Members of the public service’s largest union, which represents more than 120,000 federal workers, have voted in favour of a strike mandate.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada can now launch a strike anytime in the next 60 days, with national president Chris Aylward saying workers were prepared to strike as soon as Wednesday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday that the government believes in collective bargaining and is looking closely to ensure that it can still deliver important services.
Trudeau acknowledged that some federal workers are hurting.
“We know they are challenged with the rising cost of living as so many people are, we see inflation starting to come down and those conversations will continue to happen at the bargaining table,” he said.
Aylward said at a press conference Wednesday morning that bargaining for fair wages is top of mind and members are prepared to strike for as long as it takes.
“The majority of our members are women making between $40,000 to $65,000 a year — not the kind of salaries that could withstand being rolled back,” he said.
“Our members’ wages have been stuck in neutral while the cost of living continues to soar.”
Roughly 35,000 federal public servants within the union are deemed essential workers. If the union decides to strike, it may take a staggered approach such that some workers remain on the job at all times.
Still, some reacted to the news on Wednesday with concern about the provision of government services that are already backlogged, including the processing of immigration and employment insurance applications.
“Our goal is to not go on strike. Our goal is to reach a tentative agreement,” said Aylward.
The alliance called the strike vote in January following an impasse in negotiations with the federal government and members had until Tuesday to cast their votes.
Sharon DeSousa, the union’s national executive vice-president, said that in addition to wages, the union also wants to discuss ending contract work and implementing more anti-racism training for all federal workers and managers.
The contentious issue of remote work has also been on the list, with the union saying that members have proven working remotely is just as productive as in-person work.
“It’s time to look to the future by enshrining remote work and the right to disconnect in our collective agreements,” said DeSousa.
Still, the union said it will not compromise on its wage demands for movement on the hybrid workplace.
The two sides began mediated negotiations in early April and both parties are back at the bargaining table this week.
But Aylward said the talks have not been going well.
The parties have yet to address wages in their most recent talks, and he said the way that conversation goes will affect the strike decision.
The Treasury Board of Canada said in a statement Wednesday that the government is committed to reaching an agreement with the union as soon as possible.
Its statement said there is a realistic path ahead that includes “wage increase proposals that align with an agreement already reached with one bargaining agent and that were recently approved for over 90,000 Canadian Forces members.”
In December, Treasury Board President Mona Fortier approved a new collective agreement with the Association of Canadian Financial Officers that included a salary increase of 11 per cent over four years.
Last month, Canadian Armed Forces members signed a new four-year deal with a compounded wage increase of 10.4 per cent.
Negotiations between the government and the Public Service Alliance of Canada first began in June 2021, with the union declaring an impasse in May 2022. Both parties have filed labour complaints since then.
The announcement of the vote result comes after workers at the Canada Revenue Agency voted for their own strike mandate last Friday.
—Cindy Tran, The Canadian Press