The Betrayal

Unions should not be lapdogs to a political party; they should be watchdogs for their members' interests – Andy Stern, President Emeritus Service Employees International Union (SEIU)

Debbie Daviau, President of  the Professional Institute of the Public Service and her executive and Board would do well to review the many writings of Andy Stern regarding where the lines must be drawn between unions and their employers.  Last week in a joint communique with the Trudeau government, Daviau announced that PIPSC will be working with the Liberal Government to “secure a new pay system.” This, in response to the damning report by Canada’s Auditor General regarding the completely avoidable Phoenix pay debacle that has devastated hundreds of thousands of  employees in the federal public service. From my perspective, such a limited action can only be viewed as a deceitful sell out to all federal unionized workers. For the past 3 years public servants have witnessed the denigration of the most sacred of right of workers – the right to be paid accurately and on time, and this joint response is an inadequate response and frankly an insult and a disgrace. By any measure, the Phoenix debacle is a monumental disaster of galactic proportions for Canada’s public service and for Canadians which was brought about by governments disrespect for its own workers. I assure you that public servants do not take solace in joint lip-service that does nothing to remedy the current pathetic state of affairs. It does nothing to help those public servants unable to pay their mortgages, forced to sell their possessions to make ends meet, nor those experiencing the hardships brought about by the unnecessary and undeserved financial distress of incorrect or even non-existent pay. The remedy must go far beyond an open announcement that you are going to work together on a new system? The answer must be that there will be a thorough and complete investigation of the root causes that contributed to such blight on Canada’s public service and an answer to the question of why it happened in the first place. Surely the design of any new system should include an identification of what went wrong?

It certainly didn’t help matters that Daviau led the charge to have PIPSC cast aside its neutrality in the 2015 federal election to support the Trudeau Liberals. Afterwards, despite the sunny ways agenda and all the promises to treat public servants differently, the Trudeau government proceeded full tilt with the Phoenix project ignoring the advice of experts and warnings from other federal unions.  It is important to note that Michael Ferguson, the Auditor General of Canada lays much of the responsibility for Phoenix on the Trudeau Liberals calling it an “incomprehensible failure.”   The government response to the crisis has been so shockingly inadequate that it defies explanation. Now, 3 years later with thousands of her own union members in distress because of Phoenix, Daviau is doubling down and jumping into bed with the very government who caused the problem. PIPSC has sold their souls to the Liberal government and in doing so has sold out the members and the union movement. There is an old saying that a fish rots from the head down.  Daviau’s key advisor is Steve Hindle, the former PIPSC President who previously ran for Parliament under the Liberal banner and lost.

Instead of cozying up with the Liberals, PIPSC should have been fighting them tooth and nail to respond more effectively to the ongoing crisis, even if it meant a strike. My disappointment extends to my concern that PIPSC is no longer politically and party neutral but that its President and current leadership team are now perceived to be, and in fact  are, just  lapdogs for the Trudeau government. At the highest level, unions should never be about party affiliation, they should be about advancing good policy for workers.  The fact that Canada’s two largest Public service unions are so juxtaposed in their response and direction should not go without notice. The same week Daviau and the Liberal locals on the PIPSC executive board announced they were jumping into bed with the Trudeau Liberals, Chris Aylward, National President of Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) called for a formal public inquiry into the Phoenix debacle.

To regain its credibility PIPSC should support the PSAC call for a formal inquiry and withdraw their support to work with the government to secure a new system. They should demand    immediate action for anyone who is not getting paid. There are numerous ways to do this whether it’s issuing emergency cheques or emergency e-transfers direct from the Treasury Board to the affected employee. PIPSC should insist that any support or cooperation they provide the government in fixing Phoenix be tied to the government level of commitment in ensuring people affected by the debacle are paid the money they are owed NOW.   PIPSC should support PSAC call for a full public inquiry into the Phoenix scandal.

 Reports by the firm Goss Gilroy Inc. and the Office of the Auditor General of Canada (OAG), have uncovered disturbing details about both the development and the implementation of Phoenix. Many  of the concerns previously expressed by the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and PIPSC when I was President and by the other unions representing federal public service workers were proven correct by the evidence found by both the OAG and Goss Gilroy. In addition to these reports, further evidence has come to light through documents previously kept hidden from the public and the unions. This includes the 2009 business case for Phoenix, which was made public by the media in the fall of 2017. Why would Daviau and the Liberal locals on the PIPSC executive board enter an agreement with a government the deliberately withheld information from them that affected the very people they are supposed to represent?

As the Auditor General said himself, in order to prevent this type of failure from occurring again, there is a need for “changes that go beyond the recommendations” made in his own report.

Daviau has led PIPSC into an agreement with an untrustworthy government that has avoided meaningful consultation with PIPSC since the crisis began, has not fired any of the managers responsible for the debacle and has given out performance bonuses to managers involved in the project, while union employees have not been paid or worse.  The Auditor General has said that a change of culture is needed in the public service at senior levels to avoid repeating these problems, yet PIPSC is moving ahead despite that recommendation. A change of culture is also needed in the PIPSC leadership.

By: Gary Corbett, former President of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada