Mandatory anti-racism training key issue in Treasury Board contract talks
Public Service Alliance of Canada wants training for all workers
Federal workers negotiating new contracts with the Treasury Board of Canada are calling for mandatory training to address systemic racism, discrimination and harassment in the workplace, but the board argues employees already have ways to educate themselves on the issues.
Bargaining units with the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) have been in negotiations with the treasury board since last summer when contract terms expired.
The units are asking for 4.5-per-cent wage increases. They also want work-from-home options to be enshrined in the new contract, said PSAC national president Chris Aylward.
Talks were "going along smoothly" until November, then took a break, he said.
In early January, the union made its proposal on mandatory training, citing a public service employee survey that showed 56 per cent were not satisfied with the handling of their concerns or complaints about racism in the workplace.
"Not very favourably. Not at all, really," Aylward said of the government's response. "The treasury board indicated they already have resources available for employees."
PSAC issued a news release about the alleged impasse — the first such statement since talks began, Aylward said.
"It is definitely in the top five," he said of where the training demand ranks in the union's contract priorities.
Treasury board disputes union remarks
In an emailed statement, the treasury board said PSAC's remarks do not fairly represent joint work the two groups have done to address the issues raised.
That includes a learning program to establish policies and develop and implement training to promote a positive and safe work environment.
Workshops co-developed by the two parties cover topics such as employment equity, harassment prevention and anti-racism, the treasury board said.
The board also pointed to mandatory unconscious bias training for hiring managers, and a mandatory course on inclusion and diversity for new employees.
"The Government of Canada has introduced courses, available to all public servants, on Indigenous topics, harassment prevention and anti-racism, including a mandatory orientation course for new employees, which includes diversity and inclusion components," the treasury board said in its statement.
"Learning in these areas is not one-size-fits-all."
Union a pioneer, prof says
Thomas Collombat, a political science professor at the Université du Québec en l'Outaouais, said the union's commitment to making mandatory training on systemic racism, discrimination and harassment a bargaining issue reflects a recent resurgence in public debate on issues such as Indigenous rights and anti-Black racism.
"[PSAC] specifically has a history of being quite a pioneer in terms of defending and promoting the rights of minorities and equity-seeking groups, which include women," Collombat said. "[It was] one of the first unions in Canada who had a maternity leave included in their collective agreements."
The two groups don't appear to disagree on the core issues themselves, but on how much leeway the treasury board should be given in addressing the training, he said.
"Usually, employers wish that the least amount ... of issues are in the contract so that it gives them more flexibility to deal with those issues on the side," he said.
That may be too ad-hoc for the union, which wants a system-wide change, he added.
A PSAC spokesperson said the training remained an issue at the bargaining table as of Wednesday.