The President of the Audit, Financial and Scientific (AFS) Group welcomed the participants to the second National Union-Management Consultation Committee (NUMCC) meeting of 2021. He expressed that AFS firmly believes in the importance of being able to meet, at least occasionally, in person for the development of effective working relationships. To that end, he hoped the parties could meet in person next time.
The Commissioner welcomed the participants to the virtual meeting and expressed that he is also looking forward to resuming in-person NUMCC meetings. He commented that for the past two years, due to the pandemic, we have had to rethink vacation planning. In March 2020, the CRA temporarily suspended the automatic mandatory cash-out of vacation and compensatory leave for fiscal year 2019-2020 due to unpredictable and unforeseen circumstances related to the pandemic. As the pandemic progressed, the mandatory cash-out was reinstated and the decision to keep it in place was upheld. The Commissioner noted that providing services to Canadians and ensuring people get the benefits they are entitled to in an unfamiliar environment has been stressful and exhausting, and reiterated the importance for employees to take time-off to recharge.
The Commissioner noted that further to the federal election, the Honorable Diane
Lebouthillier was appointed for another term as Minister of National Revenue and the Agency looks forward to continuing working with her and her administration. Following the announcement about the mandatory vaccination for employees of the core federal public service and RCMP, the Commissioner affirmed that the CRA will adhere and follow the same guidelines. The CRA Charitable Campaign launched on September 9, 2021, is in full swing and there has been great participation from our employees. The Commissioner expressed confidence that this campaign will be successful.
The Commissioner spoke about the Public Service Employee Survey (PSES), and stated that employees across the Agency participated in large numbers, as in the last few years. The survey results indicate that 68% of the CRA population participated in the PSES, which is higher than the participation rate of 60.6% for the overall public service, and is higher than employee participation in the past. The Commissioner noted that it is a good sign that employees express their point of view and their input is extremely valuable in helping us identify areas where we need to improve.
The Commissioner congratulated members of senior management who were appointed to new positions. He further congratulated and thanked senior management representatives who retired and those who left the Agency to pursue new challenges with other departments. He stated that although people are leaving, the Agency is strong and has talented and skillful people who are ready to replace their predecessors. The Commissioner also extended his congratulations to the recently elected and re-elected members of the AFS Group Executive, and in particular to the President. He is confident they will continue having interesting and productive discussions on issues that may arise.
Reflecting back on all that has been accomplished during the pandemic, the
Commissioner is satisfied that the Agency was able to stay in line with its mandate and he stated that it will continue being flexible as it adapts to the changing environment. He stated that we are looking forward to getting closer to a semblance of normalcy, even if that normalcy will inevitably be different than it was in pre-pandemic life. He also hopes that we will hold onto the positive and helpful things that grew out of the pandemic, and that we take advantage of the opportunities that have been presented.
The AFS president first acknowledged the departure of Manny Costain from their national executive and consultation team after he was elected as the new Atlantic Director on the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) Board of directors. He also recognized Annette Butikofer for the great union-management relationship she fostered with AFS representatives over the years, and he wished her all the best in her retirement. He expressed that although AFS members and the Agency continue dealing with the challenges and issues deriving from the COVID-19 pandemic, he appreciates having this meeting and sees it as a great opportunity to work together and discuss these and other long standing issues.
1. Centres of Excellence in the Regions
The union requested an update on Ontario and Western Regions Centres of Excellence and future plans for the Atlantic and Quebec Regions.
The Assistant Commissioner, Atlantic Region, advised that Atlantic Region had already implemented Centres of Excellence (CoE) structures for its Scientific Research and Experimental Development (SR&ED), Criminal Investigations (CID), Legislative Policy and Regulatory Affairs (LPRA), and Appeals divisions. She was also pleased to share that two teams in the Newfoundland Individual Income Tax Enquiries Contact Centre in the New Brunswick location will be integrated into the New Brunswick Business Enquiries organizational structure. The addition of this new CoE will result in client experience enhancement and efficiency gains, which demonstrate that Atlantic Region has been an innovator in the Assessment, Benefit, and Services Branch (ABSB) model in relation to Contact Centres. The Atlantic Region will continue to follow the progress and new developments in the Western and Ontario regions with respect to the implementation of their respective models. They will continue gathering feedback and taking advice from the Tax Program branches, and will monitor their progress and make adjustments as required to succeed in both the organization and service levels.
The Assistant Commissioner, Quebec Region, stated that over the past few years, the Quebec Region had launched a series of exercises to create CoEs, and most recently created a CoE for Large Business Audit. These exercises were undertaken to centralize the management structure of regional operations for some programs under a regional director. The main two objectives of these exercises were program performance optimization and improving service to taxpayers. The pandemic has had a significant impact on how work is carried out in both the traditional program areas as well as in new workloads. To align with the new hybrid work model and to adjust to the increase of virtual work, new technology solutions were deployed and policies and procedures have been created or updated. Over the coming months, the Senior Management Team from the Quebec Region will start a targeted review process, which will provide valuable insight about past successes, and will help identify further opportunities to refine the governance model. This review exercise will be guided in accordance with the Agency’s ‘’People First’’ philosophy and will align with national guidance on the future of work. The Assistant Commissioner stated that the various stakeholders will be consulted during the process, from its design to its implementation. He advised that their union partners will be invited to participate and provide feedback during the consultation process.
The Assistant Commissioner, Western Region, said that the details of the region’s revised governance structure have already been shared with regional union representatives. An analysis of the Audit programs revealed that aligning programs based on their complexity and their interactions with client groups would be beneficial. The new structure will consist of fewer Tax Services Offices (TSOs), bringing down the number from eight to four, as well as a single contact centre to be formed by combining the region’s call centres. The new model will eliminate artificial barriers and will result in broader career opportunities for employees; there is no relocation and workforce adjustment anticipated and employees will continue working from their current locations. As a result of this realignment, both the GST Post Audit and the GST RIP function will each be consolidated into two locations. It is of note that some functions related to this work require field visits. In the new model, each TSO will have a Small Medium Enterprise (SME) Income tax Audit division. The High Complexity Income Tax Audit programs will be managed as a virtual Centre of Expertise, thus allowing auditors to work from various sites in the region. The focused attention on particular segments of the audit population will generate opportunities to enhance training for employees of the Western Region, which will in turn translate into career opportunities. The project’s implementation plan should be finalized in early December 2021. The implementation itself is expected to take between twelve and eighteen months but the timing could vary due to a number of factors, which include ongoing environmental, economic, public health, governmental and organizational health indicators. Western Region will conduct regular performance assessments in the form of surveys, consultations with unions, and reviews of the program performance metrics. The implementation plan will be adjusted as necessary based on the results and the implementation will be conducted alongside with the Future of Work, Business Resumption and Beyond Geographic work initiatives.
The Assistant Commissioner, Ontario Region, provided an update on the Ontario Region Organizational Review (OROR) exercise that was launched in February 2021. The enhanced organizational structure was approved at the Transformation Oversight Committee in August 2021 and further announced to employees on September 23, 2021. For the Ontario Region, the new structure consists of a reduction in the number of TSOs from ten to seven, and streamlines programs that are similar by grouping them together. Employees will continue working from their usual work locations in Ontario Region and will not be asked to relocate. The Region will continue to focus on the ‘’People First’’ philosophy for its implementation plans and will place employees and taxpayers at the centre of every decision made. There will not be any impact on the day-to-day work for the vast majority of employees and the Region’s implementation plans will be adjusted to encompass survey results before the anticipated implementation of April 1, 2022. In an effort to ensure a smooth transition, a change Management Framework and an InfoZone page have been created to support employees and managers in providing them with information pertaining to the OROR exercise. The Assistant Commissioner reiterated the importance of consultations with the unions and highlighted their valuable participation through the Organizational Review Union Management Working Group.
The Toronto Region, AFS representative, commented that the presentation was very informative and it was the first time an update on Centres of Excellence in the Atlantic and Quebec Regions was shared. He added that the Western and Ontario Regions provide updates on a regular basis and he wonders if it would not have been better to start consultations from a top-down approach. He also expressed concerns about the future of staffing and asked if the Centres of Excellence would prioritize regional or national dedicated staffing, and if input would be taken from the various Centres. On the matter of workforce adjustment (WFA), he underlined that it should not be an issue as the Assistant Commissioner of the Western Region mentioned during his presentation that he was not anticipating any. Nonetheless, should WFA be considered at any point, AFS wants to be made aware as to what and where the impact on employees will be. With respect to training and implementation, the AFS representative raised concerns about present and future technical capacity. A number of employees move to different areas, leave the Agency or retire and AFS wants to know what CRA plans to ensure expertise is not lost in a CoE environment. Another concern for AFS members relates to the requirements to report to work physically or virtually and how this may be determined based on the Geographics. He further enquired if the Agency is going to handle health and safety issues as it is done currently. He asked what the impact will be on Management-employees relations during the implementation phase, which, as stated before, will be piecemeal in each of the regions. He made a comparison with the issue of parking lots in Ontario Regions and shared that consultations are held with the stakeholders on a regular basis.
The Commissioner responded, indicating that on the issue of consultations, his perspective was that they have gone well. He recognized that good discussions are taking place at the regional level and some things could have been done differently to bring these issues and awareness at the national level. He reiterated his commitment to look at the issue from an Agency-wide perspective and said that although it is not expected that everyone will be a carbon-copy of each other, we should, in the end, present a coherent vision. For the other issues raised, such as health and safety, the Commissioner offered to share information after the meeting. The Toronto Region, AFS representative replied that any other issues that may arise on this, whether it be at the regional or national level, they should be handled through the implementation phase and brought at the NUMCC table due to the national impact. He asked that moving forward, ongoing dialogue continues and reiterated that given the national impact of this topic, this should remain on the NUMCC agenda.
