Canadian government workers go on strike, list Indigenous paid leave, anti-racism initiatives among demands

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More than 155,000 Canadian public sector workers went on strike Wednesday at midnight after failed negotiations with the country’s federal government for better pay and an expansion of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) programs.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), a labor union that represents more than 230,000 workers in every Canadian province and territory, maintained that the negotiations would continue amid what they described as the largest strike against a single employer in the country’s history, according to Reuters.

The strike, which will likely affect tax refunds amid tax season, is largely over wages, with PSAC having demanded a 13.5% raise for workers amid rising living costs in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The federal government has offered a 9% raise over three years in what it called a “fair, competitive offer to the PSAC,” the outlet reported.

In a brief that was tabled in 2022, the union also listed other demands during their negotiations that began in 2021, according to the National Post.

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Picketers gather on Parliament Hill after more than 155,000 public sector union workers with the Public Service Alliance of Canada began a strike in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on April 19, 2023. (Reuters / Blair Gable)

The brief was replete with provisions to combat racism and demanded such things as mandatory training for all managers and employees on diversity and inclusion, employment equity and unconscious bias.

Another provision included five days annual paid leave for self-identified Indigenous employees “to engage in traditional Indigenous practices” such as hunting, fishing, harvesting and any practice prescribed by regulation under the Canada Labor Code. The brief also proposed a $1,500 pay bump for anyone who speaks Cree, Inuktitut, Dene or other Indigenous languages.

PSAC protesters gather on Parliament Hill in Ottawa

The PSAC strike is largely about wages, but the union also listed other demands in a brief tabled in 2022. (Reuters / Blair Gable)

“The Union finds it incomprehensible that a government which has introduced a new national holiday to mark ‘truth and reconciliation’ would not offer a modest financial recognition to those (very few) employees who use their indigenous language at work in service to Canadians,” the brief said.

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NDP leader Jagmeet Singh at protest in Ottawa

Canada’s New Democratic Party leader, Jagmeet Singh, joins picketers after more than 155,000 public sector union workers with the Public Service Alliance of Canada began a strike, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, on April 19, 2023. (Reuters / Blair Gable)

Other proposals included an extra $2.50 per hour for every employee who works after 4 p.m., a “Social Justice Fund” to which the government would contribute one cent per worker for every hour worked, an extra $2,000 raise for Veterans Affairs case managers and an extra $7,000 for parole officers.

“We truly hoped we wouldn’t be forced to take strike action, but we’ve exhausted every other avenue to reach a fair contract for Canada’s federal public service workers,” PSAC President Chris Aylward said, according to Reuters.

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“We will remain on strike until the government addresses our key issues at the bargaining table,” Aylward said.

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