Canada’s Public Servants End Their Strike Without Remote Work Guarantee

The News

A strike by more than 155,000 federal government workers in Canada came fully to an end on Thursday after a tentative deal was reached with the remaining holdouts — tax agency employees.

The walkout, which began on April 19, involved workers who mostly deliver services rather than professionals or policymakers and was largely prompted by union members’ desire to recoup inflation-driven wage losses and to enshrine in their contracts the right to work from home.

The tentative settlement is closer to the government’s wage offer than it is to the Public Service Alliance of Canada’s wage demands and failed to achieve any contract terms guaranteeing work from home. Most of its members will still be required to report to their workplaces three days a week.

Picketers line the sidewalks in Gatineau, Quebec in April.Credit…Blair Gable/Reuters

On Monday, a tentative deal with several bargaining groups brought about 120,000 members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada back to work. About 35,000 employees of the Canada Revenue Agency, who had been seeking higher wage increases than other groups within the union, began returning on Thursday.

Many of the union’s members considered to be essential workerswere legally required to keep working, including members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the military

As a result, the strike caused relatively little significant disruption to most Canadians, though people seeking tax advice by telephone encountered delays, the processing of some payments to military veterans was delayed and many passport applications were not processed.

The Background

The previous contracts between the government and the union expired in June 2021.

The union failed to win the right to work form home. The government said on Mondaythat it would continue to require most people to work from their offices at least three days a week. But it added that it has agreed to review its policy and “to create departmental panels to advise deputy heads regarding employee concerns.”

When the strike began, the union had been seeking raises that would total 13.5 percent over the three years. The branch covering the tax workers started out seeking a 22.5 percent increase over the same period.

The government was offering a cumulative wage increase of 9 percent that would be spread over three years.

This week, the government and the union had slightly different takes on what they negotiated on wages.

The union described the agreements, including the one announced on Thursday, as a 12.6 wage increase percent, after compounding, over four years, rather than three, plus a one-time bonus of 2,500 Canadian dollars. The government described the total increase as 11.5 percent over four years and confirmed the bonus.

Why It Matters

The tentative agreements must now be ratified by the union’s members. But the branch of the union that represents about 36,000 workers who handle, among other things, immigration processing and unemployment insurance claims, has urged its members to vote against the proposed settlement.

The minimal public disruption meant that the strike did not become a major political headache for the government led by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. While it avoided the union’s demands for a contractual right to work from home, its vague promise to review the situation could lead to disaffection among many employees, particularly those struggling to balance work and family responsibilities.

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