Nearly a week into a large-scale strike by the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and amid government vows not to negotiate in public, is the federal government doing exactly that?
In what was called “An open letter to public servants and Canadians,” Treasury Board president Mona Fortier on Monday outlined her negotiating team’s position about what she said were the remaining sticking points with PSAC.
Fortier also encouraged workers to “get a full understanding of all the issues that remain to be resolved” from their PSAC representatives.
“It’s important for Canadians and public servants to understand what the government is doing to end the stress and strain from the labour disruption,” she wrote.
The direct appeal to public servants on Monday comes after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and other ministers last week insisted the government would not negotiate its position in public and urged talks to continue.
“We are not negotiating in public right now,” Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa on Wednesday when asked about the union’s demands. “The negotiations happen at the negotiating table.”
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Fortier’s letter said the government has reached agreements with PSAC on more than 560 demands from the union. But she said four key issues remain unresolved: wage increases, remote work as a negotiated right, a ban on contracting out, and deciding who gets laid off in the event of cuts based on seniority.
On wages, Fortier said in addition to the nine per cent raise over three years offered by the government — which is lower than the 13.5 per cent over three years demanded by PSAC — her negotiators have also offered a signing bonus for every member.
The government has also promised to review the telework directive “for a post-pandemic world,” she said, while declining to say if it will consider PSAC’s demand that it become part of the collective agreement.
The demand for seniority-based retentions will also be considered, she added.
Finally, while Fortier pointed to the latest federal budget’s commitment to reduce the use of contractors as part of a bid to cut costs, she wrote a full ban on contracting “would severely compromise the government’s ability to deliver services and work for Canadians.”
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Negotiations have been ongoing since more than 155,000 public service workers walked off the job Wednesday morning. However, both sides have accused each other of obstructing negotiations and being too slow to respond to key developments.
On Monday, some striking workers moved their picket lines to strategic locations more likely to have an impact on the federal government, including Canadian Coast Guard ports and RCMP detachments.
“It’s clear the Liberal government is feeling the pressure as we escalate our strike actions across the country,” PSAC’s national president Chris Aylward said in a statement to Motorcycle accident toronto today on Monday.
“But we’ve been clear — the offer the government has on the table simply doesn’t cut it.”
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Fortier has stressed that PSAC will have to compromise on some of its key demands in order to reach a deal and end the strike, saying the government won’t “write a blank cheque.”
On Saturday, Aylward accused Fortier and her negotiating team of “incompetence” and called on Trudeau to intervene in the negotiations.
The union president said the Treasury Board had presented an offer on Saturday afternoon, and the union had countered with its own proposal the same day.
Fortier’s office said it made a second proposal Saturday that the union had not responded to by late Sunday.
Aylward ultimately acknowledged the government’s additional offer but said it did nothing to advance the union’s wage demands.
Meanwhile, the Union of Taxation Employees, a subdivision of PSAC that is separately negotiating a contract for more than 35,000 striking Canada Revenue Agency workers, said it hasn’t been at the bargaining table since Tuesday.
That union’s president said there was “close to zero progress” over the weekend.
In a statement on Friday, the tax agency said it was calling for the union to return to mediated negotiations in person, but that proposals were still being exchanged on other issues specific to the CRA.
— With files from the Canadian Press
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