Canada, strike “as long as it takes”: all federal services at risk

TORONTO – Both PSAC and the federal government are warning that disruptions to public services are possible as a third of all federal workers remain on strike. Action taken by members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) could therefore lead to a complete shutdown of the tax season, border delays and pauses for new immigration and passport applications, just to name a few examples. 

In one of the largest strikes in Canadian history, government workers walked off their jobs Wednesday by picketing more than 250 locations across the country. The bargaining teams involve more than 155,000 federal public employees, including 35,000 staff members of the Internal Revenue Service (the CRA) and approximately 46,000 essential workers.

The union is calling for a 13.5% hike over the next three years, saying the hikes are needed to keep up with grievance and the cost of living, but the Treasury Board and CRA both say they have offered the union a 9% increase in three years.

PSAC national chairman Chris Aylward told reporters Wednesday that members were willing to strike for “as long as necessary”. “The workers are fed up, the workers are frustrated and the workers say, ‘Enough. We won’t take the trash anymore,’ ” he reiterated.

Meanwhile, Conservative leader Pierre Poilievre is harshly attacking Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. “It takes a special kind of incompetence to spend 50% more on red tape and still end up with the biggest public service strike in 40 years. Only Trudeau could have pulled it off” he wrote on Twitter. And in the event of an attempt by the federal government to precept workers to avoid infinite inconvenience to citizens, the Conservatives remain silent, even if in the past the party had used the legislation on the return to work to break the strike of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers in 2011.

Poilievre is notoriously anti-union, but in this case the opportunity is tempting: to embarrass Trudeau who, on this, is cornered since his only ally, the federal leader of the NDP Jagmeet Singh, has already said he is against the use of the workers’ injunction. Indeed, he took to the streets with them, personally participating in union pickets and asking the federal government to negotiate a fair contract with the PSAC.

Meanwhile, the first hardships began to register, as indeed the national president of the PSAC, Chris Aylward, had anticipated. “There will certainly be delays in passport applications, immigration, job insurance – he said – and our imports and exports could also be affected, so this will obviously have an impact on the economy”. The CRA (Canada Revenue Agency), in particular, has announced that the tax return deadlines will not be extended during the strike. Online access to CRA services will remain available, although there may be delays for the call center and tax return processing. And the CRA is just the tip of the iceberg: Virtually all federal public services are now at risk of being shut down.

Photo from Twitter – @psacbc