The President, AFS Group, replied that national consultations on this issue would be appreciated as this will have an impact on the delivery of programs on a national level.
Commitment: Further discussions on the Centres of Excellence between Management and AFS will be explored should AFS have concerns with issues arising at the regional level that could have an impact at the national level.
2. Workplace of the future
The President, AFS Group, requested an update on CRA’s workplace of the future and plans to return to the workplace. He also said that it used to be referred to as the new normal but it’s really the future workplace.
The Assistant Commissioner, Finance and Administration Branch (AC, FAB) replied that the new normal also keeps extending its timeline. She began by stating that the health and safety of CRA employees continues to be a top priority and that physical and mental health are a key consideration when planning for workplace of the future. The Agency will continue to protect employees who must report on-site through the application of national worksite and building re-entry protocols.
She advised that an event-based transition plan has been developed with input from internal service providers, program branches, regions and national unions; the plan was approved by the Agency on July 28, 2021 and has been communicated to all employees on August 19, 2021. The first phase of this plan, referred to as “controlled entry”, consists of a gradual increase in employee presence at Agency worksites for those dealing with paper-based processing or having inefficient work arrangements. This, will be implemented only once the Public Health Agency of Canada has removed health restrictions. Once these restrictions are lifted, CRA will provide all employees with one to two months notice in order to plan accordingly should they be returning to a worksite. The second and third phases of the plan, called “graduated and unrestricted phases”, will see further increases in employee return to worksites based on additional factors such as building readiness for example and increased bandwidth.
The AC, FAB, mentioned that the plan is based on a consistent national approach, following Public Health Agency of Canada guidelines for federal workplaces. She said that the end result of the transition plan will see the Agency move toward a hybrid work model; some employees will continue to work remotely, some will work from Agency worksites, and others will adopt a combination of the two.
Returning to the pandemic phase is a possibility if variants, or another resurgence of COVID-19, drive Public Health Agency of Canada to reinstate some health restrictions. She mentioned that this is something CRA will monitor closely.
At the organizational level, CRA will continue to balance the need to efficiently deliver tax and benefit programs with employee preferences. Drivers for coming back to the workplace was the subject of discussions at a recent corporate management committee and that presentation was also shared with AFS.
The AC, FAB, stated that the current focus is to prepare for phase one, which will be a learning phase, to provide for preparedness of worksites to accommodate returning employees. Work is underway to ensure OHS and Building Emergency and Evacuation Teams requirements are in place as more employees return to the worksites.
The AC, FAB noted that we are all learning, the ground continues to shift and reiterated CRA’s commitment to continuing having meaningful consultations with the various stakeholders and will continue to work with AFS and involve them in the key steps along the way to the future.
The President, AFS Group, thanked Management for the update and said that they appreciate inclusion in ongoing consultations on workplace of the future. AFS also encourages management to share their plan more broadly with employees as significant changes to the work environment are expected. He indicated that one of CRA’s commitments is to support efforts to address global warming. To that end, he expressed that environmental concerns from longer commuting distances and access to public transit need to be looked at when considering future office locations.
3. Telework and virtual work arrangements
The President, AFS Group, requested an update on current telework and virtual work arrangements and expected changes. They also want to discuss the ability to work from home and from remote work locations.
The Assistant Commissioner (AC), Human Resources Branch (HRB), stated that the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in an abrupt, widespread shift to virtual work arrangements for CRA employees at the same time where Canadians made the necessary efforts to stay home and practice physical distancing. He added that since the beginning of the pandemic, most of CRA’s workforce has been working remotely under other circumstances since access to designated workplace has been restricted. As previously mentioned by the AC FAB, he stated that the Agency is now preparing to move from the pandemic stage into Phase 1 of the “CRA Transition plan’’. He emphasized that over the past year and a half, the CRA developed and updated its various Corporate Policy Instruments and supporting tools related to virtual work arrangements. As such, the updated Guide on Virtual Work Arrangements was launched on April 1, 2021. He indicated that recently, a new Corporate Policy Instrument entitled “Directive on Virtual Work Arrangements” was drafted and sent to key stakeholders, including AFS, for feedback. The existing Guide would support the new directive which would flow from the overarching Corporate Policy Instrument “Policy on Workplace Management”. He mentioned that this new Directive will set out the specific high level requirements and associated roles and responsibilities for the different types of virtual work arrangements.
