The union representing 35,000 Canada Revenue Agency workers has struck a deal with Ottawa for a new collective agreement, ending a strike that lasted two weeks.
The deal concludes almost two years of charged and contentious negotiations between both sides that culminated in the 14-day strike.
Early Thursday morning, the Public Service Alliance of Canada and the Union of Taxation Employees – an arm of PSAC representing CRA employees – said they had reached a tentative agreement, and called on workers to abandon picket lines and return to work by 11:30 a.m. Thursday.
The union called the contract “a fair deal” that exceeded the CRA’s original wage offer before workers went on strike, and provided “significant new protections against layoffs” as well as improvements in remote-work arrangements.
The union secured a 12.6-per-cent compounded wage increase for workers over the course of four years (2021 to 2024), as well as a one-time lump sum payment of $2,500 to all workers, which it said represented a 3.6-per-cent salary bump for the average member.
On remote work, the union negotiated language outside of the collective agreement that requires management to evaluate remote work requests on an individual basis. PSAC-UTE said in a statement that this amendment would prevent the government from imposing a blanket mandate around returning to the office like it did back in December.
The deal accepted by UTE is identical to the one reached by PSAC for 120,000 federal public servants earlier this week, who were also on strike until Monday. CRA workers, however, had been asking for a far higher wage bump than other government employees on strike, prompting an overwhelmingly negative response by members to the offer – at least on social media platforms.
When PSAC announced a strike on April 19 for all 155,000 members including CRA employees, the UTE’s position on wages was a 20.5-per-cent bump over three years, in addition to a one-time 9-per-cent wage adjustment. UTE president Marc Brière had said at the time that the proposal aimed to address an imbalance between the wages of CRA employees and Canada Border Services Agency employees who at one time had been part of the same union.
By contrast, PSAC had been pushing for a 13.5-per-cent wage bump over three years for its 120,000 members, and ultimately accepted something marginally lower. The government had offered both groups 9 per cent over three years, before settling at the current offer.
Both deals will only be ratified if more than 50 per cent of members vote in favour.
But signs of disunity are appearing within the broader PSAC alliance over the deal reached with the government on Monday.
The Canada Employment and Immigration Union (CEIU), the largest component of PSAC representing more than 36,000 workers, criticized the proposal accepted by PSAC for essentially being identical to Ottawa’s opening offer, and called on members to vote against it.
“Our members were adamant that we would not accept 9 per cent over a three-year term – instead, we are being asked to accept, depending on how you do the math, either a little less or a little more than 3 per cent a year for a four-year term, putting our members even further behind on inflation,” the CEIU national executive committee said in a statement on Wednesday.
The union also criticized the terms of remote work that PSAC accepted, arguing that it ultimately did nothing to change the Treasury Board’s blanket mandate of asking workers returning to the office two to three times a week.
Larry Savage, a labour relations professor at Brock University, believes that UTE suffered a loss of leverage at the bargaining table after PSAC struck the first deal on Monday. “Once you’re on your own, you’re more isolated and it’s more difficult to make gains.”
He added that the CEIU’s decision to tell members to vote against the tentative agreement exposed a division within the union over strategy and priorities.
In response to a question about the CEIU’s stand on the deal at a news conference on Wednesday, PSAC president Chris Aylward said the ratification of the deal was a “democratic process” and that members will either vote to accept the deal or reject it.