Claims involving mental-health conditions represented 52 per cent of disability insurance claims approved for federal public service employees in 2018, according to a new data from the National Joint Council’s Disability Insurance Plan Board of Management.

While mental-health claims have comprised the highest portion of approved disability claims in the past, this is the first time the percentage has exceeded 50 per cent in the history of the federal disability insurance plan, noted the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the union that represents these employees, in a news release.

“It is also significant to note that federal disability claims are only approved when an employee has been medically incapable of working for a minimum of 13 weeks or the expiry of accrued sick leave credits, whichever is later.”

Read: Proactively identifying people at risk next stage in mental-health awareness

The data also showed that an increasingly disproportionate number of these approved claims have been filed by women, at 69 per cent, although women only represent 55 per cent of employees in the federal public service.

“Obviously, there remains much work to do in terms of addressing mental-health issues in the workplace,” said Chris Aylward, PSAC national president, in the release. “This is one of the contributing factors which has led to the current impasse in collective bargaining between the PSAC and Treasury Board, who was intent on deleting appendix M — memorandum of agreement for a joint task force on mental health — from the current collective agreement.”

In March 2019, the union declared a bargaining impasse after failing to make substantial progress towards a new contract with the federal government. One of the reasons was the dissolution of the existing memorandum of understanding on mental health without replacing it with updated framework.

Read: Mental-health framework part of PSAC negotiation impasse with feds

“The PSAC is committed to continuing to promote and pursue the establishment of programs and services to improve the mental well-being of all federal public service employees,” said Aylward. “This is the objective behind the inclusion of appendix M in the collective agreement.”

In an emailed statement to Benefits Canada, Martin Potvin, a spokesperson for the Treasury Board, said the federal government created the federal public service workplace mental-health strategy “as part of its efforts to build a healthy, respectful and supportive work environment,” along with the centre of expertise on mental health in the workplace to help federal organizations implement action plans related to the strategy.

“The government will continue to work to address mental-health issues in the workplace, including through discussions with bargaining agents, and make sure all the right elements are in place to bring more awareness, tools and support to tackle this important issue,” said Potvin. “With the bargaining agents, the government has, and continues to make, substantial progress to support the mental health of our employees.”

Read: Editorial: Deck the halls with mental-health support