Service Canada defends changes
Says services in places such as Old Perlican will actually improve
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.