The AC HRB also explained that, with an overarching Policy, a new Directive and a supporting Guide, the CRA will have a comprehensive corporate policy framework to meet the current and future needs of the workplace once public health restrictions are lifted, and voluntary-type virtual work arrangements resume under a hybrid model.
In preparation for entering Phase 1 of the CRA Transition plan, the AC HRB indicated that a number of initiatives are underway, which consists in:
- Information sessions with key stakeholders being planned;
- Exploring ways to make virtual work related information more easily accessible on CRA websites; and developing additional support tools, as needed, based on identified needs, and;
- Virtual Work Arrangement Agreement (VWAA) templates being reviewed and updated to simplify for end users.
Although there continues to be questions for which responses are pending, he indicated that related Corporate Policy Instruments and supporting tools will be updated to include pertinent information when responses become available.
He reminded everyone that, during the period of the COVID-19 pandemic, as employees are working remotely “under other circumstances”, the completion of a VWAA is not required for an employee to work remotely. However, should managers wish to support telework for a period that could extend beyond the pandemic period, they would follow the steps outlined in the Telework section of the Guide on Virtual Work Arrangements.
The AC HRB said he is happy to continue updating on this topic ensuring open communications between the AFS and CRA’s management.
The President, AFS Group, thanked the AC HRB for his presentation and sought clarifications regarding the completion of the VWAA in anticipation of entering phase one of the Transition plan.
The AC, HRB replied that the CRA is planning ahead and at this time, employees should only familiarize themselves with the documents and they will be given enough lead time before moving to the next steps. He added that until such time restrictions are lifted, CRA will not move into phase one.
The President, AFS Group commented that additional costs incurred by employees from teleworking have not been recognized and that the Employer should compensate them fairly for these costs. Furthermore, AFS is of the opinion that inclusion of telework language in collective agreements is long overdue; they hope that CRA management will support the introduction of such language in order to formalize what may become the default working arrangements for many AFS members.
4. Mandatory vaccination
The President, AFS Group, requested an update on CRA’s plans with regard to employees who refuse to get vaccinated for medical, religious or ethical reasons.
The AC, HRB, indicated that this file is moving in real time and briefings with the presidents of the union partners are held on a bi-weekly basis. He added that updates were expected later in the day and while no details have been shared at this time, an informative update should come from the Minister. He expressed that the topic of vaccination is one that keeps the CRA very busy.
The AC, HRB reiterated the CRA’s commitment to ensuring the health, safety and wellbeing of its employees. He stated that CRA continues to be guided by the advice of public health authorities, primarily the Public Health Agency of Canada and Health Canada's Public Service Occupational Health Program. He also acknowledged the tremendous work and support of the members from PIPSC on the national OHS policy committee, which has been very helpful.
On October 6, 2021, the Government of Canada announced that full COVID-19 vaccination will be a condition of employment for the core federal public service. As a separate employer, the Agency will be following this new direction, and is working on a policy instrument and system that will be used for implementation. He added that national unions will continue to be consulted along the process.
The AC, HRB explained that all CRA employees, regardless of tenure or place of work, will be required to attest to their vaccination status as a condition of employment. Thus, CRA will rely on positive attestations and remind employees that providing a false attestation is considered a breach of the Code of Integrity and Professional Conduct. However, where necessary, the CRA may need to validate attestations by asking for proof of vaccination.
Four types of attestations are expected: fully vaccinated, partially vaccinated, unvaccinated (unwilling) and unvaccinated (unable).
The AC, HRB specified that unvaccinated employees will be required to request an accommodation based either on medical reasons or another of the prohibited grounds under the Canadian Human Rights Act. He stated that employees requesting an accommodation will be expected to provide a medical certificate, or a solemn or notarized oath.
For the protection of other employees, unvaccinated employees with an approved accommodation and who must go to a CRA worksite will be required to submit a mandatory rapid test result, twice or three times per week. Further details on the rapid testing and timing for implementation will be communicated as they become available. He underlined that that vaccinations are our best line of defense as it protects us all from COVID-19 and help bring an end to the pandemic. He commented that when present at a CRA worksite, employees will continue to be required to follow COVID-19 protocols.
The President, AFS group, thanked the AC, HRB for his presentation and asked him clarifications about accommodation requests based on one of the prohibited grounds outlined in the Canadian Human Right Act. His understanding is that a medical certificate will be required for accommodations requests for medical reasons. He asked the AC, HRB, to confirm if the declaration will be required when CRA employees formulate an accommodation request for the other protected grounds of the CHRA.
The AC, HRB replied that it would be in the case for accommodation requests based on prohibited grounds under the CHRA, such as medical or religious reasons. This would be when a solemn or notarized oath would come into play.
The NCR-IT Region AFS Representative asked the AC, HRB if the CRA, as a separate Agency, could make its own, independent, decision with regards to covering the cost associated with the requirement of testing on a regular basis. He stated that other government agencies announced that employees would be responsible for this cost. He wants to know if the CRA will accommodate employees during the transition period, where employees would be waiting for the administration of a second dose, or could disciplinary actions be taken during this period.
