Canada’s largest public sector union and the government have reached a tentative agreement ending one of the largest strikes in the country’s history.
The agreement between Treasury Board and four PSAC bargaining groups representing 120,000 public servants puts an end to a strike after nearly two weeks. Union members returning to work as of 9 a.m. Monday.
“PSAC members held the line together and secured a fair contract that keeps up with the cost of living, increased protections around remote work, and creates safer, more inclusive workplaces,” national president Chris Aylward said in a news release Monday.
PSAC’s regional vice president for the national capital region Alex Silas said bargaining came right down to the wire.
“What that means is the workers that are lower in the salary scale that’s a bigger boost for them than what their salary scale is. And through this entire fight we’ve been saying we want a standard for fair wages to keep up with the cost of living that will allow workers in the federal public service to not live paycheque to paycheque,” said Silas.
Treasury Board President Mona Fortier said the agreements came after weeks of “hard work, negotiation and compromise.”
“We are deeply grateful for public servants who work hard across the country to serve Canadians and look forward to welcoming them back,” she said. “These deals are fair, competitive, and reasonable, and bring stability to public servants and Canadians.”
The agreement is retroactive until June 2021 and runs until 2024. Union members still need to vote on it.
Here’s what’s in the tentative agreement, according to both sides.
WHAT WAGE INCREASE DID THE SIDES AGREE ON?
The union says the agreement includes a 12.6 compounded wage increase over four years, which it says closes the pay gap with inflation.
Treasury Board puts the increase differently. The government says the wage increase is 11.5 per cent over four years, but includes a group-specific allowance of 0.5 per cent in the third year.
The agreement also includes a one-time lump sum payment of $2,500 for all employees.
For workers nearing retirement, that payment will contribute to their average salary for their five years of service and increase pension payments in retirement, the union says.
The PSAC began negotiations looking for a 13.5 per cent wage increase over three years. The government’s initial offer was nine per cent over the same time period.
WHAT ABOUT REMOTE WORK?
The government says the two sides reached an agreement on working from home that is outside the collective agreement.
“The Government of Canada continues to be committed to a modern, hybrid workplace that provides employees, where applicable, with the flexibility to continue to work up to 3 days from home a week. Outside of the collective agreements, we reached a tentative settlement on telework to the satisfaction of both parties. We agreed to undertake a review of the Directive on Telework, and to create departmental panels to advise deputy heads regarding employee concerns.”
PSAC says its members now have access to additional protection when subject to arbitrary decisions about remote work.
“We have also 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 sides have also agreed to create joint panels to deal with employee concerns about remote work.
Gilles Levasseur, a University of Ottawa law and business professor, says the decision on remote work is not the last one.
“It’s a first fundamental step into moving into stronger language in the next negotiation,” he told CTV News Ottawa. “The agreement deals with 2021 to 2024, so that means in a year and a half from now, they will have to go back to the table and renegotiate, so there is that agreement letter that creates that type of relationship between the employer and employee.”
Levasseur says the language is not yet strong enough to create a legal requirement.
“It gives the intention, it gives the idea; what it doesn’t provide, specifically, is the limitations of the employer’s authority or capacity to act and that’s the actual downfall of that type of agreement.”
WHAT ELSE IS IN THE AGREEMENT?
PSAC says it also secured protections against contracting out work in the federal public service.
“PSAC has negotiated language to ensure that in the event of layoffs, PSAC members will not lose their job if they can perform the duties of a contractor already working with the federal government,” the union says.
Anti-racism training was also a key plank for PSAC negotiators. The union said Monday the deal includes “an agreement to create a joint committee to review the existing training courses related to employment equity, diversity, and inclusion, and to ensure employees are fully aware of training opportunities available to them during their work hours”
The agreement also includes paid leave for Indigenous employees to engage in traditional practices such as hunting and fishing.
WHAT ABOUT CRA WORKERS?
Although tentative agreements have been reached for four bargaining units representing 120,000 employees in the core public service, 35,000 CRA workers remain on strike.
Those workers are represented by the Union of Taxation Employees, an arm of PSAC.
PSAC said in a news release Monday that the PSAC/UTE bargaining team would enter into a “blitz of negotiations” with CRA in an effort to reach an agreement.
CRA workers were out picketing on Monday morning in Ottawa, including on Heron Road. Monday marked the 13th day of the strike.
Many workers on the line said they were tired, cold and shocked it’s taking this long
“We’re frustrated because we’re left out here and everybody is back at work and we kind of feel like we’ve been left behind a little bit,” said Joanne McCarroll.
“We deserve the same rights as everybody else and yes, I wish it was over for me too,” said Dorisol Mona.
“Sort of disappointed the contract didn’t get settled by the treasury board but it is what it is,” said Kendall Miller. “So we’re out supporting everybody walking around, it’s not the best day.”