Public servants wouldn’t be able to strike from home

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“The strength of unionization is in numbers, and you have to have those numbers visible from Day 1.”

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Although many public servants want to work from home, they will not be able to strike from home, the Public Service Alliance of Canada says.

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With almost 160,000 federal employees now in a legal strike position, the country’s largest public-service union is preparing for the country’s first national walkout in two decades even as last-minute contract talks continue.

Old-fashioned picket lines will form an essential part of any PSAC strike, the union says. It means union members will not be able to conduct their job action on Zoom or Microsoft Teams.

“Strikes have always depended on their ground game, so this means physical picket lines across the country,” said Michael Aubry, PSAC’s assistant director of communications. “Everyone has to show up to a picket line to be considered as striking. There will be no virtual picketing from home.”

The union’s constitution stipulates that members must spend four hours a day on the picket line to be eligible for strike pay. It says benefits will be reduced for every day a member is “absent without cause.”

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If federal public servants go on strike, Aubry said, picket lines will be set up at key locations throughout the National Capital Region.

Striking public servants, he said, will be able to join the picket line closest to their home and will not be required to picket outside their regular workplace.

Aubry said a national public service strike required a show of force on picket lines across the country.

“What strikes really are is a pressure tactic. It’s putting pressure on the government, it’s showing the public there’s solidarity, and so that’s only really possible and effective when it’s visible, when it’s in front of cameras, when it’s front of government offices, MPs’ offices, on Parliament Hill,” he said.

“The strength of unionization is in numbers, and you have to have those numbers visible from Day 1.”

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Aubry said public servants in the National Capital Region would be eligible for $375 a week in strike pay. The money will be delivered to bank accounts by e-transfer for those who have provided PSAC with their email addresses, while cheques will be distributed to those picketers who have not signed up for online banking.

Even those public servants who have been approved for full-time telework will be expected to join their nearest picket line.

“In order to be considered on strike, you have to show up physically to a picket line, and we’ll have picket lines set up right across the country,” said Chris Aylward, PSAC’s national president. “There will be no virtual picket lines.”

PSAC wants to negotiate the right to telework with the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat. It has argued that the location where government employees perform their jobs should be a matter for negotiation after pandemic-enforced telework, but Treasury Board President Mona Fortier has insisted it’s a management right to decide where employees work.

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The government has refused to bargain on the issue.

A PSAC survey of its members last year found 80 per cent of its members opposed the government’s hybrid work plan, which now requires public servants to be in the office at least two days a week.

A workforce survey of almost 14,000 public servants conducted last year found 73 per cent of public servants said they would rather work from home, up from 23 per cent in March 2020.

  1. File photo/ Service Canada centre in downtown Ottawa.

    Federal government releases list of programs and services that could be affected by public-service strikes

  2. PSAC held a rally for families with younger children who will be impacted by return-to-office orders for public servants as they search for childcare, March 31, 2023.

    What happens if 155,000 federal public service workers go on strike?

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