Public Service Alliance blames Liberals for bargaining impasse

PSAC members. Photo: PSAC Members Support Bargaining/Facebook

Canada's largest public sector union has declared a bargaining impasse, as it accuses the Liberal government of failing to address the needs of 90,000 federal employees.

The Public Service Alliance Canada (PSAC) has been engaged with the Treasury Board for almost a year to reach a new collective bargaining agreement.

PSAC: Liberals reneging on past agreements

The Liberals' offer of a 1.5 per cent annual increase does not even account for the cost of inflation, said PSAC president Chris Aylward. The union noted that the offer is lower than the pay raise given to members of Parliament this month.

PSAC says that contrary to the Trudeau Liberals' progressive rhetoric on feminism, it is failing to live up to a child-care memorandum of understanding signed between the two parties. PSAC wants its workers to have the right to breastfeeding breaks and wants accessible child care for all its employees across Canada, but it says the government has been resisting those demands.

The union is also unhappy with the government's intention to dissolve an memorandum of understanding on addressing mental health in the workplace.

Aylward said adhering to their jointly-declared commitments on mental health and child care would not be economically burdensome for the government, which is why he was baffled at their resistance.

"It's very simple things we are asking for. It's very low-hanging fruit for the government to say, 'Yes we will give you this,'" he said.

Although the government has acceded to certain demands such as for domestic violence leave, Aylward said that's not good enough.

"They are saying, 'We'll give you this one little thing, but say no to child care, no to mental health.' It doesn't add up at all," he said.

Farees Nathoo, spokesperson for the president of Treasury Board, said that he wouldn't comment on specific bargaining proposals.

In an emailed statement, he said the Liberals had been bargaining in good-faith with all public sector employees after a decade of anti-labour policies of the Harper Conservatives.

Rejection of offer on Phoenix

PSAC has also rejected the government's offer to public service workers to compensate for the damages caused by the Phoenix payment system, which has severely impacted about 146,000 current and former federal employees.

However, 13 other unions have accepted the tentative agreement, which will have to be ratified. A joint union-management committee had been negotiating the matter since June 2017.  

The government offered additional annual leave to employees and a cash-out pay equivalent that also applies to former workers. But PSAC said that is not an equitable solution.

"If you and I cash-out this leave, and you make substantially more money than I do, then you actually benefit more from that. And that's totally unfair, especially for lower paid members," Aylward said.

Aylward wouldn't comment on the union's proposal but said they were willing to bargain with an open mind. In the past, the PSAC's demands have included daily interest payments for employees who have not received a full pay cheque.

His counterpart from the Professional Institute of Public Service Canada disagrees. Debi Daviau, president of PIPSC, said cash-outs for annual leaves will be disbursed based on the mechanisms of the respective collective agreements.

"We feel fairly confident not only is this the best deal that we can get, but that it's a fair deal in light of the havoc it has caused on public service," she said.

The government's offer includes additional compensation for employees who missed savings opportunities or faced financial hardship, but these will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.

Daviau pointed out that the settlement established an expedited grievance process that would help resolve cases within the next two years.

Zaid Noorsumar is rabble's labour beat reporter for 2019, and is a journalist who has previously contributed to CBC, The Canadian Press, the Toronto Star and Rankandfile.ca. To contact Zaid with story leads, email zaid[at]rabble.ca.

Photo: PSAC Members Support Bargaining/Facebook

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