AFS Group, that pilot project has been put on hold and will be revisited in May 2021. However, a new pilot project will be deployed in the Quebec Region that will allow employees who work remotely to use Flextime, which is not presently permitted under the current guidelines. He said that the new pilot project will be deployed for a period of 12 months and was expected to launch in early May 2021. He noted that consultations for this new pilot were taking place at the regional level as agreed with the AFS Group.
The Commissioner noted that it would be an ongoing topic as the CRA moves forward to the agency of the future.
5. Pay-related matters
The union requested an update on the pension calculator and incorrect pension calculations for employees who had retired since the last collective agreement. The union also requested an update on the NextGen / HR to Pay System to replace Phoenix.
The AC, HRB, said that employees who had retired, as well as those who consulted the Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) for pension estimates (online calculator or call centre), had been met by frustration as amounts were not properly calculated. He explained that to correct the interface issue between Phoenix and the pension system, the Pension Centre had been developing the “Garage solution” which would convert salary revision payments that are paid in lump sums into an annual rate, allowing for accurate pension estimates. He was happy to advise that the Pension Centre had informed the CRA that testing of the “Garage solution” had been successful for Penfax, as it relates to updating salaries due to mass revisions. He advised that the Penfax feeds had begun being implemented at the end of April 2021 and included salaries for both retired and active employees. He said that the CRA would be including a message about the updates in its May edition of “It Pays to Know” which would be available on InfoZone May 13, 2021.
The AC, HRB, said that said that the CRA continues to support the stabilization of Phoenix and the development of the next generation of Human Resources and the payroll system. He noted that the NextGen team working on the next generation HR and payroll solution had decided to initially focus on the Core Public Administration. However, the CRA would remain engaged in the project, as NextGen is being looked at for an enterprise-wide eventual implementation. He said that in fiscal year 2021-2022, a series of pilots would begin to evaluate the short-listed HR and payroll solutions. The first pilot will be at Heritage Canada using software from SAP. He also advised that PSPC continues to invest in changes to address problems related to Phoenix. The CRA actively participates in this work and continues to offer support.
The Vice-President, AFS Group, said that lately there had been a number of calls from retired members who were having issues with their pensions because they had retired with unresolved Phoenix issues on their files. He explained that this had led to claw backs in retirement, and overpayments in retirement. He said that some retirees had been told that they owe thousands of dollars and therefore would not receive pension checks for months. He said that the CRA should do more to ensure pay issues are resolved for employees who have indicated they will be retiring.
The AC, HRB, replied that proactively addressing Phoenix issues on pension files would be looked at, and if there were solutions to alleviate the problem they would be implemented.
The President, AFS Group, remarked that AFS members’ problems with Phoenix were not in the past, and that they continued to suffer from reliance on the flawed Phoenix pay system. He noted that recently they had been advised that the catch-up clauses in the collective agreement and the Phoenix damages settlement had been significantly delayed. This was quickly followed by news that the CRA would not correct the pay of AFS members who had transferred from Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) for at least a year. He said there had been increased complaints about incorrect guidance from the Compensation Centre, and that longstanding problems with acting pay, leave with income averaging, and changes in provincial jurisdictions for tax deductions had been unresolved for years. New problems are still arising, including some retirees having no deductions taken from lump sum payments, such as vacation cash-outs. The President, AFS Group, stated that it is unacceptable that the Canada Revenue Agency cannot pay its own employees correctly and on time or ensure that retirees are compensated consistently with the Public Service Pension Plan. He said that it is unacceptable that the CRA simply blames outside parties for their payroll shortcomings and takes no positive steps to correct the situation.
The Prairie/NWT Region AFS Representative also said that there is frustration with Compensation tickets being closed without the issue being resolved. Employees must continually follow up to have them reopened. He said that there should be a higher level of service, and that work needs to be done to address this.
The AC, HRB, responded that he was surprised as he was not aware of something that appeared to be much more extensive than the information he had seen with respect to the Compensation team and what they could deliver. He said he would like to have an in-depth conversation with the union to establish how significant this issue is and to look for solutions.
∙ The AC, HRB, committed to reviewing the issue of employees retiring with Phoenix pay issues, and to implementing any solutions that may be identified.
