Shift premium top-ups, new allowance for Veterans Affairs case workers among asks
While the union representing nearly 124,000 federal public servants across Canada says higher pay is top of mind as a new round of negotiations with Ottawa takes place under the cloud of a strike mandate, other issues have been brought up — including workers' desire for more say in working from home.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), which represents affected Treasury Board workers, has been in collective bargaining with the federal government since June 2021.
Those talks broke down in May 2022, according to the alliance, leading a labour relations board to make non-binding recommendations for how to get things back on track.
The union and the government then began mediated negotiations earlier this month. Both parties were back at the bargaining table this week.
"We haven't seen a whole lot of movement," Chris Aylward, PSAC's national president, told CBC News Network on Thursday morning, adding that increased wages to keep up with inflation is the union's top concern.
The union's last public wage proposal was 4.5 per cent for 2021, 2022, and 2023, while the Treasury Board last shared an offer to increase wages by 2.06 per cent on average over four years.
Other proposals, including mandatory training on unconscious bias, diversity and inclusion, have previously been flagged as key by the union.
But a lengthy brief PSAC filed in late 2022, outlining proposals for the Treasury Board's largest bargaining unit, offers an additional window into the issues workers have raised since talks began nearly two years ago.
The demands include some "relatively novel" items, according to Ottawa-based labour lawyer Jock Climie, who has negotiated bargaining agreements for unions and federal agencies.
Here's a rundown of some of those asks.
The alliance declined Thursday to confirm which of the proposals remain live concerns, saying "PSAC's demands are constantly evolving and have been trimmed throughout the course of bargaining and will continue to."
CBC has also reached out to the Treasury Board to ask which items it does or does not support.
But Aylward told CBC News Network that working from home remains "a fairly close top priority as well."
Ottawa ordered workers back to the office two to three days a week by March 31, but that plan has proceeded without any consistent rules and without even the most basic supports for workers, Aylward said.
"We've got members that go into the workplace now, there's no desk, there's no computer for them to work at. They're getting back in their cars and driving back home again," he said.
By contrast, the PSAC brief envisioned work-from-home agreements only being terminated at the request of the employee, or by just cause by the employer. That desire for worker say is also reflected in another proposal calling on Ottawa to consult PSAC before it contracts work out instead of retraining current workers.
"It's traditionally been up to employers to decide where and how employees do their work," Climie said. "The second that becomes an item that can be bargained, it'll have to be bargained every time. So employers have worked very hard, at least ones that I'm aware of, to ensure that does not become an item worth negotiating at the table."
PSAC also called on departments to provide workers "ergonomic workstation furniture," in addition to a computer and monitor, if requested.
Benefit for Indigenous language
Two proposals dubbed outstanding issues in the December brief looked to recognize the value of Indigenous culture.
One called for employees who use an Indigenous language at work to be paid a $1,500 annual bonus, nearly double the $800 bilingual bonus paid to federal workers who speak French and English.
The other would grant employees who self-identify as Indigenous, and who have worked for the public service for three consecutive months, up to five days of paid leave to engage in traditional practices such as hunting, fishing and harvesting.
"The union finds it incomprehensible that a government which has introduced a new national holiday to mark truth and reconciliation would not offer a modest financial recognition to those (very few) employees who use their Indigenous language at work in service to Canadians," the brief said.
Both the Governments of Nunavut and B.C. provide paid time off for Indigenous holidays and cultural pursuits, and doing so federally would help reduce the barriers for potential Indigenous employees, the alliance stated.
Extra pay for Veterans Affairs case workers
Case managers at Veterans Affairs Canada deserve extra compensation, too, given the demands of their job, the union stated in the brief.
Case managers have reported supporting veterans in everything from finding a family doctor and dentist to learning to cope with an acquired disability, according to the brief.
"Interviews with members suggest that as many as 50 percent of veterans served by the department have experienced or are experiencing mental health issues," the brief went on.
"This results in a number of veterans interacting with their case manager when they are in a crisis situation, further heightening the stakes and demands that the case manager employ their specialized skills under unpredictable, high-stress conditions."
The union called for those workers to be paid an annual allowance of $2,000.
One of the other financial asks from the union called for workers whose shifts stretch past 4 p.m. on weekdays to be paid a $2.50 premium for all extra hours worked. The same would apply to any hours worked beyond scheduled shift hours on weekends.
"While wages have been adjusted substantially [since 2002], shift and weekend premiums have remained unchanged, their value eroded by inflation," the union stated.
In a Thursday press release, Franco Terrazzano, the federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, said "most Canadians would be laughed out of the room if we asked our boss for these types of benefits."
Asked to clarify whether his comment extended to PSAC's more culturally minded proposals, including the requested paid leave for Indigenous workers, Terrazzano said he was referring to the total estimated cost of the union's financial demands.
"They can push for those priorities, but what they have to do is be willing to find cuts elsewhere," he said.
"This type of inflated right-wing analysis aims to pit workers against workers," Aylward said in response to the federation's release.
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