When, where and why federal workers might strike

Nearly 124,000 employees of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) began a legal strike on Wednesday and about 35,000 more are expected to join them on Friday.

Even when factoring tens of thousands of those workers is deemed essential and cannot strike, the union said more than 100,000 employees could walk off the job across Canada on just days’ notice – a significant chunk government workforce.

Talks are ongoing and not all information is public, but the union has tried to focus on wages due to the high cost of living.

The federal government has indicated that it seeks “agreements that are fair to public servants and reasonable to taxpayers.”

Here are some of the key points to remember.

When could a strike take place?

A strike could occur any time between now and June, with three days’ notice.

Unions and employers generally must give 72 hours’ notice under the labor code to call a strike or lockout within 60 days of entering into a legal strike position.

The PSAC said it would not necessarily go directly to a national strike, but rather work to govern or carry out more targeted or continuous strikes initially.

All picketing would be in person, meaning even those working from home would have to show up in person for 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 of the potential changes in the event of a strike.

Some of its most significant changes:

  • Some Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada support programs and services would be affected.
  • This group of 35,000 workers in strike position Friday are with the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA). The government says “we anticipate that there may be delays in the processing of certain income tax and benefit returns, particularly those filed on paper, and increased wait times at our call centres”.
  • There would be reduced capacity for fisheries law enforcement, aquaculture and invasive species work under Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
  • Expect delays with consular services to Global Affairs Canada.
  • For Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canadapeople can expect delays in application processing, in-person appointments and citizenship ceremonies.
  • Service Canada has a number of changes, including limiting what it can offer in person, limiting passports to emergency and humanitarian situations, and impacting the temporary foreign worker process.
  • Veterans Affairs Canada says it “will have significantly reduced capacity to process new payments”. He also reviews delays for in-person appointments and responds to calls and messages.

WATCH | File your taxes now, says the PSAC National President:

File your taxes now – and be prepared for delays, warns PSAC leader

People should prepare for disruption as the possibility of a major strike by federal workers looms, warns the president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

Some departments, such as the Canada Border Services Agency and Indigenous Services Canada, have few details on the potential impacts related to the strike.

Some departments, including Environment and Climate Change Canada and Crown corporations—Canada Post, CBC/Radio-Canada and Export Development Canada—are not affected because employees are not represented by these bargaining units. PSAC.

Services offered by affected workers, but which have been deemed essential, include the Canada Child Benefit, Health Canada services “which could impact [people’s] safety, security and health” and most RCMP work.

How did we get here?

Previous agreements for these PSAC groups expired in 2021.

Negotiations began in June for the roughly 124,000 workers, who are labeled the Treasury Board group by their union.

The union went to a labor board in May 2022, which led to the release of a non-binding report in January 2023. The PSAC said its needs remained unmet and therefore called to strike votes from February 22 until Tuesday.

The Union of Taxation Employees, which is PSAC’s tax group, began bargaining with the government in January 2022. The union declared a stalemate in September and went to the same labor board, who released their report about two months ago.

Strike votes for the tax group took place from January 31 to last week.

Negotiations with the Treasury Board group continue this week. Mediation talks with tax professionals are scheduled for next week.

A federal government logo on a skyscraper.
According to the PSAC, when you exclude essential workers, more than 100,000 federal public service employees can go on strike. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

What are the proposals?

You can read PSAC’s Tax and Treasury Board proposals and CRA and Treasury Board updates on their websites.

The workforce report for negotiations with Treasury Board recommends wage increases of 1.5% in 2021, 4.5% for 2022 and 3% for 2023.

The report also recommends “increased allowances for many employees, as well as improvements to shift premiums, flexibilities and compassionate leave.”

The union’s last public offer was 4.5% for 2021, 2022 and 2023. The Treasury Board last shared an offer to raise wages averaging 2.06% over four years.

PSAC tax experts have proposed a series of wage increases representing more than 30% of current wages to keep up with inflation.

CRA management engaged in public exchanges over other disagreements, such as contracts, hours and location, but did not share a recent salary proposal.

“The CRA…must strike the right balance between fair compensation, fiscal responsibility and the proper stewardship of public funds,” she wrote in February.

The labor report for tax talks does not go into detail, saying there were more than 200 issues at stake.

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