∙ The AC, HRB, offered to have a follow up discussion with the union to establish how significant the CCSC service-related issues are, and to find solutions if necessary.
6. Microsoft Teams (MS Teams)
The President, AFS Group, opened the topic by stating that the union was concerned that MS Teams was being used as a surveillance tool. He noted that although MS Teams had been intended as a communications tool, it was being used as a surveillance tool by some managers. He said that this was a form or harassment of their members that needed to stop. He asked management to confirm whether it was their intent that Teams be used as a surveillance tool.
The BC/Yukon Region AFS Representative advised that AFS continues to receive complaints from members on this issue. He said that members are being told to turn cameras on in meetings, to turn MS Teams on during work hours, and that some managers are expecting employees to respond to MS Team messages within 5-10 minutes. The union requested that the CRA issue national guidelines to be followed by local management with respect to MS Teams use. He said this would confirm the message management was providing right at the meeting and would remove a lot of confusion around this issue. The union also expressed concerns that it had been implied to members that disciplinary action would follow if they do not comply with management’s direction to leave MS Teams on or to turn their cameras on in meetings.
The AC, HRB, said that MS Teams is one of many collaboration tools that allowed CRA employees to remain connected while most employees continue to work remotely. The pandemic had not only resulted in a shift in how we work, but also in how we communicate with our teams and other employees within the CRA. He said that no Agency-wide guidance had been provided with respect to how these collaborative tools should be used; it is up to each area to determine its needs and approaches based on its realities. He said that management asks their employees to use Microsoft Teams so that they do not miss out on communications and are more easily reachable when needed. He confirmed that MS Teams is not being promoted to track time or work attendance and that it is not recommended for that purpose. The available data shown is not being logged or tracked anywhere and there is no history. He advised that he was not aware of any cases resulting in discipline to employees. He remarked that the issue appeared to be regional or local, after canvassing his Assistant Commissioner colleagues. The AC, HRB, encouraged further discussions to take place at the local level on this topic.
The Commissioner said that he would like to better understand the issue and what people are doing relative to a regular office environment. He remarked that he would be very surprised if someone did not respond for five minutes and was disciplined. However, if someone did not show up for an hour, concerns would be raised as they would be in an office environment. He thanked the union for raising the issue and said that management would take a closer look to determine if there is anything that should be done.
∙ The AC, HRB, committed to looking into the issue further.
7. The Union-Management Approach (UMA)
The President, AFS Group, raised concerns about changes being unilaterally made by management without consultation with the unions. He noted that consultation is supposed to precede the decision-making stage. However, management had revised UMA training content and delivery and then had presented it as a finished product to the unions. He said that this violated the spirit and intent of UMA. He asked that management to confirm that they would not make any future changes to UMA or UMA training without consulting with the unions.
The AC, HRB, thanked the President, AFS Group, for raising the topic. He said that when COVID-19 hit in March 2020, restrictions such as physical distancing had been imposed. He explained that because the situation was anticipated to continue for some time, the Leadership and Learning Directorate (LLD) had selected several existing learning products and established a preliminary list of prioritized national courses to be converted to virtual delivery, in partnership with the functional owners. The courses that were prioritized were the most-attended program skills courses tied to new hires for the fall 2020, and courses that would support business resumption plans, and in particular the virtual nature of work. The LLD also began to develop a guide to assist functional owners with how to quickly pivot their classroom course for virtual delivery.
The AC, HRB, said that this approach had been adopted enterprise-wide in the summer of 2020 in order to increase the internal capacity to provide virtual training. In July 2020 a message was sent to the UMA Committee members informing them that the LLD would be pivoting the UMA 103 workshop to a virtual format. Members were asked to provide any feedback, questions, or concerns. He advised that in preparation for the March 1, 2021, UMA Committee meeting, members had been sent another message on February 2, 2021, which contained the training material for virtual delivery of UMA 103, and been asked to provide their feedback. The message indicated that the content of the course remained the same; only the delivery method had been changed.
