Poll Shows Support for Postal Banking and Opposition to Postal Privatization and Deregulation

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers is trying very hard these days to counter the recent pressures being exerted by Canada Post Corporation.  You will remember that not long ago, CPC announced the release of a report by the Conference Board of Canada on the future of the post office, a report CPC had commissioned within the context of “declining mail volumes”.

The report called on Canada Post to make drastic cuts in postal services, to privatize a lot more postal outlets and demanded further contract concessions affecting the wages, benefits and working conditions of postal workers as a way for CPC to avoid future losses.

The report speculated that declining mail volumes from the year 2012 through to the year 2020 would result in Canada Post losing $1 billion in operating revenues by the year 2020.  However since then, Canada Post has shown a profit for the financial year 2012 and has recently announced another profit for the first quarter of the year 2013.

In the month of June of this year, the CUPW has released a survey and a paper of its own.  According to the survey, it would appear that the Canadian people like the idea of Canada Post making money through banking and other financial services.

Close to two out of every three respondents (63%) supported Canada Post expanding revenue-generating services, including financial services like bill payments, insurance and banking.

Note that this has been a contractual demand by postal workers for many years, something which the executives at Canada Post Corporation and the Harper Conservative government refuse to address and consider seriously.

Poll Shows Support for Postal Banking and Opposition to Postal Privatization and Deregulation

CUPW Press release dated June 12, 2013.

OTTAWA– People like the idea of Canada Post making money through financial services according to a new poll.

Close to two out of every three respondents (63%) to a Stratcom poll supported Canada Post expanding revenue-generating services, including financial services like bill payments, insurance and banking.

CUPW asked Stratcom to conduct the poll in order to contribute to the debate on the future of Canada Post. The post office is currently conducting a public consultation on its future, focusing on cuts.

“Canada Post has options other than cutting,” said CUPW National President Denis Lemelin. “It could follow the lead of post offices in other countries by leveraging its network and adding lucrative banking services. Our poll results suggest there would be support for such a move.”

The Stratcom poll also found that there is no appetite for major changes such as postal privatization and deregulation. 69 % of poll respondents opposed privatization of Canada Post and 71% opposed allowing private companies to deliver lettermail in Canada.

 pollgraph

*These results are drawn from a Stratcom national online survey which interviewed a nationally representative sample of 1,514 adult Canadians between May 24th to 26th, 2013.

The Canadian Union of Postal Workers releases a paper titled “Banking on a future for posts?”

On June 12, 2013 the Canadian Union of Postal Workers released a paper titled “Banking on a future for posts?”- a financial assessment of postal banking and financial services at various postal administrations- prepared by Katherine Steinhoff and Geoff Bickerton for the 21st Conference on Postal and Delivery Economics which was held from May 29 to June 1, 2013 in Dublin, Ireland.

In its introduction, the paper states that “post offices face significant financial challenges due to economic recession, electronic diversion and increased competition. On the one hand, there is falling mail volumes and weakened economic viability and on the other, efforts to bolster, innovate and expand services to improve viability”.

The paper takes a look at efforts in respect to banking and financial services provided by postal administrations in Brazil, France, India, Italy, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.  It explores the potential for expanding financial services and introducing banking services at Canada’s post office.

Many people don’t know that the Canadian post office had a savings bank from 1868 to 1968.  Several studies including prominent former executives such as Michael Warren promoted the idea of having the Canadian post office provide financial services as way to ensure the post office economic viability and promote culture and social interactions, something that is especially important in rural communities and in smaller centres.

For the most part, progressive and enlightened public opinion believe that the union`s proposal to expand Canada Post as a public financial enterprise is not only a sound economic proposal but that it would contribute to the strengthening of Canada Post Corporation itself and also serve to promote the possibility of a nation-building project.

Many say that the post office, as a centre for the transportation of goods and services throughout the country and even abroad, should be a thriving hub for public financial transactions.  They say that this economic activity would be both efficient and useful in serving the needs of the people and society.

However, Canada Post CEO Deepack Chopra is most adamant against it.  He claims that Canada Post does not have the “expertise” to venture into such an enterprise.  The recent Conference Board of Canada report on the future of the post office did not pay any serious attention to this issue either, preferring instead to propose drastic cuts to postal services and to demand further wage and contract concessions from postal workers.  It should be noted that Deepack Chopra also sits as a board member of the Conference Board of Canada.

