As the post-pandemic world comes closer to becoming a reality, public service unions have wish lists of what they would like to see in Thursday’s federal budget.
One of the top items on the list is a set of clear and consistent policies on working from home.
Jennifer Carr, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), which has more than 60,000 members, said surveys showed that about one-quarter of workers wanted to work from home permanently. About one-quarter wanted to work from offices. Half would prefer hybrid workplaces.
But a lot of government departments have made their own policies. Some departments are now adding requirements for those who want to work from home permanently, such as requiring a full office with a locked door, Carr said.
Those preferring hybrid work want to ensure there is flexibility. There are also questions about the cost of technology and tools for working from home.
“There’s a concern that some employers will be rigid,” Carr said. “Public servants have been working from home effectively. They have shown that it works.”
Meanwhile, the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE), which has 700,000 members, will be looking at the budget for reassurance that the federal government is committed to the Liberal-NDP agreement, which would keep the current government in power until 2025 while acting on NDP priorities, including national pharmacare and dental care.
CUPE national President Mark Hancock sees the agreement as a sign of positive change and wants to see evidence in the budget that the government will make good on its promise.
CUPE is calling for at least $3.5 billion to get the pharmacare program started as well as $8.5 billion for long-term care and a 5.2-per-cent increase in health-care funding.
“We’re seeing this on the ground. Our members are stretched,” Hancock said. “The government has to make sure that the money gets to the provinces.”
CUPE is calling for low-interest loans to help cities and town develop infrastructure and asking that a temporary $2.2 billion top-up to Canada Community Building Fund be made permanent.
CUPE also wants to see more funding for child care. “This is a great opportunity for the government to show its support for women in the workplace,” Hancock said.
Both PIPSC and CUPE are hoping the new budget will address tax fairness. Hancock and Carr will be looking for measures that will close tax loopholes for big businesses and the very rich.
Last September, the office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer found that, if $250 million in spending was provided to the Canada Revenue Agency to augment tax collection, audit, investigation and enforcement, it would earn more than $1.4 billion in revenues, Carr said.
Meanwhile, PIPSC, which represents scientists and professionals, is also hoping for $800 million more for public science. That would bring spending back to 2010-11 levels, Carr said.
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The Phoenix pay system remains a major irritant for public servants, who have grappled with errors in pay since the system was introduced in 2016.
PIPSC is also concerned about increasing expenditures on outsourcing, which has led to problems like Phoenix. The outsourcing bill for Phoenix is now more than $650 million and the system never worked, Carr said.
In July 2020, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) announced it had negotiated an agreement that would give 140,000 of its 180,000 members $2,500 lump-sum payments for their pain and suffering.
PIPSC wants a system that resolves issues in a timely fashion for its members — and hopes that’s in the budget, too.
“That would be a dream come true,” Carr said. “The problems aren’t going away.”
This is not a time for austerity, Hancock said. Costs will go up in all institutions, and there will be pressures at the bargaining table as workers face inflation for the costs of food, housing and other necessities, he said.