The federal government offered to do a joint review of its return-to-office orders for civil servants but hasn’t budged on its latest wage offer, as a strike of the government’s largest public-sector union continued for a sixth day Monday.
Treasury Board President Mona Fortier sent an open letter to public servants and Canadians Monday afternoon identifying four main areas of disagreement that remain between the government and the Public Service Alliance of Canada: wages, teleworking, outsourcing contracts and seniority rules in the event of a layoff.
She said the government wants to reach a fair deal for employees that reflects their value.
“However, any settlement must be reasonable for all Canadians, whether we are talking about this or future rounds of collective bargaining,” she wrote.
More than 100,000 of the union’s members walked off the job last Wednesday after the union and the federal government didn’t reach a new contract deal by an evening deadline the day before.
Talks have continued off and on since then, but tensions are high, even as the delivery of government services to Canadians continues to be affected — with disruptions to immigration, tax and passport services.
Over the weekend, both sides accused each other of obstructing negotiations and being too slow to respond to key developments.
For nearly a week, striking workers have picketed in various locations across Canada and held rallies most days on Parliament Hill.
The union’s national president Chris Aylward said Sunday that it would be upping the picket line plan this week and targeting strategic locations with a bigger impact on the federal government.
“We’re actually going to be escalating those actions,” he said.
Aylward specifically listed ports of entry as one example, and on Monday workers did set up outside the Port of Montreal.
Port Authority spokeswoman Renée Larouche said in an email that the protest delayed the arrival of trucks, causing minor slowdowns, but that by 1 p.m. local time, everything had returned to normal.
In Ottawa, where the majority of federal civil servants live and work, there were few signs of an amped up picketing presence.
At midday, a roving band of about two hundred strikers were spotted wandering somewhat aimlessly around the streets near Parliament Hill.
A picket captain standing in front of the Parliament Buildings told The Canadian Press that they were kicked off the Hill itself due to another protest happening. However, as of 2 p.m., the Hill was almost empty, and the workers had settled outside a federal building a few blocks away.
Aylward laid the blame for the strike on Fortier Saturday, and called for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to intervene. He said the government should have been able to reach a deal two years ago when the negotiations began.
“This screams of the incompetence of Mona Fortier as the president of the Treasury Board, and her team,” he said at a press conference Saturday afternoon.
Fortier said during the House of Commons question period on Monday that the union’s overall demands are “unaffordable” and would “severely impact our ability to deliver services to Canadians.
But in her open letter, she said the two sides had reached agreement on most of the 570 demands the union initially made. Most of that progress came in the last three weeks of mediation, she said.
“This round of negotiating has been a heavy lift for both parties,” Fortier wrote.
But there are four big issues outstanding.
The union has asked for a 13.5 per cent wage increase over three years.
The government has proposed a nine per cent wage increase over three years on the recommendations of the third-party Public Interest Commission. That commission was appointed by the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board last summer to help the two sides negotiate after the Public Service Alliance of Canada declared an impasse in talks.
Fortier said the increase will ultimately amount to about $6,250 more per year on average. The government has also agreed to a signing bonus for every member.
The government’s initial wage offer, made in May 2022, was 8.2 per cent over three years. It increased the wage offer before workers hit the picket line last week.
The union is also looking for more flexibility on the government’s return-to-office plan, which required most employees to start working from their offices at least two to three days a week by a March deadline.
Most federal public servants had worked from home since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March 2020.
Fortier said the government has proposed to jointly review the current telework directive with unions, and added that a formal review would ensure the approach is up-to-date with employees’ needs while still serving Canadians.
The union also has raised concerns about the level of contracting out the federal government has been doing. Fortier noted that the recent federal budget promised to reduce such contracts, but that it is not practical to eliminate outsourcing entirely.
Finally, she said, the government has offered to ask the Public Service Commission to consider making seniority a factor to be considered after merit, when decisions are being made about layoffs.
Even as Fortier provided those updates, there seemed to be a complete stoppage of progress with a separate negotiation involving Canada Revenue Agency workers who are members of the Union of Taxation Employees, a PSAC subdivision.
Taxation union president Marc Brière said the two sides hadn’t been at the bargaining table in almost a week now, as CRA workers strike alongside their colleagues from other departments and agencies.
The CRA has offered its workers the same nine per cent, three-year wage deal as the rest of PSAC. The taxation union has been pushing for 20.5 per cent.
Brière said the union is waiting for the government to come back with a fair offer and is ready to come back to the bargaining table when that happens.
“There’s been close to zero progress over the weekend, and we are very upset,” said Brière.
—Cindy Tran, The Canadian Press