Canada Employment and Immigration Union -
April 14, 2010

CEIU goes to parliament over cuts to Sydney processing centre

Fighting back against job losses at CIC’s Sydney, Nova Scotia offices, CEIU made a formal presentation to parliament’s Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration. Planned cuts of 147 employees will see backlogs grow longer and workloads rise for the remaining staff. Speaking directly to the issue, National President Jeannette Meunier-McKay stated “There is no escape from what everyone knows intuitively: if you want to get the job done, you must provide the required resources.”

Sydney Local President Wilf MacKinnon and CEIU staffer Alan Lennon joined Meunier-McKay for the presentation before the committee. The local, along with community supporters, organized effectively in Sydney around the cuts with a March 25 rally. “Our local members have stepped up in this battle and it was our turn, at the national level, to bring the issue directly to parliament. We will continue our work to ensure that the Sydney Case Processing Centre is able to deliver a decent level of service.”

Here is the text of CEIU’s presentation to the Standing Committee on Citizenship and Immigration:

Good afternoon, my name is Jeannette Meunier-McKay and I am the National President of the Canada Employment and Immigration Union, a component of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.  Amongst our 20,000 members are the workers at the Sydney, Nova Scotia Case Processing Centre of Citizenship and Immigration Canada.  With me, I have Wilf MacKinnon, the president of our Sydney local and a worker in the Case Processing Centre and Alan Lennon, our staff coordinator.

I will make a 10 minute presentation on our view of the effects of the loss of jobs in Sydney on the Canadian public and will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

The Sydney CPC has two permanent lines of business – Permanent Resident Cards and Citizenship.  There is also a pilot project called the Foreign Skilled Worker Centralized Intake Office.

It is important to keep in mind that, within the Sydney operation, many positions are filled by individuals who are acting in positions other than their substantive position.  So when, for example, people are let go from a mail room, it may appear that they are being replaced – but they are being replaced by workers returning to their substantive positions and vacating higher level positions.  Therefore, it is critical to keep in mind the overall level of staffing in each of the Sydney lines of business and not be misled by a shell game of moving workers around in order to appear to have addressed critical staff shortages.

Within Citizenship, the centre processes applications for citizenships and applications for proof of citizenship.

All applications for citizenship go first to the Sydney centre.  The mail is received by clerical workers who open, sort and stream the mail to appropriate lines of production.  Applications are checked by agents for completeness, signature and dates, documentation, residency requirements and so on.  Sometimes clients are contacted directly to ensure the completeness of the file.  Once Sydney is satisfied with the file, it is sent to a local CIC office where testing is administered and citizenship oaths are administered and new citizen receive their card.  The above process can’t occur until Citizenship in Sydney has done the work.  The file is then returned to Sydney for archiving.

The Citizenship mail room staff is being reduced from 45 to 7 although it may be the case that individuals who are acting in other positions will be returned to the mailroom.  In any case, the reduction of staff at this initial stage will slow down the flow of applications for citizenship into production.  In addition, 13 positions are being reduced in the unit which actually produces the citizenship cards.  The result will be that permanent residents will have to wait longer to get their citizenship documents and therefore will have to wait longer to begin to re-unite their families and will have to wait longer to become full participants in Canada.  Given that at present, it takes 18 months to 2 years to process a citizenship application, it should be unacceptable to increase, and not decrease, the processing time.

For those who are granted permanent residency in Canada, they require a permanent resident card – which is the only acceptable proof of permanent resident status in Canada.  Applications for such cards arrive in Sydney from various ports of entry as immigrants ‘land’ in Canada and take up residency.  They are initially processed through the PRC mail room where they are opened, sorted and streamed.  Electronic requests for cards are created and sent to Canada Bank Note which produces the cards.

Permanent resident cards are typically valid for 5 years.  Renewal applications go through the PRC mailroom and then to Agents who review the application and residency requirements and, if alright, make the request for a new card.

Without this card, permanent residents do not, for practical purposes, have status within Canada.  Without it, they cannot apply for or renew SIN cards, provincial health services and so on.

On average, 3500 applications are received a week and, after several years of overtime and extra shifts, the inventory available at any given time in the centre is 25,000 to 30,000 applications for processing.

The cutbacks in the mailroom for the line of business from 15 to 5 are mirrored by a cut in the agent community from 36 to 20 or some other combination of cutbacks in the mailroom and in the agent community.  The cutting of the staff complement means that any re-juggling of staff will not get around the obvious conclusion – lower production levels and longer waits for individuals needing this vital piece of identification.

The Foreign Skilled Workers pilot project deals with applications within the Economic Class of immigrants.  It is a program that was set up to allow prospective permanent residents access to faster processing if they can prove they have training and experience in any of the 38 targeted, high demand occupations.  According to the Toronto Star (March 29, 2010), there are 600,000 applicants in the system with waiting times of 7 to 8 years.

To facilitate processing, an agent in Sydney reviews the application and provides the applicant with either a negative assessment (effectively stopping the process) or a positive assessment which allows the applicant the opportunity to make their case to an officer at a visa post overseas.

There are plans to let go 22 workers from this project.  In addition, a significant number of the workers in this project are permanent employees of the other business lines in Sydney and are on ‘on loan’ to this project.  Obviously, if there are layoffs in the other business lines, then there will be reason to return these individuals to their substantive positions compounding the effect of layoffs to the Foreign Skilled Workers section.

If for some reason such staff are not returned, then the negative impact on the other business lines will be even more significant.

It is also worth noting that Sydney and Cape Breton have serious economic problems and the jobs at the Case Processing Centre contribute significantly to the economic life blood of the community.  While we would not advocate job loss in any community in Canada, it seems unnecessary to focus the loss of jobs in CIC in Sydney, given that area’s economic history and situation.

Clearly the federal public service is in trouble across the country.  The proposed freeze on departmental budgets means that costs, including staff, will have to be cut back to incorporate rising costs for departments.  This will have to effect the level of public service available for Canadians.  There is simply no way around that fact given the parameters laid out in the budget.

However, increasing wait times for immigrants and permanent residents should not be a viable public policy initiative, even in times of belt-tightening and federal deficits.

It is our belief that the Sydney CPC should be staffed at a level appropriate to the immigration and citizenship workload it is expected to process.  The present practice of understaffing and then relying on special allocations of money to hire contract workers to nibble at backlogs that nonetheless continue for years at unacceptably high levels is simply inexcusable.  People immigrating to Canada, new Canadian citizens and Canadian citizens in general should be entitled to prompt service from their government in providing the much needed permanent resident cards or citizenship cards or proofs of citizenship.  They should not have to pay through cost recovery fees for a service which is unacceptably and unnecessarily delayed.  This is not the way to introduce new Canadians to our country.

There is no escape from what everyone knows intuitively: if you want to get the job done, you must provide the required resources.  These cuts will ensure that the Sydney centre will not be able to get the job done.

Jeannette Meunier-McKay

National President
Canada Employment and Immigration Union


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