New Trudeau cabinet must prioritize Phoenix deal, ‘fair’ contract: PSAC

OTTAWA — The country’s largest civil service union isn’t waiting for the prime minister to give marching orders to his new cabinet, offering up its own suggestions for government priorities in the coming months.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada is set to release an open ”mandate letter” of sorts to Justin Trudeau and his Treasury Board president Thursday, spelling out the top issues it believes the government should focus on going into the new session of Parliament.

In the letter, obtained by The Canadian Press and accompanied by an ad campaign, the union calls on the government to negotiate “fair” new contracts for its members, as well as compensation for civil servants who have been underpaid, overpaid or not paid at all through the failed Phoenix pay system.

“With a new minority Parliament and a new cabinet in charge, we’re sending Trudeau a clear mandate: deliver a fair contract for our members and fair compensation for this ongoing Phoenix nightmare,” says PSAC national president Chris Aylward.

Trudeau named Jean-Yves Duclos as Treasury Board president Wednesday, the fourth person to hold the position in less than a year.

Joyce Murray was appointed as the head of Treasury Board in March after Jane Philpott resigned from cabinet in the midst of the SNC-Lavalin controversy. Philpott had held the position for only a few weeks after Scott Brison announced that he was retiring from political life.

The Treasury Board president is responsible for negotiating with the unions that represent federal civil servants.

PSAC has been pushing for new contracts for more than 140,000 of its members, along with compensation for the more than 250,000 government employees impacted by Phoenix, the government pay system.

Other unions settled on compensation with the government last year but PSAC rejected the terms, calling them inadequate.

If PSAC does win greater amounts for damages, provisions in the contracts already accepted by the smaller bargaining agents mean their members, too, will be awarded the extra compensation.

The union warned of potential strike action in September when it accused the government of walking away from contract talks, which have been held separately from, but alongside, negotiations over Phoenix compensation.

The government has been preparing for possible job action taking place no sooner than March, according to document obtained by The Canadian Press.

A memo prepared in mid-June for the senior associate deputy minister and chief operating officer at Employment and Social Development Canada, released through access-to-information legislation, recommended the government approve implementing strike committees to get ready for a walkout.

PSAC was the lone holdout earlier this year when it rejected Ottawa’s offer of wage increases that were accepted by other unions.

It also turned down an offer of compensation for the stress caused to public servants by the Phoenix pay-system debacle.

Several other unions reached tentative agreements that included a cumulative, one-time extra week off over four years for federal employees who were left struggling with the pay system since its launch in 2016.

Signatories included the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, the Association of Canadian Financial Officers and the Canadian Association of Professional Employees.

PSAC said the government must provide Phoenix compensation that involves cash, not just “a few meagre days of leave.”

Several of the other unions have also accepted minimum wage increases of two per cent each year in 2018 and 2019, and 1.5 per cent in 2020 and 2021, plus adjustments to wage grids that could increase wages by another one per cent.

PSAC initially declared an impasse in bargaining nearly a year ago and requested the creation of a public interest commission — a step that is legally required before a strike can be launched.

Several dates have been set for hearings aimed at mediating a deal, the first of which begins Dec. 4 for program and administrative services employees, of which roughly 71,000 are PSAC members.

Government employees could be in a position to strike seven days after the commission issues its report.

PSAC officials have, however, privately expressed confidence that tentative contracts could be reached within weeks, possibly around the time Parliament is set to begin its new session on Dec. 5.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 20, 2019.

Terry Pedwell, The Canadian Press

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