Nearly 9,000 public sector workers on strike in Manitoba

Picket lines have been set up across Winnipeg and in other centres in Manitoba as more than 8,800 federal public servants in the province went on strike Wednesday morning.

They are among more than 155,000 Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) members who walked off the job after contract negotiations with the federal government failed to reach a deal before a Tuesday evening deadline.

“And we’ll be out there as long as it takes to get a fair collective agreement,” said Marianne Hladun, executive vice-president of PSAC in the Prairie region.

There are six Winnipeg picket sites, five on Main Street and the other along Stapon Road beside the Canada Revenue Agency’s taxation centre.

The union’s two bargaining groups — one of about 35,000 Canada Revenue Agency workers and the other, labelled the Treasury Board group, of about 120,000 staff spread across nearly 30 departments and agencies — all moved into legal strike position last week after strike votes held starting Jan. 31 through until earlier this month.

Their last collective agreements expired in 2021.

People walk on a sidewalk with flags and signs as part of a picket line. The picture is a low angle, looking up from near the sidewalk.
About 8,800 Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) workers in Manitoba are part of a national strike that includes more than 155,000 public sector union workers. (Gary Solilak/CBC)

The impact of the job action will be delays in public service at some government offices, Hladun said.

Those delays will be felt by anyone trying to get through to the CRA during the present tax season, as well as delays in processing applications or tax returns, she said.

“Of course, in all departments there are employees that are deemed essential, but they won’t be able to handle it all,” Hladun said.

“We recognize this is the largest strike in Canadian history — not necessarily what we wanted to do, but we had no choice.”

She asked that the public be respectful of the picket lines.

“These are workers who are fighting for their benefits and you know, if we’re able to achieve that, that’s a good thing for all workers.”

National PSAC president Chris Aylward said Monday that the union and the government made “some progress” over the last two weeks but are still too far apart on key issues, such as wages, job security and remote work.

Hladun said fair wages are the main sticking point.

“We know what the cost of living [is]. All we’re asking for is a wage increase that respects the inflation rate,” she said.

“Keep in mind our members are the lowest paid in the federal public service. We’re not bureaucrats. We’re not MPs. We are the cleaners, the plumbers, the mailroom clerks, and they need the cost of living allowance.”

In regard to job security, the union opposes outside contracting of any work.

It also wants to see some flexibility for hybrid work arrangements.

“Remote work is a huge issue for many of the members. The ability to work from home, if your job allows it, is critically important to a lot of our members,” Hladun said. 

“The government, to this point — the employer — has not been prepared to discuss putting remote work provisions into the collective agreement and our members … want to know that if they request it, they will not be unreasonably denied.”

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

The union’s last public wage proposal was a 4.5 per cent increase for 2021, 2022 and 2023, while the Treasury Board last shared an offer to increase wages by an average of 2.06 per cent over four years — 1.5 per cent for 2021, 4.5 per cent for 2022 and three per cent for 2023.

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