Federal public service unions back to bargaining this week
Unions 'cautiously optimistic' as they prepare for fresh contract talks
Some public service unions are preparing to head back to the bargaining table this week with the new Liberal federal government.
Some union components inside several federal agencies and departments are currently without contracts. The negotiations between workers and the previous Conservative government were rife with controversy and conflict.
Shortly after the fall election Robyn Benson, Public Service Alliance of Canada president, characterized the relationship with the previous government as one filled with "disrespect, disdain and disregard."
But the new government has union executives saying they're cautiously optimistic.
The Treasury Board of Canada said negotiations have been scheduled for this week and coming weeks, including negotiations with PSAC beginning Feb. 1.
Chris Aylward, national executive vice president of the PSAC said the teams were initially expected to start bargaining in December but those sessions were delayed to give the Liberal government time to come up with a new mandate.
Still holding government's 'feet to the fire'
"Do we expect to get a deal in February? Probably not," said Aylward. "We're certainly hoping they're going to come to the table with a different mandate and we'll take it from there."
In a message to union members before Christmas Debi Daviau, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service, told members they still must hold the government's "feet to the fire."
"Although, the newly elected Liberal government has committed to respecting collective bargaining, it does not mean that the employer will say 'yes' to all our demands," wrote Daviau. "We will continue the pressure."
Sick leave policy for federal workers was one of the most contentious issues between the Conservative government and unions when both sides last sat at the table in June.
In last spring's budget, the Conservatives booked close to $1 billion in savings with plans to scrap the current sick leave program — all in the midst of contract negotiations.
That led unions to take the government to court and it's one of the issues the government and the new president of the Treasury Board, Scott Brison, will have to address.
"If they have any changes to our sick leave, they're prepared to bring it to the bargaining table," said Aylward who also said his members aren't opposed to tweaking its sick leave plan.
A Treasury Board of Canada spokesperson told CBC News in an email, "We are committed to bargaining in good faith. As such, we will not comment publicly on the issues that will be discussed with bargaining agents at negotiation tables."
New hiring taking place
Since the election, Aylward said some departments have started hiring new workers although he said the union does not yet have any numbers.
"More hiring is taking place," said Aylward. "We are looking forward to getting those numbers from our components within the PSAC to see exactly where the hiring has taken place. But we're hearing that hiring has already taken place and in particular around the refugee issue."
He said the government has made significant commitments and the union's key objective going into bargaining is to "make sure the public service has the capacity to deliver on those commitments."