Ser­vice Canada de­fends changes

Says ser­vices in places such as Old Per­li­can will ac­tu­ally im­prove

The Compass - - TRINITY SOUTH - BY TERRY ROBERTS

A spokesper­son for the fed­eral Depart­ment of Hu­man Re­sources and Skills De­vel­op­ment Canada says pend­ing changes to the way it serves ru­ral New­found­land and Labrador will re­sult in en­hanced ser­vices.

In a state­ment e-mailed to The Com­pass, a spokesper­son said 13 Ser­vice Canada com­mu­nity of­fices — in­clud­ing one in Old Per­li­can — are be­ing changed to full-ser­vice sched­uled outreach sites over the next 14 months.

“ We are en­hanc­ing our ser­vices to ru­ral New­found­land and Labrador; not cut­ting them,” stated the of­fi­cial.

But the union that rep­re­sents fed­eral work­ers who pro­vide em­ploy­ment, pen­sion and other ser­vices in ru­ral ar­eas crit­i­cized the de­ci­sion to close the com­mu­nity of­fices, say­ing it will “se­verely re­duce ser­vice” to ru­ral ar­eas of the prov­ince.

Denise Richey, na­tional vice-pres­i­dent of the Canada Em­ploy­ment and Im­mi­gra­tion Union for its New­found­land and Labrador mem­ber­ship, said hav­ing Ser­vice Canada staff visit these new sched­uled outreach sites is “sim­ply a shuf­fling of al­ready over­worked staff from larger to smaller cen­tres.”

She added that cut­backs have seen the num­ber of our union staff work­ing in ru­ral of­fices fall from roughly 40 to be­tween 10 and 15.

“ The net re­sult is dra­mat­i­cally less ac­cess, greater wait­ing time and a le­git­i­mate sense of be­ing sec­ond-class cit­i­zens. These peo­ple de­serve noth­ing less than the same level of qual­ity pro­fes­sional ser­vices our mem­bers pro­vide to other Cana­di­ans,” said Richey.

The com­mu­nity of­fices are lo­cated in Old Per­li­can, Port Saun­ders, Pol­lard’s Point, Bon­av­ista, Bur­geo, Har­bour Bre­ton, Forteau, Ramea, New Wes Val­ley, Twill­ingate, Trepassy, Baie Verte and St. Al­ban’s.

The gov­ern­ment spokesper­son said com­mu­nity of­fices pro­vide only in­for­ma­tional ser­vices through a con­tract to a third party. By es­tab­lish­ing sched­uled outreach ser­vices, ex­pe­ri­enced Ser­vice Canada staff travel to com­mu­ni­ties and of­fer the same trans­ac­tional ser­vices as is pro­vided in reg­u­lar Ser­vice Canada Cen­tres, the spokesper­son ex­plained.

“A full-ser­vice sched­uled outreach site will of­fer en­hanced in-per­son ser­vices where lo­cal cit­i­zens will be able to have ac­cess to a knowl­edge­able Ser­vice Canada of­fi­cial on a reg­u­lar sched­uled ba­sis as well as a wider range of gov­ern­ment ser­vices and in­for­ma­tion. Cit­i­zens will also be able to get im­me­di­ate as­sis­tance when fill­ing out their ap­pli­ca­tions for a large num­ber of pro­grams and ser­vices such as so­cial in­surance num­ber, em­ploy­ment in­surance, Canada Pen­sion Plan, Old Age Se­cu­rity, and ac­cess to Job Bank.

“For ex­am­ple, a lo­cal res­i­dent will be able to ap­ply and re­ceive their so­cial in­surance num­ber in the same day when vis­it­ing a sched­uled outreach site,” the spokesper­son wrote.

Un­der the com­mu­nity of­fice model, clients can only ask for in­for­ma­tion about how and where to ap­ply for pro­grams and ser­vices. But un­der the sched­uled outreach model, clients will be able to ap­ply for those ser­vices, di­rectly where they live.

The depart­ment said the plan is to have two vis­its per month, but em­pha­sized that the plan is to de­liver ser­vices tha­tre­spond to the spe­cific needs of the peo­ple who live in an area.

“Fre­quency of the sched­uled outreach vis­its will be based on de­mand and client vol­umes. Ser­vice Canada will mon­i­tor these closely and ad­just ac­cord­ingly over time.Be­tween vis­its from Ser­vice Canada outreach staff, cit­i­zens can ac­cess in­for­ma­tion on fed­eral gov­ern­ment pro­grams, ser­vices, ben­e­fits and pub­li­ca­tions by con­tact­ing 1 800 OCanada, on­line at ser­vice­canada. gc. ca, in­clud­ing in­for­ma­tion on where to find a Ser­vice Canada of­fice.”

The depart­ment of­fi­cial said the 1-800 OCanada line is also avail­able from the Mon­day to Fri­day, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. across the coun­try.

In Old Per­li­can, the com­mu­nity of­fice opened in Fe­bru­ary 2006. The depart­ment of­fi­cial said the third party is re­quired to of­fer in­for­ma­tional ser­vices to the gen­eral pub­lic, for a min­i­mum of 20 hours per week on a reg­u­larly sched­uled ba­sis. There is no em­ploy­erem­ployee re­la­tion­ship with Ser­vice Canada, the of­fi­cial added.

Mean­while, Jean­nette Me­u­nier-McKay, the union’s na­tional pres­i­dent, said the cuts “will pe­nal­ize smaller com­mu­ni­ties with a gen­eral- ly older pop­u­la­tion and higher level of un­em­ploy­ment. Ser­vice Canada, pre­sum­ably with the sup­port of the Stephen Harper gov­ern­ment, is again treat­ing the peo­ple of New­found­land and Labrador with dis­dain.”

Me­u­nier-McKay said the union­has the full back­ing of its bar­gain­ing agent, the Pub­lic Ser­vice Al­liance of Canada.

“ We are proud of the ser­vice we pro­vide to all Cana­di­ans. Ser­vice re­duc­tions in ru­ral ar­eas, es­pe­cially in New­found­land and Labrador, are a to­tally un­ac­cept­able at­tack on se­niors and the unem­ployed,” added Jeannie Bald­win, a re­gional vice-pres­i­dent with the Pub­lic Ser­vice Al­liance of Canada.

The Canada Em­ploy­ment and Im­mi­gra­tion Union rep­re­sents more than 19,000 fed­eral pub­lic ser­vice work­ers, in­clud­ing those who coun­sel clients, process em­ploy­ment in­surance claims and pro­vide pen­sion and in­come se­cu­rity pro­gram as­sis­tance.

Old Per­li­can Mayor Harry Strong de­clined com­ment, say­ing he didn’t have enough in­for­ma­tion on the is­sue.

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