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Contract talks to continue over the weekend between PSAC and federal government

The president of the Treasury Board says she's confident a deal will be reached at the bargaining table, as contract talks will continue over the weekend between the federal government and the Public Service Alliance of Canada.

The country's largest public sector union launched a Canada-wide strike on Wednesday involving workers with Treasury Board and the Canada Revenue Agency, with 155,000 workers picketing outside federal buildings in Ottawa and across the country over the past three days. The strike is expected to cause slowdowns and disruptions with all government services, including passport and immigration applications, tax returns and new employment insurance applications.

On Friday evening, PSAC said progress has been made in contract talks this week, "as PSAC members joined picket lines across the country to pressure the government for a fair contract."

"However, there are several key issues still outstanding at the table, and talks will continue over the weekend for more than 155,000 workers at Treasury Board and Canada Revenue Agency in the hopes of reaching an agreement."

Treasury Board President Mona Fortier told CTV Morning Live Friday morning the two sides returned to the bargaining table on Thursday, with the talks focusing on wages, telework and "other issues."

"I can say that yesterday – positive tone but still courageous conversations," Fortier said.

"There are some important issues that we're dealing with right now. We have to make sure on the government side that it does not impact on how we deliver services, so that is the guiding principle.

"I do know that we have one common goal that we build on is the fact that we believe we need to have all the tools necessary to deliver the best services to Canadians. I think that as we come together and continue at the table to negotiate, we will strike that balance."

The strike involves 120,000 public service workers that fall under the Treasury Board, and 35,000 Canada Revenue Agency employees.

The Treasury Board says the majority of full-time federal workers in four bargaining units, which make up 120,000 employees, earn between $50,000 and $75,000. About three per cent earn less than $50,000.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada is asking for a 13.5 per cent raise over three years for all employees under the Treasury Board.  The PSAC-Union of Taxation Employees, representing CRA employees, is asking for a 4.5 per cent raise effective Nov. 1, 2021, and an 8 per cent raise in both 2022 and 2023.

PSAC workers and supporters picket in front of President of the Treasury Board Mona Fortier's office in Ottawa on Friday, April 21, 2023. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Fortier says the federal government has offered a nine per cent raise over three years.

"As you can imagine in negotiations it's back and forth, working really hard to understand which side wants something and compromise, and I believe that's the best way to reach a deal is at the table," Fortier says.

"We will continue today to work very hard so that we get a competitive deal for workers, a fair one, and also that will be reasonable to Canadians because we need to strike a balance for both."

On Friday, hundreds of public service workers attended picket lines across Ottawa, including at 90 Elgin Street, Tunney's Pasture and on Parliament Hill. 

Fortier dismissed a question about the possibility of back-to-work legislation to end the strike, saying her goal was to reach an agreement with PSAC at the bargaining table.

"We are putting all of our efforts and I'm confident that we'll get to a deal."

PSAC-Union of Taxation Employees national president Marc Briere told CTV News Ottawa Friday evening that talks between the union and the Canada Revenue Agency are now in a 'media blackout.' Briere says talks were in a standstill earlier in the day, but talks had resumed.

CFB Petawawa buildings without heat and hot water 

Approximately 700 military members living at CFB Petawawa are without heat or hot water due to the strike by PSAC workers. Twenty-one buildings that house members on the base are without amenities because federal workers were deemed non-essential.

Fortier says decisions on which employees would be deemed essential are made before a strike begins.

"The thing is, unfortunately, with strike action this means that it's business that's not as usual, and we do look at those difficult decisions where the essential services were decided prior to the strike, and I will be checking in to see if that one was deemed essential."

35 per cent of PSAC members voted in strike vote

Approximately 35 per cent of the 120,000 members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada cast a ballot in the strike vote, according to the federal labour board ruling.

PSAC announced on April 12 that an "overwhelming" majority of its members voted in favour of a strike action to back demands for a new contract, but didn't say how many workers voted in strike votes between Feb. 22 and April 11.

A total of 42,421 employees voted in the strike vote. The labour board report shows 80 per cent of members who voted endorsed strike action.

"The broad support for our strike mandate amongst the membership can be seen in real time on hundreds of picket lines throughout the whole country this  week as over 100,000 members showed up to pressure this government to reach a fair contract for Canada’s public service workers," PSAC president Chris Aylward said in a statement to CTV News.

"Increasing voter turnout is an issue that all unions, organizations and governments – big or small – grapple with. PSAC’s voter turnout varies between bargaining rounds and different groups of workers, and we're always finding new ways to increase membership engagement in our union."

With files from CTV News Ottawa's Dylan Dyson, CTV National News, Ottawa correspondent Judy Trinh, CTV News producer Jordan Gowling and The Canadian Press Top Stories

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