05/08/2015 03:57 EDT | Updated 05/08/2016 05:59 EDT

Bill C-59: PSAC Readies $5M Campaign Against Sick Leave Reforms

The Public Service Alliance of Canada is considering its next move after the budget implementation bill introduced Thursday signalled the Harper government is prepared to go outside the collective bargaining process now underway to achieve its budgetary goals.

Proposed changes to federal civil servants' sick leave provisions are one of the most contentious issues in ongoing talks with public service unions, including PSAC.

Those talks are working towards a fall deadline. But C-59 would give the government the ability to act before the conclusion of that process, something unions say contravenes the Public Service Labour Relations Act.

"The government has decided to completely throw out any pretence that they intend to respect the collective bargaining rights of its workers," said Robyn Benson in a statement.

PSAC's national president also warned the bill would "cause irreparable damage to labour relations."

"We will take every available action in our power to challenge the legislation," she said.

The statement Thursday said the Supreme Court has established the right to collective bargaining as a charter right and said the union "will defend that right using all means at our disposal."

PSAC convention delegates unanimously passed an emergency resolution late last month authorizing the spending of up to $5 million dollars on a campaign to oppose government actions that compromise members' rights.

Savings helped balance budget

Treasury Board President Tony Clement has said on several occasions his government is committed to the collective bargaining process.

But if the budget implementation bill passes through all stages before Parliament rises for the summer, the federal Treasury Board Secretariat will have the power to establish and modify the "terms and conditions of employment related to the sick leave of employees," including a new short-term and long-term disability program.

In interviews following the April 21 federal budget, the Harper government talked tough.

Employment Minister Pierre Poilievre, who represents an Ottawa-area riding where many federal civil servants live, told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning that the savings his government had budgeted to find in public service agreement were "set in stone."

"What's up for negotiation is how we achieve those savings," he told host Robyn Bresnahan.

Last month's budget presumptively counted on saving $900 million this year from the change. It was a major piece of Finance Minister Joe Oliver's framework for reaching a $1.4-billion budget surplus for 2015-16.

The budget also said reducing long-term disability costs and other savings from unwinding the liability related to sick leave would result in savings of $200 million in 2016-17 and 2017-18 and $100 million in the following two years.

PSAC plans to meet early next week to figure out its next move, which could include legal action to try to prevent implementation of the budget bill's provisions.

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