The federal government has a toxic workplace problem. Julie Payette is the tip of the iceberg

A bit overblown given the selection of departments, CBSA and CSC enforcement departments. A broader look at departments would indicate a range of workplaces, some better than others.

For example, 19 percent of CBSA employees reported harassment compared to 14 percent for the total public service, satisfaction with resolution, 28 percent CBSA, 35 percent public service.

For CSC, 26 percent compared to the same 14 percent, satisfaction with resolution, 30 percent compared to the same 35 percent.

For contrast, take IRCC; 11 percent, lower than the government-wide 14 percent, satisfaction with resolution, 35 percent, same as the government-wide average.

Analysing 2017-19 staffing data (hirings, promotions, separations) and it is showing a modest improvement compared to the PSC audit. Hope to get this analysis out shortly:

The federal Liberal government has a deepening workplace problem.

Despite all the promises, targets, legislation and regulations, and all the good intentions to bring equity, harmony and respect into the federal public service, things seem to have gotten worse, not better.

For years, news stories have documented harassment or “toxic” workplaces in the unlikeliest spaces, be it in the RCMP, the military or now at one of the top public offices in the country — the governor general’s.

An independent review has described a “reign of terror” at Rideau Hall under Julie Payette and her friend and top aide, Assunta Di Lorenzo.

Its conclusions were powerful enough to lead Payette and Di Lorenzo to resign last week.

And it was maddening to read, in black and white.

The report, rife with redactions to protect the confidentiality of workers who suffered their wrath, was full of adjectives to describe a nightmare work environment: “hostile,” “negative,” “poisoned.”

Employees described “walking on eggshells” and reported “yelling, screaming, aggressive conduct, demeaning comments and public humiliations.”

But by blacking out details of specific incidents, it missed an opportunity to do everyone in the public service — and beyond — a public service. It needed to “show, not tell” exactly what cannot be tolerated in a modern workplace.

Because clearly, people still don’t get it.

Other federal workplaces are undergoing a similar crisis.

Mark O’Neill, the president of the Canadian Museum of History and the Canadian War Museum, is currently on leave, and a review of complaints of workplace harassment is reportedly complete.

The Canadian Human Rights Museum in Winnipeg issued an apology and replaced its top executive after an independent review of complaints of systemic racism, homophobia and workplace issues.

The federal auditor general in 2019 criticized two other sprawling federal departments for failing to maintain respectful workplaces.

Investigations found the Canada Border Services Agency and Correctional Services Canada knew they had problems in the workplace, “yet neither organization had developed a comprehensive strategy to address them.”

“Employees feared reprisal if they made complaints of harassment, discrimination, or workplace violence against fellow employees or supervisors. They also had serious or significant concerns about a lack of civility and respect in their workplaces,” the auditor general found.

It was only on Thursday — the day after the Payette report was released — that the parliamentary public accounts committee examined that 2019 audit.

“A lot of the culture we’re seeing coming out at the governor general’s is embedded in almost every aspect of the public sector,” said NDP MP Matthew Green, “and a good snapshot of that is in CBSA and CSC.”

In the past, Ottawa has tried to effect change, usually through legislation.

In 2015, Justin Trudeau campaigned on a pledge to “take action to ensure that Parliament and federal institutions — including the public service, the RCMP and the Canadian Armed Forces — are workplaces free from harassment and sexual violence.”

His government passed legislation in 2018 to address harassment and violence in Bill C-65. New regulations under that law finally took effect this month.

The new law emphasizes employer accountability to prevent workplace harassment and violence. It defines harassment and violence, and expands the definition to include — as the Defence Department has informed its employees — “a full spectrum of unacceptable behaviours, ranging from teasing and bullying to sexual harassment and physical violence.”

On Thursday, by sheer coincidence, the federal Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety flagged three online training courses for all federal managers and employees on the new workplace regulations.

Too late for Rideau Hall.

The federal government has also set itself equity in employment goals using federal laws like the Employment Equity Act, yet it has failed to diversify the ranks of federal employees and managers.

An audit by the Public Service Commission published Thursday showed visible minorities, Indigenous people and people with disabilities are still not making it past the recruitment and hiring process.

Only women showed an increase in representation through hiring for the federal public service between 2016 and 2017.

The audit tracked more than 15,000 applications across 30 federal departments and agencies.

Disabled people saw the biggest drop, while among visible minority groups, Black Canadians fared worst.

It is likely the federal government wanted to get ahead of the dim picture painted by the Public Service Commission’s audit.

On Tuesday, it floated the notion of bringing in even more legislative changes to make the public service more diverse, this time through “possible amendments” to the Public Service Employment Act.

But the sad reality is, despite existing laws, even when women, visible minorities, Indigenous people and people with disabilities do succeed in getting their feet in the door, their work environments can be oppressive.

A lawsuit filed by a group of Black public service employees in December says they face systemic discrimination, racism and employee exclusion.

So far, some 400 Black public servants, current and former, have joined the effort to have a court certify the claim as a class-action lawsuit against the Canadian government on behalf of 45,000 Black public servants.

Jennifer Phillips, who retired on Dec. 30 after 30 years at the Canada Revenue Agency, is one of the founding plaintiffs.

Based in Toronto, she first started working in CRA’s client services department and got only one promotion in all those years, to collections. She worked with the union to help other employees through the hiring and promotion process, and says she witnessed Black employees passed over, including herself, for jobs, while she saw others face demeaning comments. 

“I’ve seen it happen to others. It exists, but I’m one to brush things off,” she said.

It was after George Floyd’s death last spring, and a tone-deaf response by the department, that Phillips decided to mobilize with another founding plaintiff to organize the lawsuit and seek real change.

When she read about the report into Payette and Di Lorenzo’s treatment of their workers, Phillips said it all sounded very familiar, and she felt for the employees.

The prime minister, she says, owes them “a huge apology.”

“Could you imagine the mental health trauma to these individuals, of having to live it day after day, some of them keeping it to themselves before they start talking about it?”

Finally talking about toxic workplace environments is a relief, she said. “It’s like a weight off your shoulder. But you’re now second-guessing yourself — ‘Why did I take so long? Why did I let it happen?’”

Phillips said Trudeau should follow the example of U.S. President Joe Biden who, on his first day in office, said he would fire any staff member he finds showing disrespect to others. “Have a talk to all your leaders and let them know this type of behaviour is unacceptable and it will not be condoned.”

But Matthew Green, the New Democrats’ government operations critic, said the time for talk is over.

“Trudeau is big on branding and very, very short on delivery,” he said in an interview. “Time and time again, we see policies that on their face look progressive, but as soon as we scratch the surface it’s clear that they’re not actually resulting in outcomes.” 

He said if the Trudeau government “followed through on just a fraction of the promises they made to improve equity and workplace culture, we’d be a lot further along. Time and time again, reports are showing us that the culture remains, and there is zero accountability,” for what Green says is “ongoing workplace harassment and violence that’s being widely reported on.”

Source: https://www.thestar.com/politics/federal/2021/01/28/ottawa-has-a-toxic-workplace-problem-julie-payette-is-the-tip-of-the-iceberg.html