Opening Remarks  by Anne-Marie Robinson President, Public Service Commission of Canada at the Senate National Finance Committee concerning Workforce Adjustment     

May 1, 2012

Listen to webcast (Parliament of Canada)

Check against delivery

Mr. Chair, thank you and good morning. I am accompanied by Hélène Laurendeau, Senior Vice President, Policy Branch.

We are pleased to be here today along with our colleagues from the Treasury Board Secretariat with whom we share responsibilities for managing workforce adjustment.  

We all acknowledge that the implementation of fiscal restraint will be difficult for organizations and employees. While Treasury Board Secretariat has lead responsibility in managing workforce adjustment, I can assure the Members of this Committee that there has been a great deal of collaboration between our two organizations along with the Canada School of Public Service, bargaining agents and other key stakeholders to coordinate our efforts with respect to workforce management.

Public Service Commission

The Public Service Commission has two specific roles with respect to workforce adjustment, the first occurs at the beginning of the process, and the second takes place closer to the end. I would like to begin with the first of these two roles, providing guidance and support to departments in selecting employees for retention or lay-off.

As part of our mandate, the PSC provides overall policy direction to assist deputy heads, managers and human resources advisors in making decisions based on merit and consistent with the values of the Public Service Employment Act (PSEA). 

Mr. Chair, there are two scenarios that can arise from budget reductions.  In the first one, a work unit is completely eliminated and all of the employees would be declared surplus. In the second scenario, a work unit would be partially eliminated and here, we need a method for selecting, out of a group of employees who perform similar duties, which employees would be retained or laid off. These employees are selected in accordance with the regulations of the PSC.

Selection of Employees for Retention or Lay-off

This brings me to the Guide on Selection of Employees for Retention or Lay-off (SERLO), which we recently updated to provide more detailed and concrete guidance on how to appropriately apply this process in specific situations.  It is assisting managers in running merit-based, structured processes to help select employees who will be retained or laid off, and to do so in a fair and transparent manner.

To date, PSC employees have provided intensive training to some 3,700 managers and human resources advisors based on specific situations and decisions. We believe that a preventative, proactive approach and upfront support are critical in helping operational managers fully understand and apply our guides and tools appropriately. We all need to get this right the first time.

I would like to now turn to several initiatives taken by the PSC to facilitate workforce adjustment. Alternation is part of workforce adjustment negotiated by Treasury Board Secretariat. It allows surplus employees who want to stay in the public service the possibility of exchanging positions with those who wish to leave. Under normal rules, both the employees staying and the employees leaving would be subject to the full assessment of merit, even though the employees leaving will never perform the duties of positions which are going to be eliminated.

In order to facilitate these exchanges and to avoid spending public funds on evaluating employees who are leaving the public service, the PSC has used its power to exclude those employees from the application of merit, recourse and other provisions of the PSEA. Full merit provisions still apply to the appointment or deployment of employees who stay in the public service.

Second Language Evaluation

The second initiative is a temporary mechanism that relates to official language requirements. Some of the employees facing involuntarily displacement have second language evaluation (SLE) results that are older than five years. Under our current policies, SLE results can be valid as long as employees remain in their current positions. However, when employees are appointed to new positions, the SLE results must have been certified within the past five years.

In the situation where a large number of people being displaced all at once may have SLE results older than five years, this requirement would prevent them from being appointed or deployed to positions for which they have already met the required language levels and would otherwise be fully qualified.

Therefore, we have amended our policies to allow managers to use SLE test results that are over five years old to appoint these employees to bilingual positions, provided that they obtain new, valid SLE test results within 12 months.  This provision is time-limited and it will be in place until March 31, 2015.  The PSC will be closely tracking and monitoring every case where departments and agencies use this temporary measure.

Managers are expected to ensure that the bilingual functions of the position are carried out in the interim, so that service to the public and language of work requirements of the Official Languages Act are respected.

Priority Administration Program

I would now like to turn to the PSC’s second role with respect to workforce adjustment, our responsibility for managing priority entitlements. Under our legislation and regulations, “priority” persons are eligible to be appointed ahead of all others to vacant positions in the public service, provided they meet the essential qualifications of the positions. Surplus employees and laid-off individuals have entitlements to priority appointments. These entitlements help the public service retain skilled and competent people whom the Government of Canada has invested in training. These entitlements also allow us to redeploy employees and therefore avoid the costs of hiring new employees.

The PSC is responsible for ensuring that these entitlements are observed, and it does so through the priority administration program. Before proceeding with an appointment process, departments must first clearly demonstrate that they have consulted and considered the list of priorities by obtaining a priority clearance number from the PSC.

We have enhanced the program to better support the needs of departments and employees and to help prepare for an anticipated increase in the number of priority persons. The PSC has seen an increase in the number of new surplus priorities over the past year, from 226 to 576. We expect this trend to continue in the next year.  We have reallocated resources to this program and we will be monitoring it very closely. It is critical that this program functions well during this time of transition, as it will become a key source of hiring over the next couple of years.

Conclusion

Mr. Chair, the PSC is committed to working with stakeholders to ensure that our policies, guides, tools and programs provide effective direction and support and we will continue to adapt them to reflect changing needs.  We will also continue to use our oversight mechanisms and report to Parliament on those areas for which we are responsible.  

Thank you and I would be very happy to respond to your questions at the appropriate time.