MINUTES OF THE NATIONAL UNION-MANAGEMENT CONSULTATION COMMITTEE MEETING BETWEEN THE CANADA REVENUE AGENCY (CRA) AND THE AUDIT, FINANCIAL AND SCIENTIFIC (AFS) GROUP - OCTOBER 26, 2017
The Commissioner welcomed everyone to the meeting and acknowledged the efforts of both parties in reaching a tentative agreement for the AFS Group. He also thanked the union for their participation and ongoing support of the CRA Charitable Campaign.
He said that the Agency was focused on becoming a world-class tax and benefit administration (WCTBA). This initiative emphasized the Agency’s continuous drive for improvement, innovative spirit and intelligent risk management. It will be an honest exercise to review what the CRA does well, and potential areas for improvement. These changes will support the Agency in its pursuit of excellence in collections and services to Canadians.
The Commissioner stressed the importance of administering the tax system in a fair and equitable manner while considering the impact of the Agency’s actions. He highlighted the importance of providing respectful service and communicating clearly with taxpayers as underlined in the CRA’s service agenda. He noted the recent media attention surrounding the Agency and the factors creating the current context in which the CRA operates.
The Commissioner stated that the annual resource alignment process (ARAP) was ongoing. The branches and regions have reviewed their activities, and identified pressures and priorities to confirm resources are aligned. This exercise identified some opportunities to increase resources, and others where efficiencies are possible. As the review evolves, management will keep the union informed of decisions and will discuss the implementation of changes.
With respect to changes in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), the Commissioner applauded the collaborative process that identified issues and solutions within the current environment. He was looking forward to the results of this collaborative process by the end of the year, and getting the new organizational model within the GTA Tax Services Offices in place.
The AFS Group President thanked management and the AFS National Executive for taking the time to prepare for and attend the meeting. He noted that numerous other consultations take place between these national meetings at the local, regional, and national levels. He acknowledged the CRA’s management representatives and his AFS stewards, at all levels, for their consultation efforts.
He provided management with an update on the results of recent AFS Group elections and introduced the representatives. He noted that Ian Tait, the recently retired AFS Headquarters Representative, would soon be awarded the prestigious PIPSC Service Award. This award recognizes Ian’s many years of service, and his diligence in assisting AFS Group members in resolving Phoenix related pay concerns.
The AFS Group President raised concerns with the lack of consultation. The most glaring example was the initial GTA service modernization announcement. He was pleased that management has put this project temporarily on hold while they consulted with the unions. He encouraged management to consult meaningfully on matters of interest to the AFS membership and commit to resolving disputes at the lowest possible level through a recommitment to the Union-Management Approach (UMA).
He said that the AFS Group was concerned about the lack of key information in the report on determinate employees and long term actings. He acknowledged that management had provided additional information and addressed the union’s comments during a recent consultation meeting. They are pleased that management has clarified the availability of leave with pay of service dog training. Important clarification has also been provided on the availability of leave without pay for those who need to take leave without pay for family related needs but have used their 45 annual hours of paid leave.
The Assistant Commissioner, Human Resources Branch (AC, HRB) acknowledged the union’s concerns and stated that the Agency is committed to meaningful consultation. He added that management is optimistic that working together with the union, they could tackle challenges in an open and transparent fashion. While there would be times when management is unable to consult and times when the parties would have to agree to disagree, this did not lessen the importance or benefits of open and honest communication and consultation.
He said the GTA service modernization reset is a good example of union-management consultation supported by senior management. He highlighted several examples of meaningful consultation taking place, such as the advances made on Workplace Violence Prevention, through the National Health and Safety Policy Committee, and the UMA Working Group. The union agreed that these were good examples and looked forward to continued progress on these files.
AFS Classification Matters
The AFS Group President said that classification reform was a critical concern for the union as the work of their members was being evaluated on a decades old classification system.
As part of the tentative agreement, a working group will be established within 60 days of September 23, 2017. Its mandate is to review current classification issues and potential opportunities for improvement. He reported that the AFS participants had been identified and meeting dates have been exchanged with management. Classification will be a standing agenda item in future meetings of this committee with reports being provided from our working group.
The AC, HRB said he was pleased that the CRA and the AFS Group were able to reach a tentative agreement. He added that the establishment of the classification working group is important to the CRA, and management is looking forward to the outcome of these discussions.
