The federal government has reached out to ports and airports across the country as union members added new picket lines Monday after warnings over the weekend that they would expand picketing to include key economic hubs.
As of Monday afternoon, there were no signs that the two sides were near a deal as the strike affecting more than 155,000 federal public servants stretched into a sixth day.
Treasury Board president Mona Fortier, the federal cabinet’s lead minister on the file, released what was described as an open letter to public servants and Canadians on Monday. The letter said four key demands from the Public Service Alliance of Canada remain: wage increases, making telework a negotiated right for some employees, a ban on contracting out, and a requirement that any future work force reductions would be based on seniority.
The letter said the government also agreed to boost its original offer through a signing bonus, but the minister did not reveal the size of the bonus.
“There is a competitive deal on the table. But the PSAC continues to insist on demands that are unaffordable, and would severely impact our ability to deliver services to Canadians,” Ms. Fortier later told MPs during Question Period. “The union came to the table with 570 demands and I’m proud to say that only a handful remain on the table.”
In an update to The Globe and Mail, the PSAC confirmed that it had added 12 new picket lines to an initial list of 250 across the country. They include the Cascadia Terminal in the Port of Vancouver, which handles grain imports and exports; the Canadian Coast Guard office in Victoria; the Canadian Border Services Agency office at the border in Windsor, Ont.; and the Canadian Coast Guard base in Prescott, Ont. New picket lines were also set up at Service Canada locations across the country.
In an e-mail, Border Services told The Globe that it was closely monitoring its land, air, and marine operations to respond and adapt quickly to any disruption. Only 17.6 per cent of its staff, excluding border services officers, are on strike, the agency said. Meanwhile, the Port of Vancouver said it was aware of a picket line at the Cascadia grain terminal, and were still working with the terminal operator – Viterra – to understand the impact on operations.
Last week’s picket lines were largely concentrated in front of major federal government buildings, most notably in Ottawa.
In a statement issued Monday afternoon, PSAC president Chris Aylward said the government’s current offer to workers – including its refusal to budge on wages – “simply does not cut it.”
Despite both sides negotiating through the weekend, the union’s key demands – a 13.5-per-cent wage hike over three years, and for remote work to be spelled out in a new collective agreement – had still not been met by the government, according to Mr. Aylward.
He noted that the union does not want a strike any more than its members or the Canadian public does. “Imagine working every day and not having a contract, and because of Phoenix [the federal employees’ pay system], not even knowing if you will be paid at all,” Mr. Aylward said.
The union did not respond specifically to a question from The Globe about whether it had asked the government, as part of this negotiation, to completely halt the practice of contracting out services. The government noted that it intends to reduce contracting out as highlighted in this year’s budget, but reducing it to zero would “severely compromise” its ability to deliver services to Canadians.
Transport Minister Omar Alghabra said the government has contacted ports and airports after the weekend warnings from union leaders.
Mr. Alghabra told reporters at a news conference in Ottawa on Monday that two-thirds of Transport Canada’s employees are considered essential and cannot stop work. Management is attempting to do the work of strikers, he said, including licence issuers and call-centre operators.
About 47,000 of the 155,000 workers are not striking because they have been deemed essential.
“The things that are related to safety and enforcement are functioning well,” Mr. Alghabra said. “We have reached out to airports, to ports, to others to make sure that we’re co-ordinating together in case there are pickets or disruptions. There are some minor administrative things that may have an impact for now. We haven’t seen that yet, but we’re following and monitoring the situation and I hope that we don’t see any significant disruptions to the flow of passengers and goods.”
The Wheat Growers Association had warned the government last week that a strike could cause the slowing or stoppage of grain movement from Canadian ports, and have a massive impact on the grain industry. The association had said that a disruption to the grain supply chain would cause a “backlog of vessels en route to Canadian ports.”
The PSAC has been seeking a 13.5-per-cent wage increase over three years for 120,000 of its members. The Union of Taxation Employees, which is an arm of PSAC that is bargaining on behalf of 35,000 Canada Revenue workers who are also on strike, is seeking a 22.5-per-cent increase over that same period.
While both sides exchanged offers and heated words over the weekend, Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland stated Monday that the government’s key wage offer remains the same: a 9-per-cent increase over three years. She noted this is the same amount that was recommended in February by the third-party Public Interest Commission.
“I think Canadians will judge that, do judge that, to be a fair and reasonable offer,” she said.