Federal Public Sector Union Calls Strike Votes – Refuses to Accept Government Dictate

Federal Public Sector Union Calls Strike Votes – Refuses to Accept Government Dictate

The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and the Union of Taxation Employees (UTE) are launching nationwide strike votes for more than 35,000 workers at Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) after “talks broke down over wages and remote work,” the union informs. They have also announced they are moving towards potential job action for federal public service workers at the Treasury Board, who make up another 120,000 of their members.

The votes will be conducted from January 31 to April 7, 2023. Workers at CRA have been without a contract for more than a year, and the union declared impasse in September.

Chris Aylward, PSAC national president, said “Workers’ wages have stalled while the cost of living has continued to rise, and everyone is feeling the strain. We’ve been clear negotiating wages that keep up with inflation and a sensible remote work policy are critical to reach a deal, but the Agency has refused to respond to our wage offer and still has major concessions on the table. Workers can’t wait any longer.”

“When Canadians needed us most during the pandemic, we delivered – processing nearly 30 million CERB applications and providing historic financial relief to millions of people hardest hit by COVID-19,” said Marc Brière, UTE national president.

“But Canada Revenue Agency has shown a complete lack of respect for workers at the bargaining table, and a strong strike mandate is the best way to ramp up pressure to reach a fair contract for our members,” he adds.

Workers Demand Government Negotiate New Work Plan Not Dictate

The strike votes called by PSAC come following the federal government’s unilateral imposition of a new hybrid work plan, which had been the subject of negotiations with the union.

According to the union, the plan is a blanket policy that “mandates workers to come into the office 2-3 days per week, or 40-60% of their regular working hours; regardless of the operational requirements of their job.”

The policy that was announced in December, comes into effect January 16, 2023, and will be fully implemented by March 31. Agencies and separate employers have been urged to put in place similar policies, the union informs.

“The government’s decision doesn’t have the best interest of workers at heart and is completely at odds with the direction the government has been moving towards for remote work,” the unions says. 

“It’s unacceptable that right before the [December] holidays, workers will be scrambling to make new arrangements for child care, transportation, and possibly relocating if they’ve been hired remotely and are now being asked to come into the office.”

The union makes it clear that “remote work is a key issue at the bargaining table for PSAC’s 165,000 federal workers this round of bargaining, and unilaterally changing the terms and conditions of our members’ employment during negotiations is an egregious violation of workers’ collective bargaining rights.” 

“The lack of clarity around the policy raises more questions than answers, and PSAC does not have confidence the government can put in place the health and safety requirements and the necessary tools for all federal public service workers to return to the office in the new year,” they add. 

The union informs that “members who have already returned to the office have told us they’ve come into the office without desks or chairs available for them, or returned to empty buildings to spend the entire day on video calls with colleagues working elsewhere.” 

In an attempt to keep the government within the limits of what is considered acceptable in labour relations, the imposed working conditions were challenged by the union at the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board (FPSLREB) after they were announced. PSAC filed a statutory freeze complaint against Treasury Board and its agencies for “unilaterally imposing changes to our members’ working conditions while we’re in negotiations […] while those very same issues are at the bargaining table,” which they assert “is against the law.”

The Federal Public Sector Labour Relations Act, like labour law in most jurisdictions, contains a prohibition on altering the terms and conditions of employment while a union and employer are engaged in collective bargaining. This is referred to as a “freeze” on terms and conditions of employment. According to Raven Law, “the purpose of the statutory freeze is to maintain the status quo, and provide stability during the collective bargaining process.” The examples PSAC gives of how the imposed terms are affecting their members makes it clear that the imposed terms do anything but permit stability during the period of negotiations.

Government Attempts to Turn Truth on Its Head

On January 13, three days before the Federal Government’s imposed hybrid work plan came into effect for federal workers represented by PSAC and after the union had filed its “statutory freeze complaint” the government filed its own complaint with the against PSAC, alleging the union was not bargaining in good faith! This despite the fact that the government’s actions of imposing something that was being negotiated reveal clearly that it refuses to be be bound by what is considered good faith bargaining. When the workers don’t submit they now resort to using the labour relations regime as a weapon to hide their illegitimate actions.

The government stated: “It is clear that the PSAC is seeking to precipitate a strike without making every reasonable effort to enter into a collective agreement. The PSAC’s actions do not respect their obligation to bargain in good faith[…] We remain confident that if both parties come together with a genuine intent to negotiate, renewed collective agreements can be reached for employees.” The government’s statements make it clear that they want to keep the workers constrained by labour relations while they act with impunity, something workers are in no mood to accept as evidenced by the refusal of CUPE education workers to accept being limited by the labour relations regime after they had a contract imposed using Bill 28 with threats of heavy fines if they carried out their strike.

According to PSAC, “throughout bargaining, the conciliation process and Public Interest Commission hearings, the government has made their position clear. They expect workers to take a real pay cut by accepting a wage offer far below inflation. They refuse to negotiate remote work and better work-life balance at the table. They have also rejected our calls for mandatory anti-oppression training for all workers and managers.”

(With files from psacunion.ca, Canada.ca, ravenlaw.com)