Reprinted courtesy of Engineering Dimensions
Review requested of ruling for licensing Federal P.Engs.
By Michael Mastromatteo
Engineering Dimensions, November/December 2009, p. 20
The federal government has requested a judicial review of a July 2009 arbitration ruling that would require the Treasury Board to pay the annual licence fees of its engineer employees doing engineering work.
Government engineers are members of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), which represents the interests of engineers, architects and other professionals in the federal civil service.
Engineers within PIPSC belong to a bargaining unit that includes about 2700 federally employed engineers working for such organizations as Atomic Energy of Canada Ltd., NAV Canada and National Research Council Canada.
Over the last 15 years, the bargaining unit has been lobbying to have its members’ licensing fees paid by their employer, arguing that if they are doing engineering work, they are required to be licensed in Ontario and if they are required to be licensed, the employer should pay the licence fee.
The government had argued that federal employees were outside of the licensure provisions of provincial legislation. Accordingly, the specified qualification for engineers it employed was that they “be eligible for registration as an engineer.” Since the job descriptions did not mandate licensure, the government argued it did not have to pay annual licence fees.
As a result of the ruling and pending the outcome of the judicial review, the text of the Treasury Board’s collective agreement with engineer employees now reads: “When the payment of such fees is not a requirement for the continuation of the performance of the duties of an employee’s position, but eligibility for membership in an organization or governing body is a qualification specified in the standards for selection and assessment…the employer [e.g. Treasury Board] shall reimburse the employee, upon receipt of proof of payment, for the employee’s annual membership fees paid to one organization or governing body.”
The government based its request for a judicial review of the hearing on the grounds that the reimbursement of professional fees for federally employed engineers violates the Expenditure Restraint Act.
PIPSC President Gary Corbett suggests that in appealing the ruling, the federal government appears to be putting budgetary concerns ahead of public safety. “It is unbelievable that the government is trying to save a few dollars over the issue of professional certification,” he says. “The safety of Canadians should be its foremost concern. This is clearly not the case, however, as its own negotiators have stated that they don’t believe registered engineers are in the interest of Canadians.”
When the July ruling was announced, Tim Kirkby, P.Eng., who works for Public Works and Government Services Canada and is president of the engineers’ bargaining unit within PIPSC, said the ruling was welcome news for engineers who had long struggled to have annual membership fees picked up by their employer–a practice common in industry.
“This is clearly a win for our profession as registered professional engineers and for the Canadian public, who use or are affected by assets, processes and facilities that will now be reviewed, managed or worked on by a registered professional engineer,” Kirkby said. “The safety of Canadians will be better protected.”
Kirkby said that as a result of the ruling, all positions classified as engineering, and for which an employee is paid as a professional engineer, would need to be filled by a registered professional engineer, rather than someone who is merely “eligible to be registered.”
He said the ruling could also impact on other engineers employed by the federal government and not just those represented by his bargaining unit of PIPSC.
“We have argued for more than 15 years the need for the federal government to employ registered engineers,” Kirkby said. “Our work included agreeing with the Treasury Board during a round of bargaining in 1999 to jointly study and report on solutions to the issue. The work was completed, yet the results were not seen as important by the Treasury Board.”
In its challenge of the fees issue, Kirkby’s group was supported by PEO. In a February 2009 letter to the PIPSC chief negotiator, PEO CEO/Registrar Kim Allen, P.Eng., pointed out there are no federal statutes exempting federally employed engineers from their obligations under provincial laws. “Based on this,” his letter says, “an argument can be made that, if the federal government did not want the provincial legislation to apply to its federal engineers, it would have enacted legislation to say so. This has not been done.”
Allen suggested that to ensure public safety is protected, federally employed engineers working in Ontario should be licensed under Ontario’s Professional Engineers Act.