More than 155,000 federal public servants will strike on Wednesday if no deal is reached between the government and the Public Service Alliance of Canada.
National president Chris Aylward told reporters on Monday that despite progress being made on several fronts, there has been little movement on the union’s key priorities. If no deal is reached by 9 p.m. Eastern on Tuesday, workers will be on strike as of 12:01 a.m. Eastern Wednesday.
“Despite some progress at the bargaining table, our members are frustrated that while negotiations drag on, they continue to fall behind,” he said.
“We’ve already been at the table for nearly two years and these workers can’t wait any longer.”
What is at stake in the negotiations?
Last Friday, more than 155,000 federal public servants were in legal position to strike as negotiations for new collective agreements between the unions, Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and its tax agency unit and the employers, the federal government and the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA), continue to drag on.
The unions have been fighting for increased wages, benefits and remote work. Both sides are at the bargaining table and want to reach a deal, but Aylward has threatened “one of the largest strikes in Canadian history” if one is not reached.
PSAC is pushing for a 13.5 per cent retroactive increase in wages over three years, with Aylward saying the rate of inflation was 13.8 per cent over the same period.
In response to PSAC, the government said in a statement it was “disappointed” to hear about the strike news. It said it tabled a wage package of nine per cent over three years on Sunday, “a fair and competitive offer.” It called on PSAC to work with the government to reach an agreement “as quickly as possible.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked by reporters Monday whether he would consider back-to-work legislation, but he said the government is keeping its focus at the bargaining table.
“We’re going to stay focused on putting forward reasonable, responsible offers to try and make sure that we’re both recognizing and continuing to recognize the extraordinary work done by federal public servants across this country, while at the same time being responsible about the taxpayer investments … that go to pay their salaries,” he said.
“Getting that balance right is something that we all want, but that happens not in negotiating in public. It happens when we sit down and roll up our sleeves at the bargaining table, as both sides are doing in good faith.”
Earlier this year, the federal government filed two complaints against PSAC over claims the union is not negotiating “in good faith” for a new deal.
The government alleges that PSAC has “flooded the bargaining tables with costly proposals,” with at least 500 proposals over its five bargaining units, while saying that PSAC has “refused to prioritize their requests, refused to move on their initial proposals, and did not respond to the employer’s comprehensive offers.”
PSAC left the bargaining table on Sept. 1, 2022, during the sixth negotiation session and declared an impasse. The parties had been negotiating since last summer.
The union has said that the federal government’s move to file a complaint is “just another stalling tactic to deny workers a fair contract.” It has alleged the government has refused to “negotiate remote work and better work-life balance at the table.”
“If this government (…) is committed to introducing anti-scab legislation before the end of the year, then I hope they’re not really quick on the trigger for back-to-work legislation,” Aylward said.
“If you believe in workers, then allow us the right to strike and don’t legislate us back to work.”
What will a strike mean for you?
Canadians could face serious delays in accessing federal services if strikes were to happen, most notably in the tax department with 35,000 CRA workers off the job.
Aylward said Monday the PSAC’s Union of Taxation Employees, which represents the CRA workers, was back at the negotiating table.
“If this is going to come together, it will have to come together rather quickly,” he said.
“Our intention is still to get a deal at the table and avoid a strike. That’s still our goal.”
The 120,000 PSAC members also in legal strike position work in the Treasury Board Secretariat, a central government agency that operates effectively as a nerve centre for a significant amount of work related to the basic functioning of the federal government.
Members include cleaners and cooks on military bases, clerks and maintenance workers, tradespeople, Coast Guard search and rescue teams, teachers, firefighters and workers who process employment insurance, passport applications and immigration documents.
“If this government forces us to go on strike, we will have picket lines set up across the country in very strategic locations,” Aylward said.
“We will want to have an impact on the government. We will try to have as least impact on Canadians as possible.”
Several government departments have warned of delays in the event of a strike.
The CRA has said some services may be delayed or unavailable. Specifically, the CRA anticipates there may be delays in processing some income tax and benefit returns, particularly those filed by paper, and increased wait times in contact centres.
However, the CRA has no plans yet to extend the May 1 deadline for Canadians to file their taxes – a move the Canadian Federation of Independent Business says “poses a threat to small businesses” if there is no extension.
The Canadian Transportation Agency, which is dealing with a massive backlog of air passenger complaints, said job action will likely result in delays to dispute resolution and information provision activities, such as answering phone calls.
Employment and Social Development Canada and Service Canada says delays to passport services and grants and contributions programs will be expected.
Health Canada and the Public Health Agency of Canada, two agencies that have played a major role during the COVID-19 pandemic, have said they will maintain all essential services that “could affect the safety, security and health of Canadians and other clients.”
Immigration Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) is warning to expect delays in processing applications, in-person appointments, communication with IRCC, citizenship ceremonies and passport services.