News Canada

Public servants want paid days off to grieve 'spirit friends'

Jessica Hume. (Andre Forget/QMI AGENCY)

By Jessica Hume, National Bureau

Oneil Carlier hands out flags outside of Canada Place during a Public Service Alliance of Canada, PSAC, demonstration in Edmonton, Alberta on Thursday, March 1, 2012.  
AMBER BRACKEN/EDMONTON SUN/QMI AGENCY

Oneil Carlier hands out flags outside of Canada Place during a Public Service Alliance of Canada, PSAC, demonstration in Edmonton, Alberta on Thursday, March 1, 2012. AMBER BRACKEN/EDMONTON SUN/QMI AGENCY

OTTAWA — The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) wants its members to be able to take paid grieving days for “aboriginal spirit friends.”

The Educational and Library Science group of the public servant union did not offer an explanation or definition of “aboriginal spirit friend,” but wants the term added to the list of family members workers can take days off to mourn.

Gilles Benoit of the Congress of Aboriginal Peoples, said he’s never heard the term before.

A PSAC spokesman attempted to define “aboriginal spirit friend,” saying “it refers to the loss of a spiritual leader in the community, such as an elder. We have negotiated bereavement leave in other agreements for such losses.”

The Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) said the term appears to be a creation of PSAC — perhaps a reference to spirit guides that are “commonly considered to be religious spirits or ghosts and can take human or animal form.”

The taxpayer watchdog group is stunned by the demand.

“They want 10 days off with pay if an imaginary friend dies,” CTF national director Greg Thomas said in a statement. “These people might as well be working at imaginary jobs.”

The Treasury Board — the government department that negotiates with the union — didn’t say whether it was aware of the definition of “aboriginal spirit friends,” but affirmed its commitment to negotiating “in good faith” with the unions.

Earlier Thursday, PSAC criticized a government proposal to reduce the number of sick days for federal service workers.

“If implemented, workers will be forced to choose between going to work sick or losing pay for basic necessities,” according to a PSAC press release.

A spokesman for Treasury Board president Tony Clement said the government’s focus was “creating a short-term disability plan that would help public servants get healthy and back to work.”

PSAC also wants an extra week of paid holiday every year for employees, and demand taxpayers contribute one cent for every hour worked by unionized federal workers to a “social justice fund” controlled by the union.

“Counting weekends, vacations, statutory holidays, sick days, family days and personal days, federal employees can already get between 150 and 165 days off every year with full pay,” Thomas said.

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