9% three-year pay rise recommended for Canadian public servants – as strike ballot gets underway

By on 22/02/2023 | Updated on 22/02/2023
PSAC national president Chris Aylward called the federal government's previous pay offer "insulting" and “completely out of touch with soaring inflation”

Canadian federal employees could get a 9% wage increase over three years under recommendations from the Public Interest Commission pay tribunal, ahead of negotiations that could end strike plans.

In its report published last week, the Commission recommended that four Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) bargaining units totalling 120,000 public servants get a 1.5% pay rise for 2021, 4.5% for 2022, and 3% for 2023.

The report also recommended “increased allowances for many employees, as well as enhancements to shift premiums, flexibilities and family-related leave”.

The Commission – which is part of Canada’s Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board – was established to help government employers and trade unions representing staff reach an agreement in industrial disputes. The PSAC declared an impasse in May last year after nearly 12 months of negotiations with the Treasury Board.

The government had offered an average 1.7% a year wage increase from 2021 to 2025, described by PSAC national president Chris Aylward as “insulting” and “completely out of touch with soaring inflation”.

“This offer is a slap in the face to our members who have been delivering frontline services to Canadians throughout the pandemic,” Aylward said at the time. “If the government expects our members to pay for the costs of the pandemic, they have another thing coming.” 

The PSAC is balloting its members on strike action from 22 February until 19 April. Announcing the move in January, Aylward accused the Treasury Board of Canada of “total disrespect and disregard” for public servants, who he said were facing a “big pay cut” in the face of the cost-of-living crisis, as well as reduced job security and leave provisions.

Read more: Canadian officials set for ballot as governments grapple with strikes

In addition to higher wage increases, the union is pushing for government to tackle harassment, discrimination and systemic racism in the workplace, and wants the right to remote work and the ‘right to disconnect’ enshrined in collective agreements.

Strike action is “never our first choice”, Aylward said, and a ballot does not mean one would be automatically called. “But securing a strong strike mandate from our membership shows we’re willing to fight and will give us the leverage we need to reach a fair and decent contract. And if we need to take job action to get the collective agreement you deserve, then that’s exactly what we’ll do.”

Pathway to agreement?

In its response to the Public Interest Commission’s report, PSAC said that it “offers a pathway to make gains for workers” but that it “still falls short” of the union’s demands “to reach fair contract that keeps up with the rising cost of living”.

The union acknowledged that the Commission had provided guidance on other issues, such as recommendations that employees are given a say in their remote work arrangements; that hybrid or remote working options are added to the Workforce Adjustment Appendix; and that the definition of anti-harassment language be expanded.

“It’s clear we’ll need to continue to pressure this government to return to the table in April with a new mandate that provides fair wages in line with soaring inflation and better working conditions for PSAC members. The only way we’ll achieve that is by taking a stand together and showing this government we’re prepared to take strike action to make sure workers don’t continue to fall behind,” it said.

In a press release, the government said the report provided a “clear path forward” for it and the PSAC to reach agreements “provided that parties return to the bargaining table and negotiate in good faith”. It said it was “optimistic” that mediation discussions scheduled for April – which will include a third-party mediator – would be productive and that it remained “committed to reaching a deal at the table that is fair to employees and reasonable for taxpayers”.

“PSAC members provide important services to Canadians, from issuing work permits to processing tax returns, and the government values their work,” it said.

It added that it was negotiating with 26 out of the 28 bargaining units across the public service, with one agreement already signed and “many discussions moving towards positive results”.

Strike action abroad

Governments around the world face industrial disputes as public servants seek pay settlements that reflect the high rate of inflation.

In the UK, over 100,000 public servants took strike action on 1 February over pay, pensions, redundancy terms and job security. The action was called across departments including the Department for Work and Pensions, UK Border Force and the Rural Payments Agency, while teachers, train and bus drivers and university lecturers were also on strike on the biggest day of industrial action in the UK for a decade.

Up to 50,000 junior doctors in England plan to strike in mid-March.

Action has also been taken by university staff in New Zealand, and by thousands of workers at state level in Australia. Public servants in New South Wales took action over a proposed 3% pay rise, which is below Australia’s current inflation rate of 7.8%.

Read more: Canadian government readies return-to-office mandate in effort to codify hybrid work model

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About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

One Comment

  1. Bettymay Smith says:

    We’re all experiencing hard times financially. Federal employees are well-paid, and they have medical and retirement benefits. The overall system is too fat, with unnecessary departments and inflated staffing. This would be the time to trim that fat! They can march as a ‘group’ to have their say, but the poor and destitute have none. They’re supposed to be working for the people of Canada, not for their own selfish ends.

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