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Members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada demonstrate outside the Treasury Board building in Ottawa on March 31. A strike will send roughly 120,000 workers off the job – 34,000 others are deemed essential and would keep working, according to the union.PATRICK DOYLE/The Canadian Press

More than 150,000 federal public servants across the country are set to go on strike starting Wednesday, after failing to reach a deal with Ottawa for a new collective agreement by Tuesday evening’s strike deadline, the union representing these workers says.

It will be one of the largest national strikes in Canadian history, coming on the heels of a prolonged inflation and cost-of-living crisis.

“Our issues at the bargaining table have still not been addressed by the employer. We do not have a tentative agreement. Our 155,000 members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada will be on strike as of 12:01 a.m. tomorrow,” declared Chris Aylward, president of PSAC at a news conference in Ottawa late Tuesday evening.

Mr. Aylward added that the union and the government were still “a ways apart” on a deal, but reiterated that the union would stay at the bargaining table if the government was prepared to stay at the table, too.

More than 155,000 federal government workers are on strike. Here’s which services will be affected

In a statement issued after the strike announcement, the government said that it had done “everything it can to reach a deal and avoid disrupting the services that Canadians rely on”, but despite that PSAC continues to “insist on demands that are unaffordable.” The government added that it had offered PSAC wage increases of 9 per-cent over three years and made proposals related to remote work, shift premiums, improved leave for pay for family-related responsibilities as well as measures to support employment equity, diversity and inclusion.

Ottawa will hold a press conference at 11am on Wednesday morning to further address PSAC’s decision to have its members go on strike.

Given the number of workers involved in the strike spread across various federal departments, its impact will be felt acutely by Canadians. Anyone trying to use a variety of public services could face backlogs and delays, including immigration and passport applications, employment insurance claims, as well as tax filings just ahead of the April 30 deadline. PSAC workers in ports across the country will also be on strike, potentially causing supply chain disruptions. Slowdowns at the border are expected as well, according to the union, as certain administrative staff from the Canada Border Service Agency will be on strike.

Kelly Cryderman: Public sector strike will not play well in many parts of the country

A strike will send roughly 120,000 workers off the job – 34,000 others are deemed essential and would keep working, according to the union.

Picket lines will be set up in more than 250 locations across the country, the union said.

On Monday, Mr. Aylward described the mood at the bargaining table as “frustrating” and said that both sides were still “too far apart” on key issues including wages, job security and remote work.

The government has said that it is committed to reaching agreements that are “fair to employees and reasonable for taxpayers.” In a statement issued Monday, the Treasury Board stated that beyond wages, PSAC had “made it clear” that it would walk away from negotiations unless remote work language was enshrined into collective agreements.

Various PSAC bargaining units have been at the negotiating table for more than 18 months now, and some of them have reached deals with Ottawa – but the most contentious negotiations have been between the government and four bargaining units made up of 120,000 Treasury Board workers. These workers range from operations service employees who maintain federal government buildings, to administrative staff across various departments and agencies.

From the start of negotiations, PSAC has been pushing for a 13.5-per-cent wage increase spread over three years, which the union says matches inflation. The government’s opening offer in 2021 was a 2.07-per-cent increase per year over three years, but last May it increased that to a cumulative 8.2 per cent spread over three years. On Monday the government upped its offer again to 9 per cent, over three years, in line with a recent suggestion from the Federal Labour and Employment Board’s public interest commission.

Negotiations for 35,000 CRA workers are taking place at a separate bargaining table, led by representatives of the Union of Taxation Employees, an arm of PSAC. The union is asking for a wage hike of 4.5 per cent in 2021, 8 per cent in 2022 and 8 per cent in 2023, again arguing that it is in line with inflation and private sector wage gains over the past few years. The government has not made its wage offer public – earlier this week, Mr. Aylward said the union had yet to receive a wage offer from Ottawa for CRA workers.

The federal labour board’s public interest commission had said, in a report earlier this year, that both sides in this particular negotiation had “completely divergent” views about the state of the Canadian economy and the government’s fiscal circumstances, although it also noted that there were many areas of potential compromise and trade-offs.

If the strike prolongs, the Liberal government could potentially table back-to-work legislation which would legally force public servants back to their jobs through an imposed contract, or enter into binding arbitration with the union. But the government would need to rely on support from the Bloc Québécois and the Conservatives to get the bill passed – NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh emphasized Monday that his party would not support any kind of back-to-work legislation.

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