Striking federal union wants PM involved in talks as government digs in
Issue of contracted work is a complex one, Carleton University professor says
Leaders of Canada's striking public service groups called on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau Wednesday to get involved in negotiations and help reach a new deal with the federal government.
The government continues to reiterate it wants the union to accept the February recommendations of a third-party labour board to end the strike.
Tens of thousands of federal public servants represented by the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) walked off the job a week ago.
The strike affects a significant portion of the national capital's largest employer, disrupts about 30 departments and affects a range of services, including processing of income tax returns and passports.
The union and government have been working on a new deal since 2021 and agree workers should get a raise.
The union says its members need help with the rising cost of living and the government has said it needs a deal that's fair for the union and taxpayers.
"Employees and Canadians need to know that the union continues to put demands on the table that are unaffordable," said the Treasury Board in a statement issued shortly before a PSAC news conference, and attributed to president Mona Fortier.
It went on to say the union needs to "start bringing their demands in line" with the third-party Public Interest Commission (PIC) report recommendations from February, which included raises totalling nine per cent over three years.
"We will not sign agreements that the country cannot afford, nor ones that severely impact our ability to deliver services to Canadians."
WATCH | A Wednesday update from Mona Fortier:
That nine per cent wage increase has been a sticking point, which has been communicated publicly.
PSAC National President Chris Aylward spoke at a Parliament Hill rally Wednesday calling for Trudeau to get involved in talks, give union members more than nine per cent over three years and help settle the dispute.
He said the prime minister would be turning his back on workers if he didn't get involved, and Trudeau would be allowing the strike to last longer by not moving.
"We've moved our wage demand, but yet the employer hasn't moved on their wage demand," Aylward said, referring to the union's stated shift from a 13.5 per cent raise to a still-unspecified lower one.
"They're telling us we're the ones we have to move. That's not how bargaining works."
The union wouldn't take that nine per cent raise for gains in other areas, Aylward said.
In January, PSAC announced strike votes for the Treasury Board group of more than 120,000 members. Its strike votes happened from Feb. 22 until April 11, while strike votes for a Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) group of more than 35,000 workers were held from Jan. 31 until April 6.
WATCH | Countering the government's remote work structure:
Proposals for contracting out work
Carleton University professor Rob Shepherd, who works in the school of public policy and administration, told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Wednesday contracting out work is a regular, legitimate federal union concern.
He also said it's a reality for the government to adapt to people's needs.
"Temporary workers were needed to bolster the regular public service and process [Canada Emergency Response Benefit] payments … This is a very common practice, especially for IT," said Shepherd.
"It's very difficult for the government of the day to get rid of one of its key levers of bolstering its public service."
The union's fear, he said, is the government cutting union jobs and replacing them with outsourced workers.
One analysis from his department suggested the federal government awarded about $22 billion worth of contracts in 2021-22, with an average contract length of about nine months.
PSAC contended this week, at least for the CRA group covered by its Union of Taxation Employees (UTE), that the agency has tried multiple times to hire private firms to do the same work its members could do.
"Research has shown that privatization and contracting out means higher costs, more risk, and reduced quality of services. PSAC-UTE is seeking new language in the collective agreement that will protect our work and our jobs," it said.
Specifically, PSAC has proposals for both groups that include having employees hire and train new hires before contracting out work, for the government to consult with and prove to the union why it wants to contract out work, as well as track, review and share data on its use of temporary staff.
In this week's open letter, the Treasury Board said it plans to reduce contracting while saying it has to use some contractors to avoid "severely [compromising] the Government's ability to deliver services and work for Canadians."
CBC asked the CRA for its most recent public proposal Wednesday. A CRA spokesperson declined comment Thursday, and referred to a previous government backgrounder that said that group's non-wage demands would cost $1.2 billion.
With files from CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning