The union that represents more than 100,000 striking federal public servants says it could begin to escalate strike action across the country starting Monday, by setting up picket lines at strategic locations such as ports.
The government and the union remained far apart over the weekend as each side accused the other of resorting to delaying tactics at the negotiating table.
Chris Aylward, president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), said in a statement to The Globe and Mail, that the union could intensify strike action to put pressure on the government to quickly reach a contract. He accused Ottawa of being “content” to prolong the strike by “dragging out negotiations.”
Explainer: How do strikes work in Canada? An intro to unions and labour laws
“Our members are frustrated by the government’s lack of progress at the table this weekend, and that’s why we may need to escalate our actions,” said Mr. Aylward.
Thousands of PSAC members have been at picket lines in more than 250 locations across the country, mostly federal government buildings.
But PSAC workers in ports are also on strike and the union had warned the government before the strike commenced that port workers walking off the job could cause supply chain disruptions. These workers include clerks, deck hands, assistant cooks, store keepers, maintenance people and engine-room technicians, according to the union. Their wages average $60,000 annually – a figure the union deems is not competitive any longer.
About 60 per cent of all striking workers, according to data provided by PSAC, earn less than $70,000 annually.
On Saturday afternoon, Mr. Aylward told reporters that PSAC had sent the Treasury Board new proposals on Thursday, which the board had yet to respond to.
More than 155,000 federal government workers are on strike. These services will be affected
How do strikes work in Canada? An intro to unions and labour laws
Hours later, Treasury Board president Mona Fortier’s office issued a statement accusing Mr. Aylward of distorting the facts. She said it was PSAC that was unavailable to meet with the government on Friday, and when the government said it would present the union with a new offer on Saturday afternoon, PSAC cancelled the meeting.
“We are not here to play games. We are here to get a deal. There is no time nor tolerance for stalling and misinformation,” read Ms. Fortier’s Saturday statement.
Both sides returned to the bargaining table late on Saturday, the government confirmed to The Globe. PSAC presented a counteroffer to the government, which the government subsequently responded to with its own counteroffer at 8:30 p.m. Saturday night.
In a statement, Ms. Fortier’s office said that they had been “waiting throughout the day” on Sunday for PSAC to respond to their most recent offer.
Members of PSAC have been on strike for five days now, after talks between Ottawa and the union broke down over proposals in a new collective agreement for approximately 155,000 federal employees. Out of those, 47,000 are not striking because they are essential workers. Negotiations have been continuing, in a stop and start fashion, for almost two years.
Central to the dispute is a disagreement over wages and remote work.
PSAC is demanding a 13.5-per-cent wage hike over three years for 120,000 of its members who mostly consist of administrative personnel across various departments and agencies, maintenance workers at government buildings, firefighters and port services employees.
The Union of Taxation Employees, an arm of PSAC that is bargaining on behalf of 35,000 Canada Revenue Agency workers currently on strike, is asking for a wage hike of 22.5-per-cent over three years. The government’s current offer for both bargaining units is 9 per cent.
PSAC is also demanding that remote-work language be entrenched in any future collective agreements, so that unionized workers have the ability to grieve a forced return to the office that they deem unfair. The government has mandated that all federal public employees be in the office at least two to three times a week.
There has been some disruption to public services since the strike began, particularly in the processing of passports.
Last week, the government said that because of the labour disruption, passport applications would only be processed on an emergency basis, meaning that Canadians who need to renew their passports for a coming vacation might be temporarily out of luck. Immigration and call-centre services across many government departments are also facing disruptions.