Prime Minister Justin Trudeau grew weary of a massive public service strike on Wednesday, warning picketers that “Canadians are not going to be very patient if this continues.” Cabinet dismissed contract proposals by the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) as “unaffordable” and “completely unworkable.”
In a statement, the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) said their employees wanted a 22.5% pay raise over three years. “We cannot sign a blank cheque,” said Treasury Board President Mona Fortier. “Many PSAC demands are completely unworkable.”
Overall, the union is asking for a 13.5% wage hike over three years.
PSAC and the Treasury Board failed to strike a bargain before the strike started on April 19. The union ultimately rejected the Board’s offer of a more tenable three-year raise compounded at 9.25%, triggering one of the largest public service strikes in history.
According to Blacklock’s Reporter, Parliament in 1991 introduced back-to-work legislation to end a national Service Alliance strike after 13 days.
Union president Chris Aylward repeatedly claimed an “overwhelming majority” favoured a strike, adding that higher voter turnout is an issue that “all unions, organizations and governments grapple with.”
The union held strike votes between February 22 and April 11. During that time, about 65% of members did not vote. Of the 120,000 Treasury Board workers represented by the union, just 42,421 exercised their right to call for a strike.
On Wednesday, protesters marched outside Parliament Hill, picketing messages such as “Fortier around and find out!”, “I’d throw eggs but I can’t afford them” and “2% is for milk,” occasionally breaking into a “What do we want?” chant.
“People hate us,” read one picket.
The Board said there is a “competitive deal” on the table, but PSAC insists on pushing “unaffordable” demands that would “severely impact the government’s ability to deliver services to Canadians.”
In addition to wage disputes, central to the negotiations is giving employees the right to contest being forced to return to the office. The Board currently mandates that federal workers be in the office two to three times a week.
Trudeau spoke with reporters mere hours after the strike commenced. “We are not negotiating in public right now,” he said.
“Negotiations happen at the negotiating table. But the reality is Canadians have every right and expectation to see the services that they expect delivered.”
“It is important for the union and management to be at the negotiating table to make proposals and resolve this,” he continued. “I know Canadians are not going to be very patient if this continues.”
“Expect to have disruptions,” said Revenue Minister Diane Lebouthillier. “That’s the purpose of a strike, to disrupt the system. We expect to have disruptions at the call centre level.”
She said the April 30 tax deadline would remain, clarifying that individuals or corporations who file tax filings late due to the strike could apply for relief from interest charges and penalties “on a case-by-case basis.” The minister did not elaborate further on this.
Government House Leader Mark Holland told reporters he wants to see both sides strike a “fair” deal for the public service and taxpayers, reported Blacklock’s Reporter.
“Are you preparing any legislation?” asked a reporter. “I wouldn’t engage in that sort of a hypothetical,” replied Holland.
“What do Canadians have to wait, five days, three days?” asked another reporter. “Look, this is day one of the strike,” replied Holland on Wednesday.
“I am not clairvoyant. Unfortunately I cannot tell you where this is going to go.”