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Happy May Day! PSAC reaches a deal for the bulk of its workers
The wage increases secured by 120K Treasury Board workers aren't much more than the government offered, but they include a one-time top up.
In the wee hours of May 1, which happens to be International Workers’ Day, or May Day, the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) announced it reached a tentative four-year agreement with the Treasury Board, ending a 12-day strike for most three-quarters of its workforce.
The Union of Taxation Employees (UTE), the PSAC affiliate that represents Canada Revenue Agency Workers, however, remains without a deal, so we’re not entirely out of the woods yet.
The union was pushing for a 4.5% annual wage increase for Treasury Board workers retroactive to 2021, when their most recent contract expired, or 13.5% over three years.
The government initially offered 2%, but two days before the strike offered the 3% recommended by the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board back in February.
Rather than the three-year agreement that was the subject of negotiation, PSAC got a four-year deal with a 12.6% cumulative increase — an average increase of 3.15% a year. By itself, this increase isn’t much more than the government offered, but workers will each receive a one-off $2,500 pensionable lump sum payment.
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The percentage increase of this one-time payment varies based on workers’ income. For those who make 45,000 a year, it’s 5.5%; for those who make $75,000, it’s 3.3%.
But a lump sum payment doesn’t provide the long-term relief of a wage increase. It’s not cumulative, meaning it’s excluded from each annual 3.15% increase. That might be cold comfort for those battered by inflation.
Still, the deal is an improvement over what the government initially offered, however slight.
“During a period of record-high inflation and soaring corporate profits, workers were told to accept less – but our members came together and fought for better,” PSAC national president Chris Aylward said in a news release. “This agreement delivers important gains for our members that will set the bar for all workers in Canada.”
With average inflation of 5.75% since the workers’ contract expired, they’re still in effect taking a pay cut — just not one as big as the government wanted.
As always, the union’s demands weren’t solely wage-related.
A major point of contention is language enshrining the right to work remotely. The Treasury Board previously ordered public servants back to the office at least two days a week, regardless of the nature of their work.
Now returning to the office will be determined on a case-by-case basis, but Treasury Board president Mona Fortier said at a May 1 media availability that this doesn’t mean workers will be able to grieve an unreasonable forced return to the office. The government, however, agreed to a joint review of its telework policy, which hasn’t been updated in 30 years.
While PSAC pushed for mandatory diversity, equity and inclusion training for all workers, the agreement will create a joint panel of workers and management to review the adequacy of existing training courses and ensure all workers are aware of the opportunities available to them.
In order to attract more Indigenous workers, the government will offer paid time off for Indigenous employees to engage in traditional practices, such as hunting, fishing and harvesting. The union asked for five days a year. As of writing, it’s unclear how many days off this will entail.
PSAC had also demanded a bonus for workers who are fluent in an Indigenous language, which was noticeably absent from PSAC’s announcement that it tentatively reached a deal.
The actual text of the agreement for the Treasury Board workers is, as of writing, unavailable, so these details are all based on PSAC’s initial media release announcing the deal. The actual agreement text will be released “[i]n the coming days,” according to the release, which you can read in full here.
As for the UTE workers, their most recent public wage demand was for 22.5% over three years — an average annual increase of 7.5%. This was a significant concession from its initial ask for 29.5%, which included an immediate 9% wage adjustment.
The reason for its much higher wage demands is to bring UTE’s wages in line with those doing similar tax-related work at the Canada Border Services Agency, who used to make the same wages.
Given the precedent set by the Treasury Board agreement, I suspect it won’t be long until the UTE workers are offered and accept a deal closer to what the Treasury Board workers asked for, which falls substantially behind the UTE’s wage demands.
But for now,the main question is whether the Treasury Board workers, who return to work today, will ratify their tentative agreement.
Happy May Day!
(This piece has been updated to reflect the fact that workers won’t be able to grieve a forced return to the office.)