The AC, HRB, advised that at the March 1, 2021, UMA Committee meeting, both unions had raised concerns that the virtual format would no longer meet the objective of the face-to-face training, in that its purpose was to allow participants to build relationships. Due to the current COVID-19 situation, there was a common consensus that face-to-face meetings would not
happen for some time, and that virtual learning is not a replacement for in-person training. He said that the UMA Committee was still in discussions regarding the feasibility of virtual delivery of UMA 103.
The NCR-IT AFS Representative remarked that the LLD had decided they did not need to consult the union. He noted that even if the LLD had been proactively looking for solutions, there was still a process that needed to be followed; since there is a joint committee, that is where it should have gone. He said that there had been harm done to the union-management relationship as a result of not following this process. The CS Regional Representative also raised concerns that the CRA may try to deliver UMA 103 virtually in future as a cost-saving measure for small offices.
The AC, HRB, thanked the union for their comments, and apologized if the consultation process had not been followed. He said that collaboration should be the priority and that the Committee would continue to be consulted.
The Commissioner remarked he was very supportive of UMA and said we should not lose sight of the overall progress that has been made. He noted there are various issues that need to be responded to and thanked the union for raising the issue.
8. Compliance Programs – High net worth audits
The union requested an update on High Net Worth Audits and other significant changes to audit programs. The union noted that new budget measures had been recently announced, and said they would like to discuss what steps the CRA had taken to utilize this new funding.
The Deputy Assistant Commissioner (DAC), Compliance Programs Branch (CPB), provided an update on new funding and initiatives. He said that since Budget 2016, the CRA had committed to cracking down on tax evasion and combatting aggressive tax avoidance. Building on these investments, the Government of Canada had committed to an additional $606 million over 5 years, starting this fiscal year to allow the CRA to fund new initiatives and extend existing programs targeting international tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance. He said that of the announced funding, the High Net Worth Compliance Directorate (HNWCD) will be receiving $461.2 million over a five-year period and $109.8 million ongoing to tighten the net on high net worth individuals, promoters, corporations, and entities that try to avoid paying their fair share of taxes. He noted that initial headquarters and regional engagements with unions had occurred in March 2021 while the CRA had been awaiting the approval of its funding submission to the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS). The funding proposal was recently approved by the TBS and funding was expected to be received shortly.
With respect to staffing, the DAC, CPB, advised that the HNWCD will be hiring an additional 400 offshore-focused auditors to focus on individuals who avoid taxes by hiding income and assets offshore and to enhance the audit function targeting higher-risk tax filings, including those of high-net worth individuals. He said that the HNWCD had recently completed the regional allocation plan and had established a Dedicated Staffing Team (DST). He said that the DST will increase the efficiency of the staffing process and establish a coordinated national approach that balances opportunities for current employees while attracting diverse and highly qualified external candidates. He said that the CRA would be using a mix of internal and external staffing processes and advised that external staffing processes will be created as the demographics required to fill all positions cannot be done solely by internal promotions and internal recruitment. He noted that there will be a need to recruit a large number of AU staff across the country at all levels, however the HNWCD had identified a particular need at the AU03 and AU04 levels.
The DAC, CPB, also advised that this program expansion comes at a time when CPB is reflecting on the role of different levels of auditors in the programs. For example, the International and Large Business Directorate is testing the role of AU-02 auditors within its programs, and the Small and Medium Enterprises Directorate is exploring the use of AU-04 auditors in its program.
With regard to next steps, the DAC, CPB, advised that the Program Implementation Plan and the Tax Services Office (TSO) Allocation Plan were currently being worked on and were on track to be completed this summer. He noted that feedback received from union members in previous town halls in relation to AU-03 and AU-04 positions had highlighted the need to ensure better development of staffing plans including more training, more support, and more time. He said that staffing and training strategies will be developed in the coming months and that they will reflect the feedback received. These strategies will be completed this summer to ensure that qualified candidates can begin receiving their job offers in the fall. With the assistance of the DST, the HNWCD plans to have Fall Economic Statement-related positions fully staffed by the end of 2023-24 while ensuring a deliberate approach to ramping up programs and the preserving the ability to deliver high priority COVID-related workloads.
