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Public Service Alliance of Canada members who are employees at the Canadian Grain Commission picket outside the Viterra Cascadia Terminal, in Vancouver on April 24.DARRYL DYCK/The Canadian Press

Striking federal public servants will continue to receive their regular salaries until at least May 10, according to the government, though they will likely have their pay clawed back at a later date for the days they had spent on the picket line.

Public Services and Procurement Canada, the federal department in charge of employee salaries, told The Globe and Mail that workers who participate in the current strike could start seeing a reduction in pay on their May 10 paycheque. But it is still unclear if the pay deduction will apply to all striking workers.

PSPC said that when a strike extends beyond five consecutive days, pay processing becomes much more complex because of “legislative requirements and provisions of collective agreements.” In this case, pay processing will have to involve a manual effort by compensation advisers, the department said, and some employees “will only see the salary effects of them being on strike in future pay periods.”

Explainer: How do strikes work in Canada? An intro to unions and labour laws

More than 100,000 federal public sector workers have been on strike since April 19, as the government and the Public Service Alliance of Canada – the union representing the workers – try to hash out a deal for a new collective agreement. Roughly 47,000 have been deemed essential workers, are not obligated to participate in the strike, and will be paid as usual.

Federal workers get paid two weeks in arrears, and their next paycheque, which is on Wednesday, will cover the period of March 30 to April 12, according to the government.

This week, PSAC issued a series of clarifications on its website about pay, prompted by a surge of questions from members about how much they will continue getting paid, and for how long.

Memos from PSAC to their members say that there is still no clarity as to whether striking workers will cease to get their usual paycheques as the strike goes on. The protocol that was followed during previous strikes involved workers themselves submitting unpaid leave requests through the government’s Phoenix pay system after the actions, and then having their pay deducted in subsequent cycles.

The union did, however, warn its members to assume that they will not be paid on picket-line days and to set money aside to tide themselves over “during future periods of overpayment recovery.”

PSAC on its website said the method of pay clawback continued to be supported by the government as of April 19.

“Interruptions in pay are possible, but not a certainty,” reads the frequently-asked-questions section.

For striking federal workers, public sympathy could play a big role in the eventual outcome

Striking workers will begin receiving strike pay starting Wednesday at approximately $75 a day, capped at $375 a week – far less than what most of these workers get paid regularly. Strike pay is non-taxable income.

Marc Brière, who represents unionized workers at the Canada Revenue Agency as national president for the Union of Taxation Employees, said he expects his striking members will continue to receive their full pay in the short term.

In an interview last week, he said the CRA has its own compensation advisers who manage pay who are now on strike because they were not deemed essential workers.

“Since there’s no compensation advisers in the office, they will have to probably reproduce the last pay cycle and pay people the same thing. And they won’t be able to make, necessarily, adjustments because there’s nobody to make those adjustments or recoup the money,” Mr. Brière said.

The speed at which any payments are recouped will likely depend on the length of the strike, he said.

“I’d be very surprised if they would, right away within two weeks, recoup the salaries of people that went on strike,” Mr. Brière said. “It’s pretty quick to say that it’s done within two weeks. I’m not saying it’s impossible. But I’m not sure it’s as likely as they make it sound.”

Adam Blondin, a spokesperson for CRA, said the agency proposed to identify a percentage of compensation personnel as essential, but the proposal was rejected by the union.

As a result, he said in a statement that the compensation program “is currently operating with minimal capacity” because of the strike.

“We have established processes to ensure the appropriate pay actions are taken for striking employees in as timely a manner as possible.”

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday that progress is being made at the bargaining table to resolve the national strike affecting more than 155,000 federal public servants.

Speaking outside a meeting of the federal cabinet on Parliament Hill, Mr. Trudeau played down the escalating rhetoric as the strike entered its seventh day.

“We understand that negotiations can get heated from time to time, but progress is being made. The negotiators and the unions remain at the bargaining table,” he told reporters in French.

Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said there were some disruptions related to the strike at ports on Monday, but he had not received an assessment as to the level of impact.

“I just hope that we avoid disrupting travellers and supply chains,” he said. “The focus is to resolve the strike as quickly as possible.”

Industry Minister François-Philippe Champagne said the government is keeping an eye on any potential escalation of tactics by striking employees that could harm commercial activities.

“We need to monitor that, on one hand, they have the right to strike and demonstrate. On the other hand, we need to make sure that the economy can continue functioning around the country,” he said.

Follow Vanmala Subramaniam on Twitter: @vanmalasOpens in a new window
Follow Bill Curry on Twitter: @currybOpens in a new window

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