The AFS Group President stated that non-advertised staffing was a growing issue for his members. They wanted to ensure that due process was not sacrificed for expediency when staffing. He noted that they continued to consult with management on the tool being developed to explain the appropriate use of non-advertised staffing. He was encouraged by management’s willingness to engage in meaningful consultations on this matter.
The AC, HRB responded that management had heard the union’s concerns on the use of non-advertised appointments and as per a commitment made at the April 2016, National Union-Management Consultation Committee (NUMCC) meeting, and a job aid had been created to guide managers on the appropriate use of non-advertised staffing. He acknowledged the union’s concern that the tool could encourage the broad use of non-advertised staffing, to the detriment of fairness. To respond to this concern, management had reviewed and revised the job-aid, and gathered data on the current use of non-advertised appointments. This information was shared with the union at the Staffing Projects and Activities meeting on October 19, 2017.
The AC, HRB explained that this issue is also part of a larger conversation about how we staff at the CRA, and in the broader public service. He added that the public service has moved towards a policy model where there is a great deal of flexibility and where managers are accountable for their staffing decisions. The CRA is committed to ensuring that its staffing program is guided by the staffing principles: adaptability, efficiency, fairness, productiveness and transparency.
He added that management values the union’s perspective and welcomes their feedback. He recognized that this issue was an excellent opportunity to work together on a topic that is important to both parties.
The AFS Group President stated that the union first raised concerns about Phoenix at the April 2016 NUMCC meeting. He inquired when normal pay operations would resume. The AFS Group President insisted that the CRA make correct and timely payment of its employees a foremost priority and suggested that the Agency consider other options.
The AFS Representative, BC/Yukon Region highlighted common problems with Phoenix such as: over-deduction of superannuation and union dues, issues with payment of the bilingual bonus and acting pay, and incorrect severance calculations for employees that moved between bargaining units. He said that AFS members were also frustrated by the lack of communication from the Compensation Client Service Centre (CCSC). The union noted that there are known problems that cannot be resolved by the system. The present CCSC practice is to close these tickets without resolving them, as these issues will not be addressed until a Phoenix-wide solution is implemented. This was not effectively communicated, or well understood by employees.
The CS National Consultation Representative noted examples of problems with overpayments. He said that there are multiple issues to be resolved in some cases, and not one problem. He suggested that it would be helpful if the CCSC provided a history or accounting of the issues and corresponding solutions. The AC, HRB responded that these issues could be addressed by the problem resolution area. He asked the union to summarize and submit specific cases to this area so that issues could be escalated and addressed as appropriate.
The Commissioner recognized the seriousness of this issue and appreciated the efforts of CRA employees in resolving Phoenix related problems. He said that the CRA is in a better position than most departments and described the engagement by senior management. The Deputy Commissioner is heavily involved in the Phoenix file at the CRA and in the core public service. The Commissioner is also sensitive to the communication issues regarding Phoenix, and has asked the Agency to be attentive to providing employees with timely and effective communications that set realistic expectations for the resolution of their concerns.
The AC, HRB said it was important to acknowledge the challenges with Phoenix, and recognize the progress. Since the last update in May, there has been a significant decrease in the need for salary advances. On average, 70 advances were issued per pay period in the last quarter, compared to 205 in May 2017. In the CRA, in mid-September, 23% of employees had an open case over 30 days old, compared to 62% in the rest of the public service. The CCSC has a strategy in place that will see the backlog of aged inventory addressed by the end of the fiscal year, focusing on key transactional work followed by the enquiries inventory.
While additional resources have been hired to address the workload and general enquiries, the CRA has to work with the constraints of a system that sometimes does not react the way it should. The CRA is dependent on Phoenix stabilization to eventually return to business as usual. As mentioned at the last NUMCC meeting, the project team has dedicated resources who work directly with the Public Services and Procurement Canada (PSPC) to find solutions for technical problems. A new team was created for issues management to resolve complex cases with multiple enquiries.
The CRA also experienced a significant increase in call volume as employees contacted Compensation with enquiries. To address the increased call volume, the National Enquiries Service extended its hours of operation in the spring, increased the number of call centre resources, and implemented a formal escalation process.
Corporate Compensation, with the help of the Public Affairs Branch, has created a Phoenix hub on InfoZone that provides one stop for information for all.
Recalculations for AFS members impacted by the new PSAC-UTE pay rates will be processed by the end of December 2017. This could include promotions from a position in PSAC to PIPSC, acting in a PIPSC position for PSAC members, or any adjustments to severance.
The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat (TBS) and PSPC have put in place an HR-to-Pay stabilization governance with various oversight committees. The CRA is represented on all committees and has been an active participant. This whole of government approach will ensure issues and solutions are brought up to the highest levels for resolution.
He acknowledged the union’s concerns, and indicated that some could not be addressed at this time, until a system-wide solution is developed. He committed to keeping the union informed.
The AFS Group President acknowledged and appreciated management’s openness in the conversation. He said a recent update meeting on Phoenix was very helpful, and requested more of such meetings.
The Commissioner said he is confident that tremendous effort is being put forth towards resolving Phoenix issues. He provided his commitment to communicate effectively with employees.
Public Service Employee Survey / Public Service Employee Annual Survey
The Public Service Employee Survey (PSES) Champion said he appreciated the union’s support in increasing awareness and encouraging participation in the surveys. He thanked the AFS Group for their involvement in the joint union-management message that promoted participation in the PSES, as well as their contribution to the national steering committee. Management and the union have a shared interest in the PSES as it relates to the well-being of CRA employees.
The CRA’s preliminary participation rate in the 2017 PSES was 66.9%, and the overall public service rate was 58.9%. The PSES Champion recognized the negative impact of an unhealthy workplace, and cited several examples of actions taken following previous surveys, such as the upward feedback tool, the Discrimination and Harassment Centre of Expertise, “Why Civility Matters” messages, and the Not Myself Today® 2017 program.
The Champion stated that the unions will be consulted on the development of the action plans through the national steering committee. The committee had also discussed the ambiguity around the term “senior management” and clarified that it refers to anyone above an employee’s immediate supervisor.
The AFS Group President appreciated the work on the PSES but is concerned by the decrease in participation. He highlighted that first-line supervisors do not have sufficient time to perform their supervisory functions. He stated that action plans need to reflect employee concerns; otherwise, this contributes to skepticism and survey fatigue. The Commissioner agreed that follow-through is critical for survey effectiveness and continued participation.
World-class Tax and Benefit Administration
The Assistant Commissioner, Strategy and Integration Branch provided an overview of the World-Class Tax and Benefit Administration (WCTBA) initiative. He stated that a WCTBA is powered by world-class employees, and employee engagement is integral to the initiative. In June 2017, employees were invited to share their views in an online engagement exercise. It revealed that 71% of employees responded favourably when asked if the CRA was world-class. When employees thought of a WCTBA, they thought of fairness, service, and integrity, with “Integrity” and “Security” rated highest. “People” and “Innovation” were identified as areas where there was room for improvement.
The CRA is conducting an assessment of the Agency using the International Monetary Fund’s Tax Administration Diagnostic and Assessment Tool (TADAT). This tool was designed to help international tax organizations assess the performance and health of their respective administrations. Complementary diagnostic tools are being developed for “People” and “Innovation” to ensure the Agency’s strategic priorities are addressed and address the feedback received. The unions will be consulted and invited to a follow-up meeting to discuss the issue. The results of the assessment will be shared at the NUMCC meeting in spring 2018.
The AFS President responded that AFS members are proud of their work and also want the Agency to be a world-class tax and benefit administration. The CS National Consultation Representative added that the CRA needed to maintain its position as a leading edge organization, anticipate future needs, and encourage continuous training, in order to be world-class.
The Commissioner stated that being world-class includes breaking down silos and creating integrated approaches, which can be challenging in a large organization like the CRA. He recognized the importance of advancing an approach that focused on the Agency as a whole. While the CRA already did some related work, the world-class initiative will help focus our activities and provide direction. He emphasized that people need to feel engaged with this initiative in order for it to be successful. World-class is a journey and the CRA needs to keep moving forward.
The Commissioner thanked everyone for participating and for their constructive input. He acknowledged the importance of the work done between NUMCC meetings in ensuring productive discussions. He added that the NUMCC meetings provide an opportunity to check-in and course correct.
The AFS Group President thanked everyone for attending. He noted that several commitments to consult were included in the recent tentative agreement and there is a lot of work to be done in the months ahead. He said this was an unprecedented opportunity to work together for the betterment of our members and the Agency.
Canada Revenue Agency
Audit, Financial and Scientific Group
Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada