The Yukon Employees Union withdrew from all Yukon government joint labour and management committees and policy review boards on April 19.
YEU said in a news release that its gripe with the government is because too many staff members of the Public Service Commission are temporary or acting.
This results in staff who “typically do not make decisions having impacts beyond their brief tenure” resulting in “an unstable workforce where each unit and department has its own culture and unwritten rules,” the union said.
The Public Service Commision is responsible for negotiating collective agreements and related policy with the YEU.
The union’s decision to withdraw will have no impact on the day-to-day business of the union and things like grievances and arbitration will continue normally, said YEU president Steve Geick.
Continuing to work with the government under current conditions was “a waste of time for us and our Yukon government counterparts in acting roles who attend these meetings with their hands tied.”
The temporary nature of acting or impermanent roles within the commission makes it difficult to “establish relationships” because as soon as you do, “that person is gone again,” Geick said.
The union is concerned about the qualifications of acting and temporary personnel.
The issues and policy YEU and the commission deal with “deserve the most qualified professionals,” said Geick.
“The people you are promoting … need to have the capacity or be provided the capacity for professional development,” he said.
People appointed to positions “must have competencies for whatever position” they’re hired for and not appointed, “just because (they) are next in line,” Geick said.
Tom Ullyett, the acting public service commissioner, said the commission has “had a long and productive and fruitful relationship with YEU.”
Ullyett said having acting or temporary staff is common in governments across Canada. Acting positions are awarded by merit and used in circumstances such as professional development, an unexpected temporary increase in workloads or where the incumbent is temporarily away, he said.
“I can’t speak to specific situations, but people who are chosen for acting assignments are to … be responsible and carry out decisions (in those positions),” Ullyett said. “The expectation is that they do the job — the full-time job — and are accountable for it.”
“I’m in an acting position,” he said.
Geick said he didn’t want to make the dispute personal.
“We’re not individualizing or personalizing this. We don’t want to go that route … this is a new government. Let’s start fresh. Hopefully we can cooperate effectively,” he said.
Geick said the issues YEU has raised are longstanding problems within the commission.
“We’ve been sitting on the sidelines watching this happen for more than a decade,” he said.
The YEU’s withdrawal from government collaboration shouldn’t surprise commission staff, Geick said, because he had spoken to candidates, party members and ministers before and after the last election.
“They know what the issues are,” Geick said. “We aren’t just going to bang our heads against the table anymore.”
The YEU said the Liberal government promised in their election platform to review government hiring and promotion and called on the government to make good on that commitment.
“This is a wake-up call to all new governments,” said Geick. “What I’m afraid of is that we’ll be talking again with the same people who have been proven unable to make changes.”
Ullyett said he had spoken to Highways and Public Works Minister Richard Mostyn who “made it very clear to me that that platform commitment be followed up on.”
Geick said he met with Mostyn for an hour April 20. “He’s going to set some time aside where we can spend some time getting into the details of things,” Geick said. “It’s positive, definitely a move in the right direction.”
Ullyett said plans to review hiring practices are being developed and the government hopes to start a review “towards the end of this fiscal year or next year.”
Geick said while he was happy Mostyn agreed to meet with him, he would like to have similar meetings with other ministers about hiring and promotion issues.
“I told (Mostyn) the same conversation needs to happen with every minister — it’s not just him and his department,” he said. “It’s a whole culture and values that need to change.”
Contact Lori Garrison at firstname.lastname@example.org