The BC/Yukon Region AFS Representative asked how the CRA would be verifying the experience of external candidates. He said that internal candidates must have their experience verified by their Team Leader and asked whether the CRA verifies experience for external AU-03 and AU-04 candidates. He noted that some external candidates may have experience which meets the dollar threshold but is not complex work. He asked if management could expand on how right fit is determined for external candidates.
The DAC, CPB, replied that for staffing assessments, the CRA assesses overall skills, knowledge and competencies however we cannot expect external candidates to know internal CRA processes. Further, in hiring externally, the CRA relies quite heavily on the probationary period since it cannot evaluate external candidates in the same way that it does for internal candidates. He noted that external staffing is part of the overall approach, and that staffing plans are still being developed with the regions. He said that a combination of internal and external staffing would complement each other, and noted that it could also contribute to building diversity and inclusion in the workforce.
The Toronto Region AFS Representative commented on the complexity of tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance, and noted that success may require more than just AU03s and AU04s. He asked whether funding would also be allocated to such things as lawyers, experts, and IT intelligence in order to address the complexity of these audits.
The DAC, CPB, advised that in addition to hiring additional auditors, the CRA is also investing in data, in IT, in business intelligence, and is working with international partners on exchange of information. These investments form part of complex solution. He also noted that it is not just a question of increased audits; we also need to pursue our efforts through litigation in certain cases.
The Commissioner noted that there had been a resurgence of tax avoidance. He said his goal was to get the best people and provide them the right tools, including data analytics and business intelligence.
9. Ontario Region – Centres of Excellence
The union requested an update on the Ontario Region expanded use of centres of excellence and future plans.
The AC, Ontario Region, explained that Ontario Region was undertaking an exercise to realign programs to improve service to Canadians and promote more career opportunities for employees. She said that the focus continues to be on people first—placing employees and taxpayers at the centre of every decision made. The Ontario region will enhance its organizational structure by grouping the management of similar programs and services together. She said that the review would consider best practices and include engagement with employees and consultations with union partners and the branches.
The AC, Ontario Region, advised that the Ontario Region Organizational Review (OROR) had been launched through employee virtual Town Halls in February 2021. An Employee Engagement Survey took place between February 19 and March 5, 2021, with over 2,300 surveys completed. The feedback was summarized and provided to Director Led Working Groups to assist them in identifying program line opportunities. The feedback was also shared with the OROR Regional Union Management Working Group, and with employees through an all-staff message. She said that an enhanced organizational structure for the Ontario Region will be developed using this information. It is expected that a draft model will be developed by July 2021.
The AC, Ontario Region, noted that some of the feedback received related to the implementation of an enhanced model. She said that the comments received will be considered at the implementation stage of the exercise which will last until implementation on April 1, 2022. She noted that timelines were rough estimates and may change as the project progresses. The AC, Ontario Region, also advised that to support engagement with employees and consultations with union partners, information pertaining to the OROR exercise including the governance structure was readily accessible in both official languages on the OR InfoZone page and content was updated regularly.
Before beginning his comments on the OROR, the Toronto Region AFS Representative stated that their AFS members were looking forward to the report from the evaluation exercise being completed by the Audit, Evaluation, and Risk Branch (AERB) on the GTA Modernization. With respect to the OROR, he said that the AFS Group was encouraged with the governance structure used to complete the evaluation for the expanded use of centres of excellence. After reviewing the results of the survey, there were three facts that he wanted to point out: the models are being built from the ground up and cannot be compared to the GTA Modernization exercise; drafts have now been provided to the branches for feedback; and there will be no job losses although reporting structures may change.
The Toronto Region AFS Representative asked whether staffing would be centralized under the new model, whether the Travel Directive would be respected when employees are working virtually and there is a need for face-to-face meetings, and what approaches would be used to increase the technical capacity in the new centres. In response the AC, Ontario Region, advised that staffing under the OROR model would be guided by business needs and that the goal was to leverage talent without limitations of geography. She also confirmed that the Travel Directive would be respected when there is a requirement for face-to-face meetings. She said that once the new model had been determined, approaches to increasing technical capacity would need to be developed.