The AC, HRB, clarified rapid testing will be provided to CRA free of charge by Health Canada. The Agency will continue to accommodate employees who decide to get vaccinated however the time elapsed between the administrations of covid-19 vaccine doses will have to be validated.
He asserted that as a separate Agency, the CRA will not deviate from the position adopted by the core public service.
The BC, Yukon Region, AFS Representative, enquired about the cost associated with the notarized act and asked who would be responsible for it, the employer or the employee?
The AC, HRB, indicated that although no final decision has been made regarding this, it would be the employee’s responsibility to cover this expense. However, he said this still needs to be established and he prefers to confirm at a later time when the information becomes available.
The President, AFS Group, asserted that PIPSC supports vaccination programs for the protection of the health and safety of their members. He referred to Article 43 of the AFS collective agreement, wherein it is stated that the employer “shall provide the employee with immunization against communicable diseases where there is risk of incurring such diseases in the performance of the employee’s duties.” He emphasized it was PIPSC represented scientists who approved these vaccines based on their effectiveness and safety.
The main concern AFS has is with regards to their members being treated fairly and granted exceptions when they have valid medical, religious or other charter protected reasons. The mandatory vaccination policy must also be reasonable. If an employee has been performing their job functions remotely throughout the pandemic, it is reasonable to conclude that they could continue to do so without returning to the workplace making the mandatory vaccination route less defensible for them.
He reiterated that AFS fully support management taking measures to protect the health and safety of their members and that of the general public and asks that the employer continues to consult with the union as the mandatory vaccination program is rolled out.
The AC, HRB replied that as previously committed, CRA will be engaging AFS shortly and the documentation will be shared when it becomes available, most likely in the following week.
The Commissioner indicated that this issue is evolving in real time. He wanted to reinforce what was said by the AC, HRB with regards to open communication, and not diverging from what is done in the core public service and RCMP. He added that we all share the same objective, the health and safety of employees and that why consultations are so important.
The President, AFS Group, requested an update on the conversion to a new pay system.
The AC, HRB, began by stating that the next generation HR and payroll solution continues to be a priority for the government. While it was decided to limit the scope of the NextGen project to the Core Public Administration, he said that the CRA will remain engaged as it is being looked at for enterprise-wide eventual implementation.
An initial pilot with Heritage Canada has begun using the solution proposed by SAP and a series of three additional pilots have been proposed with three other federal departments between now and late 2022. He noted that the initial pilot is focused on basic functionality while the others will explore increasingly complex requirements. The project team has reviewed the functionality provided by SAP’s proposed solution and identified gaps that must be addressed. The AC, HRB, also mentioned that the Communications Security Establishment, a separate employer, is leveraging the NextGen procurement process to pilot the Workday product and see if it can meet their unique requirements for a highsecurity solution.
The inconsistency of rules across the Government of Canada is an issue that was identified during the Phoenix project, and this still hasn’t been addressed. To that end, where possible, it will be important to harmonize and simplify rules in the future. Full accessibility remains a key requirement for any proposed solution.
It is currently anticipated that a recommendation for a future HR & pay solution will be delivered to Treasury Board Secretariat (TBS) by the end of the 2022-23 fiscal year. The AC HRB stated that we should not expect anything before 2022-2023.
The President, AFS Group, expressed their appreciation for the efforts of the CRA compensation team in resolving pay related matters for employees. He stated that although many of the concerns with the Phoenix pay system have been addressed, this continues to be a cumbersome and difficult system for the Agency to use to pay AFS members accurately and on time. For example, the recent contract implementation is still not complete for some of the AFS members and this clearly shows that a change is needed.
As a top priority, AFS strongly encourages CRA to adopt a new pay system as soon as it’s technically feasible.
The AC HRB, responded that they are on the same page, however, this is a complex issue as it is the full HR-to-Pay system. This is beyond than just adopting a pay system as it is used from the moment an employee is onboarding, to staffing, etc. This makes it more complex as it is an enterprise wide initiative.
The NCR-IT Region AFS Representative asked the AC, HRB if CRA would change the core CAS system to NextGen, or redesign the full ESS portal.
The AC, HRB, responded that it is too early to speculate but they will work with colleagues in ITB to determine how the programs will align as this may affect SAP, the cloud, our financial system, as well as other systems. He also clarified that phoenix is our pay system but NextGen will become our HR-to-pay system.
6. Official languages
The President, AFS Group, requested an update on the job analysis in the Quebec Region and its impact on the Quebec Region and the rest of Canada.
The AC, Quebec Region, first provided an update for the situation in Quebec then shared an update on the impact on the other regions.
Situation in Quebec
The AC, Quebec Region, advised that since August 9th 2018, a total of 31 complaints have been filed with the Office of the Commissioner of Official Languages (OCOL) by employees of the Audit Division of the Eastern Quebec TSO (EQTSO). These complaints challenge the linguistic requirements posted on multiple staffing competitions or when staffing qualified candidates from the different pools. He indicated that the OCOL formulated a recommendation to implement a documented process for completing the linguistic capacity analyses for these Audit positions. Linguistic capacity analyses for the positions targeted by the complaint began in the winter of 2019 and were completed in August of 2020. These analyses were based on the language of correspondence used in taxpayers’ tax returns, the composition of inventories from the different Audit sectors and on the knowledge of program operational needs and their respective workloads.
Consultations took place in the fall of 2020 and a report on the analyses was presented to the Regional Vice-President and AFS local representatives during a meeting held on April 23rd 2021. Feedback received during this meeting was before CRA sent the result of the linguistic capacity analyses to the OCOL on September 22, 2021. Feedback received from the OCOL will determine what adjustments need to be made to the methodology used and if any follow-ups are needed.
Once the process is entirely completed, the Quebec Region will share the results with the employees of the Audit division of the EQTSO.
Impact on other regions
The AC, Quebec Region, advised that at this time, it is still too early to state what the national impact will be. He added that all bilingual capacity exercises aim to ensure that management has enough bilingual employees to provide services, at all times without delay and of equal quality, in both official languages. Factors that need to be considered are the volume of work in the second official language, the workforce size and specific realities or issues that may be present in a given Region or office. When trying to create a balanced workforce, Management must also consider factors such as the total number of positions, employee turnover rates, taking into consideration annual or sick leave, pending retirements or lateral moves, promotions and assignments. Once the number of bilingual positions have been established, the level of linguistic proficiency required for these positions must be determined. According to the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat's Directive on Official Languages for People Management, positions providing bilingual service to the public can no longer be staffed with a linguistic profile lower than BBB.
The Quebec Region AFS Representative advised that he prepared his speaking notes ahead of the meeting and some of the information just shared by the AC, Quebec Region was unknown to him at the time he wrote his notes. To that end, he indicated that some of the information in his presentation may no longer be accurate.
He expressed that the linguistic proficiency level required for bilingual positions at the Quebec City TSO continues to be an issue that is hindering unilingual French employees in their career progression. He reiterated that the analyses of bilingual positions should be done at the national level, and not locally at the Quebec City TSO. Given the impact at the national level, the analyses should be applied in a uniform manner across the CRA. The Quebec Region, AFS representative enquired if the employer intends to consult with AFS representatives at the national level regarding the linguistic capacity analyses for bilingual positions in Audit. He mentioned being aggravated by Management’s decision that a file should be reassigned to a bilingual auditor if one or several documents in English, such as an invoice or financial statements are found in the audit file of a French unilingual auditor. He stated that documents in the second language alone should not be used as the determining factor for the language needs for the audit. In a situation like this one, the auditor does not need to write or speak to the taxpayer or his representative in the second language, since all stakeholders speak French. Based on the language needs of these audit files, the union believes that unilingual auditors or auditors with a B,-,- profile could work files containing financial statements in both languages. The creation of B,-,- or C,-,- positions is something that was repeatedly requested for the Quebec TSO and it would take down language barriers when auditors need to read in the other language, but don’t need to communicate with the taxpayer or their representative in the second language. He emphasized that positions with the C,-,- profile already exist at the Agency.
*Based on Treasury Board's tool "Determining the Linguistic Profile of Bilingual Positions" when determining the linguistic profile of a position, a dash ("-") will appear in the linguistic profile instead of the skill level required when that skill is not a requirement for the position.
The Quebec Region, AFS representative, recognized Management’s efforts with regards to offering second language training during work hours. As of September 2021, employees who don’t meet the requirements for bilingual positions are allowed to take all language training sessions during work hours. He was disappointed to learn based on a conversation with Management representatives, that language training during work hours is something that is not meant to last. He stressed the importance to continue offering the training to all employees who wish to develop their second language, where the Agency has operational requirement for bilingual employees. He was also pleased that bilingual employees are now offered the possibility to take refresher courses paid by the employer during work hours. He highlighted that both changes are very appreciated by employees and hopes this will be offered across the Agency. He thanked Management for listening and responding favourably to employees’ requests regarding language training. He reiterated that Management is contributing to the development of unilingual employees by providing them with the training they require, but the next steps to address the issue would be to create B,-,- and C,-,- positions.
The AC, Quebec Region, thanked the Quebec Region AFS Representative for his good words and for recognizing the modifications and changes brought with regards to this issue. He confirmed that language training during work hours was not implemented as a temporary measure, however, the reality is that resources are not unlimited and the situation continues to evolve. He added that the language training situation in Quebec Region is similar to what is being offered in the other regions.
Regarding the analyses, the AC, Quebec Region indicated that they are still waiting OCOL’s recommendation regarding the methodology used and if required, adjustments will be made. The union and all other stakeholders will engage discussions on next steps when the recommendation is received from OCOL.
7. Staffing concerns
The President, AFS Group, wants to discuss the excessive use of external staffing and unsupervised internet testing (UIT).
The Ontario Region, AFS Representative, indicated that staffing remains the number one issue for which AFS stewards and representatives deal with on an ongoing basis. He began by acknowledging and thanking Agency Managers for promoting a number of AFS members and depleting a number of existing pools prior to creating national staffing pools.
He indicated that although the Agency redesigned staffing to make it more efficient and effective, it may be more efficient for Management than for AFS members. He gave the example of a recent national staffing competition for AU positions that was initiated by the Dedicated Staffing Team, which quickly became cumbersome for AFS members. As it was an external competition, recourse was not available, which lead to questions of fairness and accountability. He reiterated that under the CRA Act, the Agency has obligations to have proper recourse during a staffing process; the continued and increased use of external competitions, without recourse, is contrary to what the Act dictates. In this situation, he criticized that an external competition was held in the first place despite the existence of internal feeder groups at the Agency. He explained that AFS members who competed in this external staffing competition had to show that they met the prerequisites such as education and experience. Given that incumbents of AU positions already proved they met AU educational standards upon hiring, he questions the efficiency and pertinence for AU incumbents to continuously have to prove that they meet these standards each time they are candidates in an AU staffing process.
In the past, candidates who met the screening requirements and who were also successful at the assessment stage, were placed in a qualified pool of candidates. He noted that successful candidates now have to write a Korn Ferry UIT, before being placed in a “partially assessed pool of candidates”. Candidates are then invited to choose where they would like to apply before writing a locally-developed test (LDT) based on the location and programs they applied for (Income Tax, HST, or both). He expressed that the use of the national staffing concept increases the testing burden on AFS members as some LDTs have multiple tests. He also indicated that Article 17.16, Leave with pay for participation in a staffing process is not available to employees when Management insists that UITs must be written after work hours. Local hiring managers using LDT to further assess candidates in a national competition is not, in his opinion, efficient or effective, especially when an internal feeder group was available from the start. He expressed concerns about the Korn Ferry tests not being properly explained to candidates as to what they were being assessed on, or how the results were going to be used. Many AFS members did not do as well as they thought they would because of the confusion around this test.
He said that another staffing issue of concern for AFS is non-advertised staffing, particularly for long term acting or permanent positions. While non-advertised staffing for long-term acting or permanent positions is not the preferred way of doing staffing, he recognized that there are extreme cases where it is necessary. He added that this should only be in extraordinary cases, where the hiring Manager can reasonably show that no other potential candidate has the qualifications necessary for the position. The union wants more transparency when a decision is made to use a non-advertised staffing action or when a hiring Manager choses a particular candidate. They also noted that when nonadvertised staffing is used, the area of selection is unnecessarily reduced to limit who has recourse; these types of actions have a significant impact on employees’ perception of fairness and transparency in the process.
For future staffing actions, AFS would like Management to consider the following recommendations:
1) Where internal feeder groups exist, these groups should be assessed before going to external sources, thus allowing Management to assess candidates without introducing round after round of testing.
2) If UITs such as Korn Ferry testing is used in a competition, it should be noted on the NOJO, and include a link where the candidate can get further information about the test, such as what exactly is being tested and what it will be used for. Including sample testing would be of benefit.
3) If a non-advertised staffing action is used, the area of selection should be the natural feeder group for the position being staffed rather than the area that is receiving the candidate.
4) Granting leave under Article 17.16 for employees to participate in the staffing process. This Article was negotiated in good faith, allowing employees to participate in staffing competitions without taking away from their family obligations.
The AC, HRB, thanked the Ontario Region AFS representative for raising the issues and said his presentation should address some of the points raised. He also invited him to set up a meeting with the function should they need to discuss and engage specific areas that may not be respecting the procedures. He suggested a conversation through the consultative process to discuss what the future of staffing could look like. While Staffing is not a matter Management will negotiate with unions, he asserted that CRA do consult on this manner with both unions.
Unsupervised Internet testing
On UIT, the AC, HRB advised that the Agency’s contracts with two external vendors of (UITs) from Korn Ferry and EPSI have expanded the number and type of standardized assessment tools available for staffing. All tests were professionally developed to meet internationally recognized standards in the assessment industry, including reliability, validity, and fairness, thus allowing CRA managers to make sound staffing decisions that are unbiased and fair. During the pandemic, the use of these tests has been instrumental in helping the Agency pivot rapidly to virtual hiring and meet its assessment needs.
The AC, HRB indicated that since the introduction of UITs, EPSI tests were used in only
63 processes, and Korn Ferry tests in 169 processes. The Korn Ferry tests were used by Management in less than 17% of staffing processes. Out of these processes, 70% were used to staff entry-level positions. Also, the Korn Ferry tests were used on 58.6 % of the total number of internal or external candidates that have applied on a staffing process at the Agency. He also explained that UITs evaluate important qualifications, such as cognitive ability/reasoning, which are strong predictors for job performance. For this reason, this test is used as a strategic tool for large volume processes which are often, also, entry level processes.
UITs are effective and appropriate for both internal and external staffing processes. The decision to use a UIT as part of a staffing process is made by delegated managers, who are also the most knowledgeable of the jobs being staffed. At the beginning of each staffing process, the delegated managers work in collaboration with the staffing specialists to analyze the requirements of the job to ensure that there is a link between the work and the qualifications being evaluated by the test(s) used in the staffing process.
The AC, HRB, mentioned that, during a staffing process, Managers are strongly encouraged to use an assessment strategy that includes a combination of different types of assessment tools, including IUT, to assess past behaviour, current skills and abilities, as well as future potential. He added that the Agency will continue to explore and develop additional tools for hiring managers that will enable them to assess a wide range of qualifications that are required to effectively perform the diverse jobs across the Agency.
The AC, HRB, shared the results of a recent analysis of staffing processes at the CRA. The results have demonstrated that since 2018-2019, the majority of processes launched each year for positions represented by the AFS members are internal processes (82% vs. 18%, respectively). On average, the number of internal processes launched each year outnumber the number of external processes by 4 to 1.
With regards to applications to external processes, he emphasized that approximately 60% of all applicants were not CRA employees. He clarified that for these processes, over two times as many staffing actions/letters of offers were issued for existing CRA employees at a ratio of 68% for CRA employees, compared to 32% for non-CRA employees. This number is significantly higher for internal processes open to Government of Canada’s employees, where the vast majority (99%) of staffing actions/letters of offer were issued to existing CRA employees.
As the Agency focuses on developing its current workforce, there will be a focus on recruitment strategies over the next few years to employ individuals with specialized skills sets as well as on replenishing CRA workforce and address:
- Current and ongoing retiring workforce;
- The Staffing Redesign Project, which conducts external staffing experiments;
- The National Employment Equity Staffing Strategy.
An increase of external recruitment efforts will be observed in the next few years as the Government of Canada has made it a priority to hire persons with disabilities. The CRA has made the commitment to hire 750 persons with disabilities over the next 5 years.
The President, AFS President, thanked the AC, HRB, for his comprehensive reply and confirmed they will take the opportunity offered to AFS to continue consultation on some of the staffing matters. Given the numerous statistics presented by the AC, HRB, he said it would be appreciated if the statistics could be shared with AFS representatives after the meeting.
The AC, HRB, committed to sharing his speaking notes, as delivered, with the union.
The Headquarters Region, AFS representative, advised that the response provided by Management was very thorough but he would like to bring a few points to the table. On the issue of external recruitment, one of the concerns he had was that it should not be used to promote internal candidates as this is a workaround to the requirement to provide feedback. For promotion of internal candidates, this should be done using internal staffing processes. On the issue of unadvertised staffing, while it focuses on transparency, he said he could not find references of situations where an unadvertised staffing should be used instead of internal staffing. Transparency is one of the staffing pillars but it should also be fair, and when appropriate, consistency and decision must be communicated.
The AC, HRB, invited the Ontario Region, AFS Representative to set-up some time for a consultation with the appropriate staffing function to discuss areas that could be more at fault for not following due process, or to discuss what the future of staffing may look like.
The AC, HRB, agreed to share the following AFS concerns about staffing issues with the designated staffing area:
The AC, HRB, committed to sharing his speaking notes, as they were delivered.
The Commissioner thanked everyone for attending this meeting. In this time of change and uncertainty in the external world, he reiterated how important these consultations are. He encouraged us to continuing working together when facing the challenges we meet. It will be an interesting few months ahead working with the re-elected government and whatever they will bring to CRA. In addition to ongoing matters related to COVID-19 and the vaccination mandate, there are a number of longer term issues such as the return to the workplace, Agency 2023, and what the organization will look like five years from now. Those will be interesting challenges but the lessons learned during the pandemic will be of benefit in the future.
The President, AFS Group, thanked everyone for their participation. He said the union is looking forward to continuing to work with management to promote the welfare of AFS members and for the success of the Agency. As we approach the holiday season, he wished everyone good mental and physical health for themselves and their loved ones.
Bob Hamilton Doug Mason
Canada Revenue Agency Audit, Financial and Scientific Group
Date: 2022-03-29 Date: 2022-06-23