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Air Canada customer service agents picket outside Pierre Elliott Trudeau airport in Montreal Tuesday, June 14, 2011.Graham Hughes

Welcome to the year of labour strife.

The chances of work stoppages in Canada's public sector are heightened next year as government workers -- many of whom will see their contracts up for renewal -- get frustrated by demands for more concessions, a Conference Board of Canada report predicted Friday.

The public sector accounts for a fifth of Canada's labour force and a number of large public sector institutions will be at the bargaining table next year.

Federal and provincial governments are focused on eliminating budget deficits, "and this will limit their ability or willingness to offer much more than modest wage increases," said Karla Thorpe, director of the board's leadership and human resources research.

"The sense of frustration among public sector unions is growing because they accepted restraint at the outset of the recession. As a result, the potential for job action in the public sector will be greater in 2012 than in previous years."

Major bargaining will take place next year between government and health-care workers in British Columbia, Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The governments of B.C., Ontario, and Newfoundland will also be at the table, and so will the Toronto District School Board and Canada Revenue Agency.

The City of Toronto, for its part, "appears set on a course that could lead to conflict with its civic unions," the Conference Board's annual industrial relations outlook said.

Its prediction comes after the federal government intervened this year in high-profile labour disputes involving Air Canada and Canada Post.

Less conflict is expected in private-sector bargaining next year. Large organizations headed for the bargaining table next year include the Canadian Media Production Association, which represents film and TV workers, while the Detroit Three automakers will also be negotiating with the Canadian Auto Workers.

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