PSAC workers are on strike. Here’s what happens now

Click to play video: '155,000+ federal employees go on Canada-wide strike'
155,000+ federal employees go on Canada-wide strike
WATCH: 155,000+ federal employees go on Canada-wide strike – Apr 19, 2023

More than 155,000 public service workers are on strike, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) announced Tuesday night, after the union failed to reach an agreement with the federal government.

Canada’s largest public service union had set a deadline of 9 p.m. Eastern Tuesday for the two sides to make a deal. With the deadline come and gone, the union’s members — including 35,000 Canada Revenue Agency employees — walked off the job as of 12:01 a.m. Eastern Wednesday.

“Our issues at the bargaining table have still not been addressed,” Chris Aylward, the union’s national president, told reporters in Ottawa shortly after the deadline passed.

Aylward said the union’s negotiators will remain at the bargaining table as the strike goes on, adding the two sides are “still a ways apart.”

A strike has the potential to impact many government services, particularly for Canadians still looking to file their income tax returns ahead of this month’s deadline.

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Click to play video: 'Federal workers on the verge of strike as deal deadline looms'
Federal workers on the verge of strike as deal deadline looms

Talks were ongoing as of Tuesday afternoon, with a PSAC spokesperson telling Global News the union was putting “all of our focus on bargaining leading up to the 9 p.m. deadline” and declining media interviews.

The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, which is responsible for the administration of the federal government, said in a statement it had done all it can to reach a deal and indicated “some ongoing movement at the bargaining table on key issues by both sides.”

“We call on the PSAC to work with us to build on the progress we’ve already made so workers can get back to delivering the important services Canadians rely on,” the statement said.

It added the government will continue to negotiate with PSAC until a deal is reached.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa earlier on Tuesday he believed the government and the union were working hard to avoid a strike.

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“I think it’s really important that Canadians can continue to rely on the kinds of services they need from the federal government, and that’s why both parties at the table are negotiating extremely diligently and with a lot of intensity to try and resolve this for Canadians,” he said.

Click to play video: 'PSAC strike: Trudeau government facing political headache'
PSAC strike: Trudeau government facing political headache

PSAC members were being urged to find their closest picketing location and be prepared to attend for at least four hours daily in order to receive strike pay.

Those locations include the Prime Minister’s Office, government offices on Parliament Hill, and MP’s constituency offices across the country.

Click to play video: 'Federal workers to strike after bargaining deal not reached: PSAC'
Federal workers to strike after bargaining deal not reached: PSAC

Back-to-work legislation off the table, Singh says

Speaking to reporters during a press conference Tuesday morning, NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh — who has repeatedly spoken in support of the union’s quest for higher wage increases —  said he had urged Trudeau directly to do the same.

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“Those public sector workers who did so much in the pandemic deserve respect,” he said.

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“What this comes down to is the prime minister and the government ensuring that these workers have a fair contract.”

Singh stressed that if workers walk off the job his party will not support back-to-work legislation, which the government has used to end past labour disputes like the 2018 Canada Post strike.

“We will never support that,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Singh calls on government to ‘get serious’ and negotiate ‘fair contract’ with public servants'
Singh calls on government to ‘get serious’ and negotiate ‘fair contract’ with public servants

The NDP’s ongoing supply-and-confidence agreement with the minority Liberals keeps the government in power, and Singh did not clearly answer when asked if back-to-work legislation would endanger the deal itself. He said he has been clear the party’s MPs will not support any legislation, which would need to pass a vote in the House of Commons.

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“I looked the prime minister in the eye and said, ‘We are a worker’s party,'” he said. “We’ll never consider that an option for us.”

Trudeau said Monday the government was focused on the negotiations when asked if he would consider back-to-work legislation.

Singh later issued a statement stating the NDP’s solidarity with the union and its members. He said the Liberal government “drag(ged) its feet and has provoked this crisis” by not meeting the union’s demands over the past two years.

Negotiations over the new contract first began in June 2021, with the union declaring an impasse in May 2022 and both parties filing labour complaints since then.

The union called a strike vote in January, and it announced that members had voted in favour of a strike mandate early last week.

Click to play video: 'Trudeau says government will negotiate in ‘good faith’ to avoid strike by public servants'
Trudeau says government will negotiate in ‘good faith’ to avoid strike by public servants

What will a strike look like?

Canadians are set to face serious delays in accessing federal services if the strike prolongs, most notably in the tax department with 35,000 CRA workers off the job. That could prove challenging to those who have yet to file their returns ahead of the May 1 tax deadline, with the Canadian Federation of Independent Businesses urging the Canada Revenue Agency to reconsider its refusal to delay the tax filing deadline in the event of a strike.

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The Union of Taxation Employees is negotiating separately from PSAC but is a part of that larger union. PSAC has said the 9 p.m. Tuesday deadline applies to those talks as well.

The other 120,000 PSAC 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.

NDP immigration critic Jenny Kwan said in a statement Tuesday that a strike “threatens to worsen an immigration system already in chaos,” pointing to lengthy processing times and the large backlog of applications that employees are “scrambling” to address.

Click to play video: 'CRA strike: Canada’s public service workers intend to reach deal, avoid strike'
CRA strike: Canada’s public service workers intend to reach deal, avoid strike

Wage increases have been top of mind at the bargaining table.

The Treasury Board released a statement on Monday afternoon saying that it offered the union a nine per cent raise over three years on Sunday, on the recommendation of the third-party Public Interest Commission.

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But the union has pushed 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.

PSAC’s desired increase works out to 4.5 per cent over each of those three years.

It has also kept issues such as greater limits on contract work, more anti-racism training and provisions for remote work on the table.

Click to play video: 'CRA strike: Canada’s public service workers will walk off the job if deal not reached by Wednesday'
CRA strike: Canada’s public service workers will walk off the job if deal not reached by Wednesday

Mediated contract negotiations between PSAC and the Treasury Board began in early April and continued through the weekend in what the union describes as the government’s last chance to reach a deal.

Aylward said at a news conference on Monday morning that workers are prepared to strike for “however long it takes.” He said Tuesday that members were “pumped” and looking forward to striking for a fair deal.

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Workers will be required to show up at picket lines for four hours each day if they go on strike, the union says, and will have to scan a barcode at those picketing locations in order to receive daily strike pay of $75. Those who do not join the picket lines will not get paid during the strike.

There will be exceptions to the rules for those who have mobility issues, disabilities or have discussed their circumstances with the union. They will be given other administrative duties to complete in lieu of picketing.

—With files from Aaron D’Andrea and the Canadian Press

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