Union, Harper government prepare for showdown over sick leave benefits

A recent PSAC demonstrationThe Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) — the country's largest public sector union — is preparing for a showdown with the Harper government over sick leave benefits.

In a Facebook message, posted Monday afternoon, National President Robyn Benson told the Feds to "back off."

We expect the federal budget to contain funding aimed at transitioning towards short term disability and eliminating sick leave. You've probably read about it in the paper. The government can plan all they want, but they can't do it without us and we're not going there. Sick leave is a negotiated benefit that is a part of our Collective Agreements. We won't trade it, sell it, swap it, lose it or give it away. If this government is looking for an issue that will put a fire under every single public sector worker in Canada, they've found one.

It's our negotiated right, back off!

[ Related: Public sector union launches all-out attack against the Harper government ]

The "paper" referenced in Benson's message was the Ottawa Citizen:

Public servants get 15 days of sick leave a year, which they can accumulate and carry over year to year. Sick employees must exhaust their accumulated sick leave before they qualify for disability, which covers 70 per cent of salary. The plan has a 13-week waiting period so anyone with less that 13 weeks of accumulated sick leave is off work without pay other than employment insurance sick benefits.

It’s expected the government will want a sick leave model similar to the one at Canada Post, which became a strike issue when introduced. Canada Post employees get seven days of personal leave, and once those are exhausted they have to go on short-term disability and are entitled to 70 per cent of salary. They cannot accumulate or roll over more than five unused days.

Finance Minister Jim Flaherty is scheduled to table Budget 2013 in Parliament on Thursday. With a $2.1 billion shortfall in 2013 and looming deficits in the near term, maybe the unions are right to worry.

[ Related: New Democrats launch a budget campaign: 'Canadians don't want austerity' ]

Last year, a report by the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses (CFIB) suggested that public sector employees in Canada take nearly five more sick days per year than their counterparts in the private sector, at an annual cost to taxpayers of $3.5 billion.

PSAC didn't dispute numbers, but they say it's the government's fault.

"[The CFIB] report fails to address any underlying issues of why public sector workers are getting so sick," PSAC noted in response to the findings last December.

"The PSAC has expressed concern for years now about the health of public sector employees. The causes are clear – the unnecessary cuts to key programs that Canadians depend on have led to drastic work overload, bad workplace organization and anxiety.

"This toxic environment is taking a toll on public service workers."

(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)

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