10. Official Languages
The union wanted to discuss adherence to official language requirements in the context of union-management consultations. They were concerned that unilingual CRA employees are not able to participate in union-management consultations to the extent that bilingual employees are able. The union also asked for management’s agreement that all internal staffing processes in the Quebec Region must include various language requirements, and asked for a commitment to conduct rigorous and objective assessments of language needs in Quebec in accordance with the Official Languages Act, specifically section 91.
The AC, HRB, said that during national union-management consultations, it is important that all measures be taken to ensure the language rights of all participants are respected. Specific measures taken to meet this obligation may include, for example, the translation of important points by the person chairing the meeting. It is important that these measures allow participants to understand and be understood when speaking in their preferred official language. He noted
that simultaneous translation is not the only option available to ensure that official languages requirements are met. He said that among the good practices identified by the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages for meetings where the level of bilingualism of the participants is varied and where some are unilingual, is the practice of summaries being made in French of the major points in made in English, and vice versa. He advised that this is the CRA’s preferred approach, and allows it to meet its obligations under the Official Languages Act. The AC, HRB, said that supporting documentation will continue to be provided in both official languages, as in the past. He said that unilingual participants who prefer to go beyond official language requirements in order to validate and confirm their comprehension of what is being said are free to discuss and explore different approaches.
With respect to the language requirements and profile of positions, the AC, HRB, advised that the Official Languages Act requires that they be established objectively without regard to individuals' language competencies, and based on functions and duties of the position. The obligations relate to communications and services to the public and language of work, and refer to the bilingual capacity required to provide services without delay and of equal quality in both official languages. Therefore, it is not possible to systematically post all internal staffing processes with “various language profiles”.
The AC, HRB, said that with respect to the bilingual capacity exercise in Quebec, management had met with local union representatives on April 23, 2021, to present the report and consult with them. He said that union representatives had until May 7, 2021, to provide their comments. The report will then be forwarded to the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages.
The Quebec Region AFS Representative stated that the CRA promotes the language of choice, but that employees are far from being able to use it. He expressed concern with regard to the conclusions presented by Eastern Quebec Tax Services Office (TSO) management regarding their analysis on the bilingual needs of audit positions. He said that according to their methodology for analyzing bilingual needs, an audit file would become bilingual as soon as at least one shareholder is English-speaking, as soon as the company makes a sale outside of Quebec, or as soon as the company has a foreign translation or a foreign subsidiary. He said that according to them, when in doubt a file is always bilingual. He said that according to the employees at the meeting, and based on the conclusions of the analysis, there would be no more unilingual French positions at the AU03 level or higher.
The Quebec Region AFS Representative asked if this same methodology would be applied elsewhere in the country; would a position in British Columbia become bilingual if a company being audited has sales in Quebec? He said that they had the impression that there were two ways of applying the Official Languages Act; one for Francophones and one for Anglophones. He noted that for the CRA to meet its language commitments, there must be enough bilingual employees to serve each taxpayer in the language of his or her choice. However, in Quebec City, the principle is to have only fully bilingual employees with CBC language profiles “just in case". He said that asking all Quebec City auditors to be bilingual is unnecessary; there only needs to be sufficient bilingual employees to meet the need. He said unilingual French auditors at the Eastern Quebec TSO are victims of the lack of vigour in defining linguistic profiles and are consequently hampered in their career progression. The Quebec Region AFS Representative also noted that a large number of positions are designated “bilingual” when only the ability to read documents in English is required. In this case, the language profile should only require a “B” in reading, as speaking and writing skills are not relevant. He said that creating positions with language profiles only requiring a “B” in English reading, or a “C” in reading and “B” in writing would solve most of the problem. There is no need to ask for an oral language rating when there is no need to interact verbally in English.
The Commissioner said that the discussions would continue and remarked that this is an interesting issue and there was lots of work to do in this area.
11. Public Service Employee Survey
The union requested an update on next steps and on their concerns regarding the service provider and failures in surveys since the CRA stopped using Statistics Canada.
The Toronto Region AFS Representative commented that the survey results were important for the Agency, and noted that data integrity had been questionable for the past few years. He said he hoped this would be corrected and improved for future years, as accurate data is needed to
make relevant decisions. He said they continue to promote the Public Service Employee Survey (PSES) to their members. He noted that statistics show that the CRA had a high participation rate. He said they understand that the Agency had used Advantis because of contractual obligations with Treasury Board. He asked whether the CRA plans to continue using an outside provider in the coming years.
The AC, HRB, agreed that this was a good news story for the Agency. He advised that on February 26, 2021, the Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) had shared the final response rates for the overall Public Service and individual departments and agencies. The CRA’s final response rate for the 2020 PSES was 68.8%, which was higher than the overall Public Service response rate of 60.6%. He noted that the CRA having a higher response rate than the Public Service was consistent with previous years. He said that the Agency was very happy with this outcome. He thanked the union for their continued support on the PSES.
With respect to the data integrity issue, the AC, HRB, said that the Agency had validated the results received from the TBS and that the data was reliable all the way down to the organizational level. Although overall agency-level data was accurate in 2018 and 2019, the accuracy of branch and regional level results had been compromised as a result of employees misidentifying their own organizational units. The AC, HRB, noted that the strategies the Agency had put in place to address this issue had been successful, and that the CRA would be able to drill down right to the organizational unit level for the first time in three years. He confirmed that this is the final year of the contract between the TBS and Advantis, a private research firm which has administered the PSES the last three years. He said that the CRA did not know if the TBS intends to move forward with Advantis for the future. He said that the CRA would keep the union updated.
The Commissioner commented that the issue of data integrity is very important for the CRA and that it had been working hard on this problem since it was uncovered. He was pleased with the success this year and said it was a tribute to the work done on the Agency’s part to get there. He said that the CRA did not know what the TBS would do for a provider, and assured the union that the CRA would continue to fight hard for whatever ensures the highest data integrity.
The Toronto Region AFS Representative commented that we need to make sure that success is celebrated. He said that members need to be informed of the success, and that the data will be used at the lowest level. He remarked that the Agency should be encouraging people to use the data to the fullest extent. He also commented that the CRA needs to ensure the five additional questions that can be added to the survey are being used to the fullest extent possible. He thanked management for the update.
The AC, HRB, advised that the in addition to the questions added by the Agency, there were also a number of questions related to COVID. He said that the Agency will be able to correlate those results with the findings from the CRA’s own internal surveys which had been referenced earlier in the meeting. He also advised that there had been a delay in receiving the results from the TBS, and that the union would be advised once they were received.
12. Service by Design
Due to time constraints, it was agreed that management would provide the union with a written update on this topic.
∙ Management to provide written update to the union.
13. Staffing Redesign
The union requested an update on Staffing Redesign, and a discussion on the use of non advertised staffing and other staffing concerns.
The Ontario Region AFS Representative said that the increase in non-advertised staffing and external staffing were serious concerns. He said that both of these trends had resulted in their members not having access to staffing recourse as intended under the CRA Act. He also said that the excessive use of external staffing processes also circumvents the provisions of the AFS collective agreement, namely clause 17.16, that provides members with paid time to participate in staffing processes. This is because the Employer has taken up the practice of staffing externally through testing outside of normal working hours. He also noted that there are formal and informal agreements to share Notice of Job Opportunities and staffing planning documents with the union prior to their being published, and that this practice is in the spirit and intention of UMA as it provides an opportunity to resolve conflicts (and correct inadvertent errors) at the earliest stage. He advised that the union has found major staffing concerns have arisen when they were not provided with an opportunity up front to share any concerns or suggestions. He said that AFS was concerned that there was a growing national trend to keep the union in the dark about staffing as long as possible. He requested that management share their staffing planning documents and NOJOs at the start of the staffing process. The Ontario Region AFS Representative also advised that they have noticed an increase in long term actings which was unfortunate as progress had been made on this concern in recent years. He said that long term actings lead to the unfortunate situation that employees feel entitled to jobs that they are acting in and it also provides an unfair advantage to long term actors over other employees.
