Union representing CRA staff seeking more leave, flexibility ahead of strike votes

Employees at the Canada Revenue Agency, represented by the Union of Taxation Employees, are set to hold strike votes throughout February as negotiations continue on wages and issues pertaining to work-life balance.

While the union’s demands are numerous, Marc Brière, its national president, says it’s been too long since employees have seen any improvement in their working conditions.

In terms of workplace flexibility, the union is asking that the workweek be brought down from 37.5 hours per week to 35, effectively changing each day from a 7.5 hour work day to seven hours. For call centre workers, the union is asking for a five-minute break every hour in addition to the two 15-minute breaks during the day and 30 minutes for lunch currently offered. “Specifically for people working in call centres, . . . the workload there, the intensity of the ongoing calls . . . is taking a toll on people,” says Brière.

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The union also wants to strengthen the details around the times employees can arrive at and leave work. Currently, the agreement stipulates that employees arrive at 7 a.m. While the union has no issue with employees starting as early as 6 a.m., Brière says the employer wants to have “carte blanche” to require that employees arrive earlier. The union is asking that employees have the choice whether they want to take on an earlier start time.

At present, employees also have the option to compress their work schedules, such as arranging to have nine-hour days instead of 7.5 hours, and then make the time up in a lieu day later. The union is keen to add further flexibility by pushing the number of hours an employee can work in one day to 9.5.

While the CRA was traditionally a nine-to-five employer, work is increasingly getting done during hours outside that timeframe, especially during peak seasons, says Brière. In the interest of fairness to workers, the union wants to ensure less desirable shifts are posted in advance, allowing employees the option to volunteer for them. If the shifts aren’t filled voluntarily, they’d go empty, but if too many people apply for the shift, they’d be allocated via seniority.

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The union is also asking for two additional days of holiday to account for discrepancies in provincial statutory holidays, such as Family Day, which isn’t a holiday in Quebec. Many Quebec employees typically take Jan. 2 off, says Brière, and the union wants them to have the discretion to take it as paid leave. In addition, the union wants all regular working days from Christmas to New Year’s Eve designated as paid holidays. Brière recognizes this is a big ask, but he says it makes sense for this type of federal office to shutter around the holiday season.

“We want the shop to close during the holidays. . . . I’m not saying nothing is accomplished, don’t get me wrong, but it’s slow. And at [CRA], I can tell you we’re not calling anyone to try to collect their money during Christmas and New Year’s Eve.”

The union is also asking for an additional paid day — 7.5 hours — for family-related responsibilities. Currently, employees can take up to 45 hours of leave per year for these responsibilities. It also wants to expand the language describing when it’s appropriate to take family-related leave to include visiting a terminally ill family member and instances of school strikes, bus cancellations or daycare strikes or closures. While a sick child is an obvious reason to take family leave, a daycare closure is just as urgent and valid a reason, says Brière, and some parents have been denied leave claims for these circumstances.

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In addition, the union is seeking to remove language around leave provisions. Several articles include wording that says, “when operational requirements permit,” in reference to rules surrounding leave, which the union wants to see removed.

In an email to Benefits Canada, the CRA said it “will not bargain in public,” noting the important role its employees play in delivering services to Canadians. “In the meantime, the Canada Revenue Agency remains committed to returning to the bargaining table at any time during this process, to continuing to bargain in good faith and to reaching an agreement that is both fair to employees and reasonable for Canadian taxpayers,” said Christopher Doody, a media relations officer at the CRA.

Read: Federal government seeking to add more paid personal leave days