Canada Post Corporation, under the past leadership of Moya Green and the current leadership of Deepack Chopra, has also been preparing the grounds for the outright privatization of the post office and this with the blessings of the Harper Conservative government.

It is to fatten up Canada Post for privatization that these neo-liberal forces are demanding cuts to services and further wage and contract concessions from postal workers at this time.  These old forces view workers’ claims on the value they produce as a “cost” to the rich and big business.

 “The more the workers claim in wages, benefits, pensions and decent working conditions from the value they produce, the less value is available for the rich and their private monopolies.  That is why they label workers’ claims a “cost of production” and try to spread a fiction that workers’ claims are a burden on the economy and that workers should make concessions for the benefit of the rich and their monopolies.

In reality, working class concessions and lower claims eventually damage the economy as more and more commodities remain unsold, and production and services are adjusted downward to reflect the lower standard of living,” says K.C. Adams, a progressive writer on matters of political economy.

He points out in an article that he wrote in defence of public services and in support of postal workers during the last postal dispute “that postal workers add value to the economy from their work to move material from point A to point B.  Postal workers’ claim to wages, benefits and decent working conditions is not a cost but comes from the value they add from their work.  Contrary to the ravings of Canada Post executive managers and the Harper government, the wages, benefits, pensions and decent working conditions of postal workers are not a cost to the company or economy.  They are rightful claims on the value postal workers produce”.

While it is refusing to deal with the union’s proposal of expanding services by providing banking and financial services at the post office, Canada Post management continues to yell and scream that postal workers represent 69% of its “operating cost” and continues to demand wage and contract concessions from its workers, despite the fact that this would be damageable to the Canadian economy.

The paper produced by the National Office of the CUPW does not effectively deal with those questions.   It concludes that postal administrations in the six countries are meeting needs, which may include the need for economic development and financial inclusion.  It argues that there is a need for financial inclusion in Canada as well.

The paper notes that 2,822 bank branches have closed in Canada between 1990 and May 2013.  Financial service corporations made an average 23% profit margin during the last decade.

The paper says that “the case studies also suggest that it would be important to look at the feasibility in the context of Canada’s banking and financial system, and also consider the potential for partnerships”.

In my estimation, the paper falls short of providing an elaboration of the union’s position on the need to expand postal services to include banking and financial transactions and rather contents itself of pointing out that other posts have been providing these types of services and why not Canada.

The paper is available in PDF on the CUPW website.

The Harper Conservative government is getting ready to impose cutbacks to the sick leave benefits of public servants.

On June 10, 2013 the Harper conservative government has put the public service unions on notice that sick leave benefits will be targeted during the next round of negotiations.

Treasury Board President Tony Clement accused public service employees of milking the system and abusing the current system of sick leave entitlements to often take days off and play golf.  He says that the federal government wants to revamp public service sick leave benefits to reduce the “high levels of absenteeism”.

He also stated that the current system dates back to the 1970’s when some workplace problems, such as mental illness, were largely ignored.  “A more robust disability management system will emphasize prevention and rehabilitation, and will also include enhance support for current and emerging health issues like mental illness, which was not adequately recognized 40 years ago but now represents more than half of disability claims in the Canadian workplace”, he said.

While greatly exaggerating the level of absenteeism in the public service, the minister said that the average days of paid and unpaid sick leave within the public service now stand at 18.2 every year compared to 6.7 days in the private sector. The actual statistic is 12.5 days a year, a figure which rises to 18 days a year when combined with workers’ compensation claims and other disability leave.

Keeping up with the ministers’ exaggeration and the federal government`s propaganda against the public servants, the National Post wrote that “on any given day, up to 19,000 civil servants are off the job.  Almost half of those complain of depression, anxiety or stress in the workplace”.

Unions have been warned several years ago that Treasury Board wanted to negotiate changes when it launched a $5.6 million “disability management initiative” (DMI) in an attempt to try and reduce the absenteeism and disability rates led by a so-called “epidemic” of mental health claims.

Last March, the Conservative budget stated: “the government will be examining its human resources management practices and institutions in a number of areas, including disability and sick-leave management, with a view to ensuring that public servants receive appropriate services that support a more timely return to work”.

The government is expected to begin the overhaul cuts in sick leave benefits with a new short-term disability plan that will replace the current system in which workers earn 15 sick leave days a year, with the ability to bank the remainder if they’re not sick enough in any given year.  This serves to protect the workers against income loss in case of more severe illnesses in the following years.

Sick employees must also exhaust their accumulated sick leave before they qualify for disability, which covers 70% of their salary.  The long-term disability plan has a 13-week waiting period so anyone with less than 13 weeks of accumulated sick leave is off work without pay other than employment insurance sick benefits.

In place of this system, Treasury Board President Tony Clement is proposing a combination of two programs: one short-term, the other for long-term disabilities similar to the ones imposed by Canada Post during the last round of negotiations with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers.  He also wants more “active case management” to follow up reported illnesses and “comprehensive support for the ill and injured”.

According to Treasury Board, the government is facing a “big liability” of $5.2 billion in banked sick leave on its books and has one of the highest absenteeism rates in Canada.  It says that approximately 87% of Canadian employers provide short-term disability insurance instead of the current system in place.

Tony Clements says that the details of the new systems will have to be negotiated with the government unions.  Clement says “if we want a healthy, productive, 21st-century public service we need to address the shortcomings of the current system.  We need to find better ways to support our employees and help them get back to work as quickly as possible”.

Just two weeks ago, Clement also announced that a new performance review system will also be introduced.  He said the new system is aimed at boosting productivity and weeding out employees who perform poorly.

The Harper conservative government is just the latest level of government to target the notion of sick leave benefits.  In 2009, the Toronto municipal government imposed similar sick leave concessions on its workers.  The Ontario liberal government of Dalton McGuinty also imposed a contract on its teachers last year reducing the number of sick days and cutting out the accumulation bank.

The attack on the earned sick leave benefits of public servants is being carried out in two ways.  On the one hand, the government is doing propaganda against the workers by accusing them of “milking the system” and on the other hand, it is invoking the hoax of trying to improve the health of the workers by looking out for their well-being.  It also does not forget to mention that Ottawa spends $43 billion a year on public sector pay and benefits for more than 300,000 federal government employees.

In a statement, Robyn Benson, national president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) accused the government of misleading Canadians.  “It’s Public Service Week, and instead of recognizing the important work these people do on behalf of Canadians, this government is accusing them of milking the system”.

Benson said the government has been misleading Canadians by calling unused sick leave a $5 billion liability.  “If our members use banked sick leave, it’s because they are very sick, and if they don’t use it, they lose it, and certainly can’t cash it or use it to retire early”, she said.

The PSAC President also takes issue with the comparison between public and private sector sick leave.  “It’s like comparing apples and oranges.  Many private sector workers get no sick leave.  When they’re off sick, that’s not counted as a sick day”, she says.

Another reason the comparison doesn’t work, she says, “is that the union has negotiated better plans for supporting employees with long term illnesses and disability.  Many private sector workers without long term disability benefits are forced to stop working altogether when faced with a serious illness, and that means that they aren’t counted as off sick because they are on Unemployment Insurance (UI) or out of the workforce altogether”.

In her statement, Benson concludes “that this government needs to start working to improve sick leave benefits for all workers in all sectors, not trying to take away crucial support for those lucky enough to have it”.

For years, public servants were allocated sick leave benefits as part of their total wage package and just claims on the added value they produce through their work.  For the government to turn around now and claim that this money is theirs and that they want to reduce the level of pay amounts to legalized theft.

After suffering from ongoing assaults on their job security and facing thousands of job loss including measures to “improve productivity and performance”, it is not surprising that the civil service is under severe stress at this time and afflicted by mental illness and other workplace disorders.

The Sunday e-mail supports the PSAC members and its union for vowing last spring that it would block any attempts of the Harper conservative government to impose contract concessions on their sick leave benefits and refuse to negotiate the plans of Treasury Board as proposed by Tony Clement.

In Solidarity,

Danielle Desormeaux

Feel free to add to the discussion.