PSAC rejects federal government offer

Move setting up potential post-election strike
||Last Updated: 05/16/2019
Labour relations
It will be up to the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board to decide next steps, which could include establishing a public interest commission to help settle the dispute. SHUTTERSTOCK

OTTAWA (CP) — There could be a federal public-service strike later this year, but it will be up to whoever is in power after the October election to deal with it.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) — the civil service’s biggest union — has walked away from talks aimed at reaching new contracts affecting more than 100,000 workers.

The union first declared an impasse in talks covering 90,000 of its members May 2. On Thursday, it did the same thing in talks involving about 24,000 employees of the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).

PSAC left the talks after the government presented a “comprehensive offer’’ that included a number of concessions and an inadequate pay proposal, said union president Chris Aylward.

“They refused to sign off very, very simple things such as a mental-health MOU (memorandum of understanding),’’ Aylward said in an interview.

“So we figured, look, it’s pointless to go any further with this employer.’’

The declarations have triggered a process in which a three-person panel may review what has happened in bargaining so far and write a report, which could take more than six months to complete.

And, if nothing changes between now and a week after that report is presented, PSAC will legally be allowed to hold a strike vote.

The Treasury Board Secretariat is carrying the negotiations on behalf of the government.

“While PSAC declaring impasse is a disappointing development, we believe that productive conversations can continue through negotiations and are open to returning to the bargaining table, at any time,’’ Treasury Board spokesman Martin Potvin said in an email.

It will be up to the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board to decide next steps, which could include establishing a public interest commission to help settle the dispute.

Potvin would not say what had been discussed during the talks.

The government offered its employees pay increases of 1.5 per cent annually, according to the union. Aylward said PSAC members are demanding wage hikes of more than three per cent.

PSAC was also the lone holdout last week when more than a dozen other unions signed onto an agreement to compensate civil servants hurt by the failed Phoenix pay system.

That agreement will see many government employees given an extra five days of paid leave spread over four years and sets up a new process for workers directly affected by the system to file monetary compensation claims.

PSAC, however, declared the package inadequate for its 140,000 members affected by the pay debacle.

“Our members have suffered greatly’’ because of Phoenix, Aylward said, noting that even civil servants who were not underpaid or overpaid through the system suffered mental anguish wondering whether their paycheques would be hit next.

In many cases, what has made Phoenix choke is a change — a retirement, a leave, a promotion — it couldn’t properly process and from which it couldn’t recover.

“They put their careers on hold, they wouldn’t apply for career advancements because they knew that would change their pay,’’ Aylward said.

In a joint statement issued Wednesday, 13 other federal unions declared their support for the settlement, stressing that it does not absolve the government of its obligations to pay any outstanding money owed to public servants who continue to face pay problems as a result of the Phoenix system.

“Nor does it remove the employer’s obligation to stabilize the current payroll system and continue work to find its replacement as quickly as possible,’’ the 13 unions said in their statement.

Aylward said he was “disappointed but not surprised’’ that the smaller unions accepted the deal, which includes a “me too’’ clause that would see other unionized employees benefit equally should PSAC agree to a stronger deal.

Public Services and Procurement Canada said it was continuing to deal with a backlog of 245,000 pay problems created by Phoenix as of April 17, a decline from 248,000 cases the previous month.

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