Federal public service strike enters ninth day, no sign of back to work legislation
By Nojoud Al Mallees
The Liberal government is showing no hints it will end the strike of its largest public sector union by legislating some 100,000 federal civil servants back to work.
Workers with the Public Service Alliance of Canada walked off the job nine days ago after contract negotiations with the government couldn’t find agreement on issues such as wage increases and remote work.
Amid questions over how the impasse will be resolved, former clerk of the Privy Council Michael Wernick says the federal government can’t discuss hypotheticals such as back-to-work legislation because negotiations are ongoing.
Wernick headed the federal public service for three years. He says introducing back-to-work legislation prematurely could spell trouble for the federal government and lead to accusations of bad-faith bargaining.
There’s also the matter of political support, which the minority Liberals would need to pass legislation. The NDP say they will not support any back-to-work bill, while the Conservatives have not weighed in on the matter.
Despite strong rhetoric from the union, Wernick said in an interview that it appears there has been movement during negotiations, and both sides seem motivated to come to a resolution.
“To me, it doesn’t look like a standstill,” he said.
According to an open letter from Treasury Board President Mona Fortier on April 24, four key demands are still being negotiated, including wages and telework.
The outcome of the negotiations will affect 155,000 workers, or about a third of the entire federal public service, including 35,000 Canada Revenue Agency workers whose contract is being negotiated separately.
The federal government is offering a nine per cent wage increase over three years, backdated to 2021. Meanwhile, the union says it has adjusted its initial ask for a 13.5 per cent increase over the same period of time — but is not revealing the new number.
The other two sticking points relate to outsourcing contracts and seniority rules in the event of layoffs.
The delivery of federal services continues to be affected while workers remain on strike, as growing backlogs of immigration and passport applications are not being processed.
Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said that in the past week, about 70,000 immigration files that should have been processed were instead put on hold.
“That is a very serious level in the reduction of service,” he said in an interview Thursday in Halifax. “The impact has already been serious.”
The minister said his department had planned to announce last week that it had returned to the certain service standards achieved before the COVID-19 pandemic took hold in 2020, but the standards dropped as the strike started.
And massive Canada Revenue Agency slowdowns remain at the height of tax season as the filing deadline looms next Monday.
The CRA has said it does not plan to extend the deadline.
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