The AC, HRB, advised that the Staffing Redesign Project is developing comprehensive guidelines for Non-Advertised Staffing. He noted that the goal of the non-advertised staffing strategy is not to increase or decrease the use of non-advertised staffing. He said the goal is to address both employee and manager concerns by providing managers with clear and consistent guidelines, more support from Human Resources, and increased communications when non advertised staffing is used. He said that the non-advertised staffing strategy is still being developed, and is being done in collaboration with union partners from both AFS and UTE. He said that the CRA was grateful for the collaboration and valuable input from the unions, which had helped to shape the draft strategy. He advised that the CRA had met with its union colleagues on many occasions regarding this subject, and that the CRA would continue taking that approach to collaboration.
With respect to numbers, the AC, HRB, advised that for the past three years, non-advertised staffing actions accounted for about 39% of staffing actions at the CRA. He said that lateral moves accounted for 18%, acting appointments greater than 6 months 12%, term appointments greater than 6 months 4.7%, and permanent appointments 4.3%. He noted that these numbers did not include acting appointments under 6 months, acting or term extensions, or administrative conversions.
The AC, HRB, said that the issue of long term actings was an important one. He advised that upon the most recent review, the CRA acknowledges that there had been a steady increase in long term actings. He said that to support its commitment to monitoring lengthy acting appointments, the CRA was undertaking a review of long term actings greater than 2 years and requesting rationale and justifications for all such appointments. He advised that the HRB had gone out nationally to gather information on all actings of a period of 2 years and that more, and the information was expected soon. He said the analysis would look at the plans to resolve the actings, the percentage of non-advertised actings, and those resulting from a staffing process. The analysis will also look at the number of actings to be resolved in the next few months, will review how actings were resolved, and will re-examine the CRA benchmark on long term actings. He said that the HRB looked forward to making progress on this file, and the project was expected to be completed by the end of May 2021.
The BC/Yukon Region AFS Representative said that members are very frustrated with non advertised processes. He said that in some cases management was using non-advertised staffing to appoint people who had failed staffing assessments rather than appoint people from pools who had passed the assessments. He reiterated that members are frustrated and expressed hope that there would be guidelines for local management to follow on non advertised staffing.
The AC, HRB, noted that the current high proportion of non-advertised appointments could be explained by a number of factors related to the pandemic. He noted that all advertised processes had been completely halted in the spring of 2020, and that when they restarted at the end of June 2020 it had taken the CRA several months to switch to virtual staffing. Managers were still adjusting to remote work and COVID-19 related pressures and were not prepared to staff at normal levels.
The Headquarters Region AFS Representative said that the concern was permanent promotion without advertisement. He noted that it was a slippery slope, and it was easy to go too far and degrade the meritocracy the CRA is supposed to be operating in.
The Commissioner said that permanent promotions without advertisement would be something the CRA would keep an eye on. He said that he was excited about Staffing Redesign and remarked that work on this could really help the CRA. He noted that there will be issues to address from all sides, but that it was an important piece that should make the Agency better.
14. AFS Classification
The union requested an update on the AFS classification review and next steps.
The President, AFS Group, noted that the union had been working with management to modernize the CRA’s classification standards in the early 2000s, however the work had been halted as a result of the Expenditure Restraint Act. To resume this work, both parties agreed to conduct a joint union-management classification review as out in the AFS collective agreement. He said that the work was done and that significant findings resulted. The NUMCC Classification Working Group presented its final report to the October 2019 NUMCC. He advised that many concerns were identified in the joint review, the most obvious including that the standards were outdated and that virtually none of the standards complied with the Canadian Human Rights Act (CHRA). He remarked that many of the factors and important issues that are at play in the modern workplace are not considered when evaluating jobs in the Agency. He advised that the members of the working group had agreed that the only option to resolve the serious issues identified was to undertake classification reform. He said that it was critical that senior CRA management address these issues.
The President, AFS Group, commented that the union had shared its serious concerns with the “What we Heard” classification study conducted by management following the joint review. He said the methodology was flawed as the consultations were “mainly targeted towards managers” and not towards employees who are most directly affected by their classification or their unions who represent them. He said that the Employer had expressed an interest in using more generic work descriptions to expedite hiring. However, he said that the specialized work being done by some AFS members required specialized work descriptions to ensure employees are properly classified and compensated. He said that staffing should not be the driver of classification.
