By Robyn Benson

Treasury Board has tabled its proposals to gut sick leave for federal public workers. If the government side prevails, many members will have to choose between going to work sick or staying home on no pay.

There are two massive takeaways proposed. The first is to abolish all banked sick leave that our members have earned to date. The second is to introduce a Short-term Disability Plan with an unpaid seven-day waiting period. If approved, STD would kick in at 100% of pay: after four weeks, that would drop to 70%.

Federal public workers would get five days to be used beforehand in case of illness. That's one good bout of flu. After that, unless you want to stop income for you and your family—you go into work sick.

If you have a more serious condition, and have used up your five days, you would be forced to give up a week's pay right at the start. If you were to have cancer or another long-term illness, you would have to live on 70% of your income after the first four weeks.

To say this is unacceptable is to understate the case. Bluntly stated, the government wants to punish our members for getting sick.

We already know that foolish and inflated claims from Treasury Board President Tony Clement that federal workers are abusing sick leave have no merit—that is, if you believe Statistics Canada and the Parliamentary Budget Officer. When apples are compared to apples, federal public workers take less than a day more sick leave per year than equivalent private-sector workers. The cost to the taxpayer, furthermore, is marginal, because in most cases sick workers are not replaced—colleagues pitch in, or the work is waiting for them when they get back.

Whatever its motives, the Harper government is not basing its approach to sick leave on facts or common sense. What it is proposing would be harmful, not only to members who become ill, but to their colleagues working alongside them. How any of this is supposed to increase productivity in the workplace is frankly beyond me.

At this point I want to re-state the obvious. We aren't going to win this fight at the bargaining table using good reasoning and fact-filled arguments alone. That's not how it works. We all need to give solid, visible support to our bargaining teams—leaders, activists, rank-and-file members on the ground. All of us need to be heard, whether at Local meetings, town-halls, public demonstrations or radio talk-shows.

Meanwhile, if TB wants to discuss ways to improve the public service, they should talk to us. We have many proposals on the table that address ensuring quality public services and a healthier workplace.

Start your engines, everyone. It's time.

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