OTTAWA (Reuters) – About 155,000 federal workers in Canada left their jobs on Wednesday after failing to reach an agreement on wage increases and work-from-home guarantees, a strike affecting a range of public services from tax returns to passport renewals.
The Public Service Federation of Canada (PSAC) and the federal government said negotiations were ongoing, and Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stressed the urgency of resolving the dispute.
“I know Canadians will not be very patient if this goes on for too long,” Trudeau told reporters.
PSAC says it is the largest strike against a single employer in Canadian history, and a large strike by civil servants is not uncommon in Canada.
The striking workers sit-in and wave union flags in front of Trudeau’s office in Ottawa, one of 250 picket lines across the country. Across the street, a few hundred people paraded in the park in front of Parliament.
Crystal Patterson, 32, who works for the Department for Transport office that organizes state trips for the prime minister and others, said her main issue was getting a contract to cover recent cost-of-living increases.
“The union is doing it right by trying to give us a fair contract,” she said. “I will picket as long as the PSAC has a picket for us.”
The union, which has been in collective bargaining for a new contract since 2021, set a deadline of 9pm EST (0100GMT) on Wednesday for a deal.
“Talks are ongoing, but we will be here as long as it takes,” PSAC President Chris Aylward told the adopters. Aside from wages, the PSAC also wants the new agreement to recognize the right to telework.
“We can’t write a blank cheque,” said Mona Fortier, chair of the Treasury Board, urging the PSAC to make concessions.
Contract negotiations cover two major groups of employees: 120,000 workers under the Treasury Board and more than 35,000 workers in the Revenue Agency.
The strike will affect many federal services and could delay tax refunds since the deadline for applications is the end of the month. Passport renewals before the summer travel peak are also set to experience delays.
The strike also involved about 65% of the Canadian Grain Commission’s employees, including most outgoing grain inspectors at ports, which were “significantly affected” by the strike, the commission said. Canada is a major exporter of wheat and canola.
The federal government said in a statement that it had made a “fair competitive offer to PSAC,” including a 9% wage increase over three years, and that it would continue negotiations for a speedy agreement.
Tax Agency employees want a 22.5% pay increase over three years, while Treasury Board employees seek a 13.5% salary increase over three years. Inflation peaked at 8.1% last year but has since fallen to about half that.
The full impact of the strike is yet to be seen, said Nathan Janzen, assistant chief economist at the Royal Bank of Canada.
“It is clear that there is still concern that this contract could set a precedent for other public sector union negotiations,” he said. “If it holds through the end of April, it could take out two or three-tenths of April’s GDP… It’s a very big strike by historical comparison for Canada.”
Additional reporting by Eric Beach, Dan Whitcombe, and Kanjik Ghosh. Editing by Christopher Cushing, Robert Purcell
Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
“Infuriatingly humble analyst. Bacon maven. Proud food specialist. Certified reader. Avid writer. Zombie advocate. Incurable problem solver.”