The President, AFS Group, also expressed concerns about what is considered AU work vs. SP work, as all audit work should belong to the Auditing (AU) classification group. He also noted that the minimal pay gap between non-professional versus professional work causes hiring issues. He said the AFS Group is concerned that the report advocates for contracting out and that managers felt that the Agency needs to adjust to the growing gig economy and should review its employer/employee relationships to match that reality. He said that the worst thing the Employer could do for its employees or the public is to embrace “gig economy” work that degrades and devalues the work of professionals. If the Employer wants highly skilled/educated employees, it should never go down the path of treating its workforce as disposable inventory. He said that embracing the gig economy would jeopardize our employees and the public services that we provide, making a mockery of our people first philosophy.
The President, AFS Group, noted that if the CRA wants to have employees who can perform professional audits and credibly testify in court, or employees who can develop and support information technology systems to protect Canadian taxpayer information, it needs to maintain and not weaken the AU, CS, or other educational standards. He said that despite their concerns, the AFS Group was pleased that the Agency now has a mandate to begin classification reform. He asked whether management would honour their commitments to modernize our AFS classification standards that date back to the early 2000s by taking the necessary steps now to update all AFS classification standards and bring CRA into compliance with the CHRA.
The AC, HRB, thanked the union for raising this important issue. He commented that many findings in the “What we Heard” report were directly in line with the conclusions of the NUMCC working group on classification, which highlighted the need to modernize the CRA’s standards and occupational group structure. He said that both sides agree that the Agency needs a modern classification system, and that both sides want modern evaluation tools that reflect the current and future needs of the Agency. He noted that although it will bring fundamental change, it will not be a short or simple process. He said that the Agency is currently in the exploration and research phase and not yet at the point of solutions or conclusions.
The AC, HRB, advised that the CRA will break down the research into manageable projects, or issues, which will then be reported to the Corporate Management Committee. These projects/topics may include policy reforms, individual standards/groups, or other findings. He said that at present, the Agency had received a mandate to explore options for the MG group and to move the process streamlining agenda further. He advised that when ready, these options will be presented to the Corporate Management Committee. He advised that the CRA intends to continue the same environment of openness and cooperation that was established during the work of the NUMCC sub-committee on classification, and that it is committed to engaging bargaining agents in a meaningful way. He said that the teams met on April 27, 2021, and explained the next steps of the CRA’s approach to Classification Reform. Classification Reform will begin with the MG group before proceeding to other groups, and it will set the framework for how other standards are structured. He noted that the work of the NUMCC sub committee on classification would be used in all this work.
The President, AFS Group, thanked everyone for their participation in the meeting. He noted again the importance of moving forward on classification reform without delay. He said that AFS members had been waiting for such reform for decades and that it was work that both parties agree can and must be done. He commented on the Agency’s People Frist philosophy and stressed the importance that the CRA’s own employees should not be an afterthought. He said the CRA must ensure that its statements on this topic were acted upon and applied to its own employees, and that “People First” did not become just a catch phrase or recruitment slogan. In closing, the President, AFS Group, said that some people at the meeting had suffered personal losses from the pandemic and that everyone had suffered to some extent from the effects of the pandemic and its impact on Canadian Society. He wished everyone good mental and physical health for themselves and their loved ones.
The Commissioner thanked everyone for attending the meeting, and said that there had been a good dialogue with many topics. He said that dialogue was not confined to the formal NUMCC meetings, and that discussions between the parties continue year-round. He noted that often the discussions outside the NUMCC are the most important. He commented that everyone had been touched by the pandemic, and he thanked everyone for persevering through this difficult time. He said that the CRA had accomplished great things in the last year, and that the public was proud of this work. He said it was important to recognize that circumstances were not easy, and that success had also come at a cost to everyone. With respect to People First philosophy, the Commissioner emphasized that it was not just a catch phrase and that it also includes the CRA’s people, not just the people it services. He noted that the People First approach has helped the CRA through the pandemic, and that the CRA would look to build upon it as it comes out of the pandemic.
NOTE: Serious technical difficulties with the simultaneous interpretation were experienced throughout the meeting. As a result, some attendees may have been unable to fully participate in the discussions as usual.
Canada Revenue Agency
Audit, Financial and Scientific Group Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada
Date: 2021-11-22 Date: