After tens of thousands of federal workers walk off the job, Trudeau calls for more negotiations
Public sector union demanding a 13.5 per cent pay increase over three years
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is urging the union representing striking federal public servants to quickly hash out a deal to avoid serious service disruptions.
Speaking to reporters ahead of a Liberal caucus meeting Wednesday, Trudeau said the government tabled an offer Monday but the union, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), hasn't meaningfully responded to it.
PSAC announced late Tuesday that more than 100,000 workers would walk off the job after it failed to reach a deal with Ottawa on a new collective agreement after months of negotiations.
"Obviously, Canadians have a right and deserve to get the services that they need from the federal government," Trudeau said.
"That's why we need both management and labour to get back to the bargaining table as soon as possible to continue to make progress.
"Right now, they need to get back to the table because they haven't been over the past number of hours."
PSAC national president Chris Aylward said Wednesday his union is at the table trying to reach a deal — something he said won't happen until "the government is ready to come to the table with a fair offer."
At issue in this dispute is pay and other workplace issues.
PSAC is demanding a 13.5 per cent pay increase over three years (4.5 per cent annually). Some bargaining units are asking for more than that. For example, tax agency workers want a pay bump of 22.5 per cent.
The Treasury Board Secretariat, the government department that is nominally the employer of bureaucrats, has offered nine per cent over three years.
Treasury Board Secretary Mona Fortier said PSAC has made unreasonable demands that aren't fiscally sustainable.
She said the government isn't willing to sign a "blank cheque" to cover what she described as outlandish wage increases.
Ottawa's nine per cent wage hike was endorsed by the Public Interest Commission (PIC), an independent mediator, Fortier said, and the government isn't willing to go higher.
PSAC also wants more flexibility in the rules on working from home — and they want the right to "telework" enshrined in a final agreement.
The government has demanded that public servants return to in-person work for a few days a week after years of COVID-related virtual work. That hasn't gone over well with public sector unions.
Families Minister Karina Gould, the minister responsible for the passport program, said the job action will result in delays to services Canadians rely on to travel.
In fact, she said, regular passport applications will not be processed while the strike is underway — a development that could lead to a serious backlog.
The passport program receives about 85,000 applications a week and they won't be considered while most of the staff are out on a picket line, Gould said.
Passport Canada will only be able to process "humanitarian" applications and a select number of "urgent" applications, she said.
CRA services will be 'delayed or unavailable'
"If job action wraps up quickly, it won't have a big impact. If it goes for quite some significant time, then it will," Gould said. "If it's a couple of days or maybe a week, people will experience delays."
Asked what her message is for families who may see their vacation plans ruined by a dormant bureaucracy, Gould said she feels "very terrible for them."
"I think, like all of my colleagues, we're hopefully going to come to a negotiated agreement with PSAC expeditiously so the impact on Canadians is minimal," she added.
Immigration Minister Sean Fraser said it won't be business as usual at his department either.
He said the Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) will essentially stop processing most applications for the time being.
He said the timing is bad because the department had just started to chip away away its massive backlog of nearly a million applications, which piled up during the pandemic.
The Canada Revenue Agency also warned taxpayers that its services "will be delayed or unavailable" — which is unfortunate timing, given the deadline to file taxes is April 30 (or June 15 if you're self-employed).
In a statement, the CRA said benefits payments will be prioritized and Canada child benefit (CCB) payments will still go out as scheduled.
Call centre operations will be limited during this job action, the CRA said.
In announcing the strike action, PSAC said Canadians can expect "a complete halt of the tax season."
But the CRA tax returns filed digitally should see fewer issues.
"While there are no plans to extend tax filing deadlines, the CRA will continue to accept all tax returns. Those that are filed digitally, which represent the vast majority of T1 and T2 returns, will largely be processed automatically by our systems without delay," the agency said.
Indigenous Services Minister Patty Hajdu said she's already heard from some First Nations chiefs worried about the department's operations during the strike. The federal government provides many frontline services to status Indians.
"I'm going to be monitoring this really closely," Hajdu said. "The department has an operational plan to continue to provide services. Frontline services won't be affected."
Conservative MP Stephanie Kusie, the critic for the Treasury Board, ducked questions Wednesday about whether her party would support back-to-work legislation to force federal workers back on the job.
She said Trudeau is to blame for the job action. "We're calling on the prime minister and the Liberal government to get their act together and end this strike," she said. "It's his incompetence that has brought us to this place."
She said the longer the strike goes on, the more Canadians will suffer.
"Canadians won't receive their passports. Canadians will not receive their tax returns as a result of the incompetence of this Liberal government," she said.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh joined some PSAC workers on the picket line early Wednesday.
Singh has said the NDP will never support back-to-work legislation.
"We envision that there might be a scenario where the government would bring in back-to-work legislation. They've done it in the past and I said really clearly to them that we will never support that," Singh said.
"I looked directly at the prime minister and said, 'We're a workers' party, we're not going to support back-to-work legislation. Never consider that as an option for us, because we're not going to do that.'"