The federal government outlined its position on four key areas in its ongoing negotiations with the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) in an open letter addressed to Canadians, marking a shift in its bargaining strategy.
Wage increases, control over telework arrangements, a ban on contracting out work and priority for senior staff in the event of downsizing are the four “key” demands remaining, Treasury Board president Mona Fortier wrote.
“This round of negotiating has been a heavy lift for both parties,” she said in the letter.
The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, the government department that is nominally the employer of bureaucrats, updated or reiterated details on its bargaining position in each of the four areas in the letter.
On CBC’s Power and Politics Monday, PSAC president Chris Aylward confirmed the accuracy of the information in the letter and said he takes it as a “good signal.”
“I actually applaud the minister for putting this letter out,” he said. “It’s the first time that [Fortier’s] actually put our priority issues on the table.”
In the letter, the Treasury Board reiterated its offer of a 9 per cent wage increase over three years, a total the board says would provide the average employee an extra $6,250 per year and aligns with the recommendations of the third-party Public Interest Commission.
The government also agreed to a signing bonus for every member, according to the letter, but the value of the bonus was not stated.
PSAC was previously asking for a 4.5 per cent wage increase each year for 2021, 2022 and 2023. But Aylward said Monday the union has moved down from that 13.5 per cent overall increase. Aylward did not clarify the new demand.
On telework, the Treasury Board said in the open letter it proposed to jointly review the existing telework directive with the union.
Speaking on CBC’s Power and Politics Monday, Fortier repeated the government’s stance that decisions around telework are the right of management.
“It is a red line,” Fortier said. “We have found creative ways to, of course, engage with employees — and I believe that, because it’s so important that we have the flexibility for managers to see how we are going to best deliver services.”
Aylward nonetheless said he is confident an agreement on telework could be reached.
“We’re not trying to negate managerial rights here,” he said.
Fortier wrote in the letter that the Treasury Board intends to reduce the practice of contracting out work, but said reducing the practice to zero would “severely compromise” the government’s ability to deliver services.
Aylward said the union is not calling for an absolute ban but does want the practice to be reduced, saying work is more cost-effective and transparent when jobs are completed within the public service.
The government also proposed that the Public Service Commission, a government agency that helps develop hiring policies for the federal public service, prioritize merit over seniority in the event of future downsizing.
Most of 570 demands have been met
When negotiations began, PSAC came to the table with about 570 demands, according to the Treasury Board.
Aylward confirmed that number Monday and said most of those demands had been addressed. He said the four issues outlined in the open letter are the main sticking points that stand in the way of a deal.
The national strike for more than 155,000 federal public servants under PSAC began on April 19 at 12:01 a.m. and has entered its second workweek.
Two groups covered by the union remain on strike: one includes approximately 120,000 employees who fall under the Treasury Board, making up several government departments and agencies, and the other is a smaller tax group of more than 35,000 workers at the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).
Picket lines have gone up across the country while some government services — including taxes, passports and immigration — are disrupted.