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Thousands of federal public servants across country begin strike

More than 155,000 federal public servants are on strike after the federal government and the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) failed to reach a deal before a Tuesday evening deadline.

The announcement came after two bargaining groups representing a significant part of the government workforce entered a legal strike position last week.

The national PSAC president announced at a Tuesday evening news conference the strike would begin at 12:01 a.m. ET Wednesday.

“We are still a ways apart, but we’re staying at the table because we’re still hopeful and our goal is still to get to a tentative agreement,” said Chris Aylward.

“Our members are prepared to fight for a good, decent, fair collective agreement.”

Picket lines will be set up at more than 250 locations across the country Wednesday morning, PSAC said in a Tuesday news release.

Eight are planned across Ottawa-Gatineau, where the federal government is the biggest employer.

A crowd yells and holds signs outside a city office building.
People attend a Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) rally in Ottawa March 31, 2023. (Patrick Doyle/The Canadian Press)

Aylward said he would not disclose details of what is being discussed at the bargaining table, but said the union will remain on strike until its key issues are addressed.

In a news release Tuesday night, the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat said it has “done everything it can” to reach a deal.

“The government has presented a fair, competitive offer to the PSAC and responded to all their demands,” it said.

“Even though there is a competitive deal on the table, the PSAC continues to insist on demands that are unaffordable and would severely impact the government’s ability to deliver services to Canadians.”

The federal government also released a series of backgrounders after the strike announcement Tuesday, including one outlining its bargaining position.

Tax returns, passports

More than 120,000 employees under PSAC entered a legal strike position last Wednesday and about 39,000 more joined them last Friday, bringing the total number of federal public servants represented by PSAC with a strike mandate to more than 155,000.

The first group, labelled the Treasury Board group by PSAC, includes workers spread across more than 20 departments and agencies.

The second group, represented by PSAC and its subcomponent, the Union of Taxation Employees, includes Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) workers.

Of those workers, about 47,000 are considered essential and, although in a legal strike position, will continue to report to work. The government defines an essential service as a service necessary for the safety or security of the public, or a segment of the public, at any time.

A strike could affect a range of services, including processing of income tax returns and passports. The federal government has compiled a list of what’s affected by a strike.

Workers and services involved

Negotiations between the federal government and PSAC’s two groups each began in 2021. The union declared an impasse with each unit last year.

In January, PSAC announced strike votes for the Treasury Board group due to a disagreement with the department over proposed wage increases that are outstripped by the rate of inflation.

Strike votes for this group happened from Feb. 22 until April 11, while strike votes for the CRA group were held from Jan. 31 until April 6. 

The union didn’t share how many members voted in favour, but has said the support was overwhelming.

PSAC leadership said Monday all workers in a legal strike position would strike Wednesday if the union didn’t reach an agreement with the federal government by 9 p.m. ET Tuesday.

A man raises a finger while speaking at a lectern.
Public Service Alliance of Canada national president Chris Aylward speaks during a news conference in Ottawa on Tuesday. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Aylward said last Wednesday most members make between $40,000 and $65,000 a year and are struggling with the high cost of living.

The union’s last public wage proposal was 4.5 per cent for 2021, 2022 and 2023.

The Treasury Board last shared an offer to increase wages by nine per cent over three years, a total that mirrors the recommendations of the third-party Public Interest Commission.

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