Members of the public service’s largest union representing more than 120,000 federal workers voted to authorize the strike.
The Canadian Public Service Federation can now strike at any time within the next 60 days, and national president Chris Aylward said workers were preparing to strike as early as Wednesday.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Wednesday the government believes in collective bargaining and is watching closely to ensure vital services can still be delivered.
Trudeau acknowledged that some federal workers are being hurt.
“We know they are challenged, as are many, by the rising cost of living, we’re seeing inflation start to come down, and those conversations will continue to be on the table,” he said.
At a news conference Wednesday morning, Aylward said bargaining for a fair wage was a priority and that members were ready to strike, whenever needed.
“Most of our members are women and earn between $40,000 and $65,000 a year — not the kind of pay that can afford to cut back,” he said.
“Wages for our members have been at neutral levels, while the cost of living has continued to soar.”
Some 35,000 federal civil servants within the union are considered essential workers. If the union decides to strike, it could take a staggered approach, keeping some workers on the job throughout.
Still, some reacted to Wednesday’s news with concerns about delivering an already backlog of government services, including processing immigration and employment insurance applications.
“Our goal is no strike. Our goal is a tentative deal,” Aylward said.
The coalition called a strike vote in January after talks with the federal government stalled, and members must vote by Tuesday.
In addition to wages, the union also wants to discuss terminating contract workers and implementing more anti-racism training for all federal workers and managers, said Sharon DeSouza, the union’s national executive vice president.
The controversial issue of remote work is also on the list, with unions saying members have proven remote work can be as productive as in-person work.
“Now is the time to look to the future by enshrining remote work and the right to disconnect in our collective agreements,” DeSousa said.
Still, the union said it would not compromise on wage demands for mixed workplace transfers.
The two sides began mediating negotiations in early April, and the two sides returned to the negotiating table this week.
But Aylward said the talks were not going well.
The two sides have yet to resolve the wage issue in recent talks, and he said the manner of the conversation will influence the decision to strike.
Finance Canada said in a statement Wednesday that the government is committed to reaching an agreement with the union as quickly as possible.
Its statement said there was a realistic path ahead, including “salary increase proposals consistent with an agreement already reached with a negotiating agent and recently approved for more than 90,000 members of the Canadian Forces.”
In December, Finance Ministry committee chair Mona Fortier approved a new collective agreement with the Canadian Association of Financial Officers that includes an 11 per cent wage increase over four years.
Members of the Canadian Armed Forces signed a new four-year deal last month with a compound wage increase of 10.4 per cent.
Negotiations between the government and the Canadian Public Service Federation first began in June 2021, with the union declaring a deadlock in May 2022. Both parties have since filed labor complaints.
The announcement of the vote comes after Canada Revenue Agency workers voted on Friday in favor of their own strike authorization.
—Cindy Tran, Canadian Press
federal political labor party