Canadian public service strike ends as deal reached over pay and remote work

By on 02/05/2023 | Updated on 02/05/2023
A photograph of strikers near Tunney's Pasture in Ottawa as part of the 2023 federal employee strike.
A photograph of strikers near Tunney's Pasture in Ottawa as part of the 2023 federal employee strike. Photo by Earl Andrew, reproduced under Creative Commons 4.0

The two-week long strike by 120,000 Canadian public servants is ending today after the government and the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) union reached a May Day deal on pay and conditions.

The agreement between the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat and employee representatives represents “fair, competitive agreements for employees that are reasonable for Canadians”, according to the government.

Details of the agreement, released by PSAC, include a 12.6% pay rise compounded over the life of the agreement from 2021-2024. In addition, officials will receive a C$2,500 (US$1,862) one-time lump sum payment that represents an additional 3.7% of salary for the average PSAC member in Treasury Board bargaining units.

The union highlighted that this is higher than the 9% wage increase over three years under recommendations from the Public Interest Commission pay tribunal in February.

“By securing an overwhelming strike mandate and following through with strong strike action, important gains were made to the employer’s final wage offer,” the PSAC said in a statement.

The dispute also centred on regulations around remote and flexible working in the public service. Following changes earlier this year, most Canadian federal government employees are required work from the office at least two to three days a week, but many public servants were unhappy with the drive to get more people back to workplaces as the coronavirus pandemic receded.

‘New and improved’ terms for remote work

According to PSAC, the agreement with the government, which still needs to be approved by staff, includes “new and improved remote work language” that will offer officials additional protection when subject to arbitrary decisions about remote work.

“We have negotiated language in a letter of agreement that requires managers to assess remote work requests individually, not by group, and provide written responses that will allow members and PSAC to hold the employer accountable to equitable and fair decision-making on remote work,” the union said in its statement on the deal.

Read more: Canadian government aims to codify hybrid work model

The agreement also includes provisions to create “safer and more inclusive workplaces”, according to PSAC. A new joint committee is to review existing training courses related to employment equity, diversity, and inclusion in order to ensure employees are fully aware of training opportunities available to them during their work hours. 

Indigenous employees will be eligible for additional paid leave to engage in traditional Indigenous practices, including hunting, fishing and harvesting. Such an approach will help the government attract and retain more Indigenous workers and recognise their lived experiences, PSAC said.

Following the tentative agreement, the industrial action across four bargaining groups – covering PA (Program and Administrative), TC (Technical Services), SV (Operational Services) and the EB (Education and Library) bargaining units, which are all part of the Core Public Administration (CPA) – has ended, and workers started to return to work yesterday. However, strike action continues at the Canada Revenue Agency, which is a separate agency and where staff are represented by the Union of Taxation Employees, as no agreement has yet been reached.

Deal reached after ‘hard work, negotiation, and compromise’

Mona Fortier, president of the Treasury Board, said the government was pleased to have reached the tentative agreements “after many weeks of hard work, negotiation, and compromise”.

She added: “The best deals are reached at the bargaining table – we respect the right to negotiate and appreciate Canadians’ patience and understanding over the past two weeks. We are deeply grateful for public servants who work hard across the country to serve Canadians and look forward to welcoming them back. These deals are fair, competitive, and reasonable, and bring stability to public servants and Canadians.”

The statement from the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat announcing the deal said that the government was “committed to a modern, hybrid workplace that provides employees, where applicable, with the flexibility to continue to work up to three days from home a week”.

Outside of the collective agreements, the department and union have agreed to undertake a review of existing directives on telework, and to create departmental panels to advise deputy heads regarding employee concerns.

Read more: Canada’s hybrid work plan stokes discontent among public servants

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About Richard Johnstone

Richard Johnstone is the executive editor of Global Government Forum, where he helps to produce editorial analysis and insight for the title’s audience of public servants around the world. Before joining GGF, he spent nearly five years at UK-based title Civil Service World, latterly as acting editor, and has worked in public policy journalism throughout his career.

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