Federal employees are forming picket lines across Canada, and in Vernon, employees went on strike and formed a demonstration in front of the Service Canada building Wednesday, April 19.
About 155,000 members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) union went on strike across the country Wednesday after the union and the Treasury Board of Canada did not come to a new agreement prior to the April 18 deadline.
About 30 picketers with signs calling for a fair deal walked up and down 30th Avenue in Vernon Wednesday.
Jeanne Olineck, a team leader for Employment Insurance in Kamloops and a mobilization coordinator for the PSAC B.C. Interior, said fairer wages, the ability to work from home and the addition of anti-racism practices are the sticking points in the stalled negotiations.
She said the government offered a 1.7 per cent per year wage increase, which doesn’t come close to matching the rising cost of living.
“Our wages for most people with the Public Service Alliance of Canada average between $40,000 to $65,000 a year, which is not a bad wage. However, our previous negotiations never kept up with the cost of living and so we’re falling behind each year, and right now we’re not even close to the cost of living. As you know it’s gone up pretty exponentially,” she said.
On the right to work from home, Olineck said “since COVID it’s been proven that the employees are able to do their jobs exceptionally well from home.”
Picket lines were expected to be set up Wednesday morning at about 250 locations across Canada. The union is calling the strike action one of the largest in Canadian history. Wage increases have been the main subject at the bargaining table, with the union pushing for annual raises of 4.5 per cent over the next three years in order to keep up with rising inflation and the cost of living.
The Treasury Board says it offered the union a nine per cent raise over three years on Sunday, on the recommendation of the third-party Public Interest Commission.
The strike involves nearly one-third of all federal public servants, and both the union and the government have warned of disruptions, including what could amount to a complete halt of the tax season.
Other concerns include slowdowns at the border and disruptions to employment insurance, immigration and passport applications.
Olineck said negotiations have been ongoing for about two years with no agreement being reached.
Negotiations began in June 2021 with the union looking for a new contract. The union declared an impasse in May 2022 and both parties filed labour complaints.
Olineck said a wide variety of federal employees are represented by the PSAC and are on strike action.
“We have people working for EI, we have people working for Service Canada, we have people working for old age pensions, immigration, so there’s a variety of different employees that are affected, and obviously we’re working for Canadian citizens in the work we do,” she said.
The public’s reception of the strike appeared positive, with many car horns being honked as the employees picketed Wednesday.
“Two per cent is not coming up to the cost of living,” Olineck said.
“Two per cent is good for milk.”
— With files Canadian Press