Wayne Wouters, Gershon and the PS Union Suit = Shared Services

Posted on May 9, 2009


There were a number of other disputes in the public services during the year with several pay disputes across the UK decentralized civil service pay bargaining arrangements.  However, the largest industrial action there involved workers in the Department of Works and Pensions protesting at the planned 30,000 job cuts imposed as part of the Gershon efficiency review.”

EPSU Collective Bargaining and Social Dialogue Conference, Brussels, 30 November – 1 December 2006 (with the support of the European Commission)

While I was on the phone this past Thursday with my favorite Ottawa Citizen reporter Kathryn May, our conversation was interrupted by the announcement that Kevin Lynch who May, in her subsequent article described as “the driven “big ideas” mandarin,” that Harper had picked as “his top bureaucrat” three years earlier was “retiring.”

It was precisely at that moment that something clicked as I openly mused that Lynch was supposed to be the guy to turn around the public sector in terms of workforce morale.  When combined with the PS union suit and the recent Shared Services press release from PWGSC Minister Christian Paradis, the pieces of what has at times been a complicated puzzle began to fall into place.  A puzzle that includes an 800-pound gorilla in the room that no one is talking about – massive layoffs in the public sector based on the introduction of a Shared Services strategy.

From the 10,000 foot level the conceptual view is really quite simple; 1) weaken the negotiating/bargaining strength of the PS union, 2) introduce a replacement for Lynch who is more amiably tied to what May referred to as the “federal politicians and the bureaucrats that serve them,” and 3) reach an important “accord” in which the biggest obstacles (re ITAC, CATA etc.) to implementing a Shared Services (nee Outsourcing) program have been compromised, if not removed.

Collective Bargaining: A Human Right Deserving Legal Protection?

Step One – Weaken the negotiating/bargaining strength of the union that represents the public sector workforce

In a June 2007 review of whether collective bargaining was an essential right of workers, The Supreme Court of Canada made the following observations:

  • The right to bargain collectively with an employer enhances the human dignity, liberty and autonomy of workers by giving them the opportunity to influence the establishment of workplace rules and thereby gain some control over a major aspect of their lives, namely their work.
  • Collective bargaining is not simply an instrument for pursuing external ends . . . rather (it) is intrinsically valuable as an experience in self-government.
  • Collective bargaining permits workers to achieve a form of workplace democracy and to ensure the rule of law in the workplace.  Workers gain a voice to influence the establishment of rules that control a major aspect of their lives.

In April 2009, the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada filed a lawsuit based on legislation in the government budget that literally “took away the union’s collective bargaining power and pay equity as a human right for the public sector employees it represents.”

While this is not the venue to conduct a detailed analysis of the suit, the fact that these recent events including the “pay equity changes” as they are called were slipped through as part of a stimulus package to boost a sagging economy is telling.

An Amiable Accomplice?

Step Two – Replace an adversary with a friend of federal politicians and bureaucrats

In her May 7, 2009 Ottawa Citizen article May reported that while Lynch “presided over one of the rockiest relationships ever between federal politicians and the bureaucrats that serve them,” Wayne Wouters is “known as one of the public services all-around nice guys.”

While some may conclude that an all around nice guy is the perfect candidate to bridge the gaps of contention between the government and the various stakeholders with whom it is currently at odds – including public sector workers, I could not help but recall the comments made by Ray Liotta’s character, Henry Hill in the movie Goodfellas.  For those of you who may be unfamiliar with the film, the dialogue in question takes place in a coffee shop where Hill is meeting with his long-time friend and accomplice Jimmy Conway (played by the incomparable Robert De Niro).  Following Hill’s arrest, both he and Conway are supposed to go over legal defence strategies.  However, Hill realizes that since being busted, he now poses a threat to Conway and the rest of the family hierarchy.  The following dialogue ensues:

“If you’re part of a crew nobody tells you they’re going to kill you.  It doesn’t work that way.

There aren’t any arguments or curses like in the movies.

Your murderers come with smiles.  They come as your friends.

People who cared for you all your life.”

A friend – a long-time associate – and an all around nice guy?!  By the way, the movie Goodfellas is based on a true story.

Removing the Final Stumbling Block?

Step Three – Removing the biggest obstacles

Before you can “reduce” any workforce, you need to make certain that the resources and infrastructure are in place to ensure a relatively seamless transfer of support capabilities to minimize the negative impact of transitioning to a new delivery model.  The government believes that the Shared Services approach will provide the needed infrastructure.

An essential step towards removing an important hurdle to implementing a Shared Services strategy was to find a way to address the somewhat vociferous protests of key private sector industry players or suppliers.

The Thursday press release by Minister Paradis, in which heavyweight associations such as ITAC state that everyone “should be supporting organizations like Public Works and Government Services Canada in achieving their shared services objectives, sooner rather than later,” is an important concession that can pave the way for a faster adoption and subsequent implementation of a Shared Services strategy.

Ironically, by supporting the Shared Services approach the ITACs and CATAs are indirectly (and likely unknowingly) supporting massive layoffs in the Canadian public sector (see Gershon).  This of course is the inherent problem with having a myopic view of a much broader issue.


Referencing my favorite Citizen reporter once again and in particular her September 3rd, 2005 article in which then Treasury Board President Reg Alcock announced that the “federal government is on the verge of launching the biggest transformation in the way government is managed in its history,” is interesting in light of present day events.

What is worth noting is Alcock’s stated position that the business of government should be viewed as a “single giant enterprise, rather than 120 departments and agencies operating like independent fiefdoms.”  And while consolidations of this magnitude always involves job loss, which Alcock acknowledged would happen, the government’s position that said losses will be “easily managed without layoffs because of the massive wave of baby boomers who will be retiring over the next five to seven years,” is suspect.  This is due in large part to the fact that there hasn’t been any disclosure as to how the government arrived at the conclusion that attrition and retirement alone will maintain a zero job-loss ratio or balance.

In the end, and as long as the Government continues to operate in a cloud of obfuscation where disclosures are sporadic and somewhat disjointed, we can only refer to past examples of similar undertakings.  And in this regard, the Gershon Efficiency Review should be required reading.

For now, and to sum it up best . . . Shared Services equals job loss!

On the May 14th PI Window on Business Blog Talk Radio show I am joined by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business’ (CFIB) Vice President for National Affairs Corinne Pohlmann, to discuss how the evolution of Government policy is impacting the more than 105,000 CFIB small and medium-sized business members across Canada.  Note: as a means of providing some degree of context relative to the significance of the number of businesses the CFIB represents, the three associations referenced in Minister Paradis’ press release have a combined membership of 28,383 medium, small and large businesses.

Be sure to mark Tuesday, May 26th on your calendars so that you will remember to tune in to the first of four PI Window on Business 90-minute Specials.  In this initial Special titled “For Want of a Nail: The Pandemic Effect,” I will be joined by Nick Kelley, a researcher from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, and the lead author of the November 2008 white paper “Pandemic Influenza, Electricity, and the Coal Supply Chain (Addressing Crucial Preparedness Gaps in the United States), to discuss the true nature of the latest swine flu crisis in terms of its potential impact on supply chains.  It is a show you will not want to miss!

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