Job action could affect many departments and agencies
Even when factoring in that tens of thousands of those workers are deemed essential, and can’t strike, the union said more than 100,000 staff could walk off the job across Canada — a significant part of the government workforce.
Talks are ongoing and not all information is public, but the union has tried to focus on wages because of the high cost of living.
The federal government has communicated it is seeking “agreements that are fair to public servants and reasonable for taxpayers.”
Here are some of the key points to remember.
When could a strike happen?
A strike could happen at any time between now and early June 2023.
Unions and employers generally have to give 72 hours notice under the labour code to start a strike or lockout within 60 days of entering a legal strike position.
PSAC, however, says these workers are governed by the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations Act, which has that 60-day window but does not require the union to provide the employer with 72-hour strike notice.
The union said last year it wouldn’t necessarily go straight to a national strike, instead working to rule or conducting more targeted or rolling strikes at first.
All pickets would be in person, which means even those working at home would have to show up in person to get strike pay.
Which services would be affected?
The federal government has a list of 23 departments and agencies that would be affected and what it knows about potential changes in the event of a strike.
Some of its more significant changes:
- Some Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada support programs and services would be affected.
- That group of 35,000 workers in strike position Friday are with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). The government says “we anticipate there may be delays in processing some income tax and benefit returns, particularly those filed by paper, and increased wait times in our contact centres.”
- There would be reduced capacity for fisheries enforcement, aquaculture and invasive species work under Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
- Delays with consular services should be expected for Global Affairs Canada.
- For Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada, people can expect delays with processing applications, in-person appointments and citizenship ceremonies.
- Service Canada has a fair number of changes, including limiting what it can offer in person, limiting passports to emergency and humanitarian situations and affecting the temporary foreign worker process.
- Veterans Affairs Canada says it “will have a significantly reduced capacity to process new payments.” It’s also looking at delays for in-person appointments and responding to calls and messages.
Some departments, such as the Canada Border Services Agency and Indigenous Services Canada, have few specifics about potential strike-related impacts.
Some departments and Crown corporations — such as Canada Post, CBC/Radio-Canada and Export Development Canada — aren’t affected because employees aren’t represented by these PSAC bargaining units.
Services carried out by affected workers, but have been deemed essential, include the Canada child benefit, Health Canada services “that could affect [people’s] safety, security and health” and most RCMP work.
How did we get here?
The previous deals for these PSAC groups expired in 2021.
Bargaining began in June 2021 for the approximately 124,000 workers, who are labelled the Treasury Board group by their union.
The union went to a labour board in May 2022, which led to the release of a non-binding report in January 2023. PSAC said its needs still weren’t met so it called for strike votes from Feb. 22 until Tuesday.
The Union of Taxation Employees, which is the tax group within PSAC, began bargaining with the government in January 2022. The union declared an impasse in September and went to the same labour board, which released its report about two months ago.
Strike votes for the tax group were held from Jan. 31 until last week.
Bargaining with the Treasury Board group continues this week. Mediation talks with tax workers are scheduled for next week.
What are the proposals?
The report also recommends “increased allowances for many employees, as well as enhancements to shift premiums, flexibilities and family-related leave.”
The union’s last public proposal was 4.5 per cent for 2021, 2022, and 2023. The Treasury Board last shared an offer to increase wages by 2.06 per cent on average over four years.
PSAC’s tax workers have proposed a series of pay bumps worth more than 30 per cent of current wages to keep up with inflation.
CRA management have engaged in some public back-and-forth on other disagreements, such as contracting and hours and location of work, but they haven’t shared a recent wage proposal.
“The CRA …must reach the right balance between fair compensation, fiscal responsibility, and proper care of public funds,” it wrote in February.
The labour report for the tax discussions doesn’t get into specifics, saying there were more than 200 issues at play.