Federal bargaining is broken. It’s time to fix it.

PSAC members who work for the federal government often ask us why it takes so long to negotiate each collective agreement. In other jurisdictions, it takes months, not years, to reach a deal. They ask why they can’t strike when bargaining breaks down but must wait months to apply that pressure. When grievances go to adjudication, why does it take so long to be heard and to get decisions? 

These are good questions — and members are right to ask.  

The answers to these questions — but not the solutions — lie in the Federal Public Service Labour Relations Act (the Act) and other laws like the Public Service Employment Act (PSEA) and the Parliamentary Employment and Staff Relations Act (PESRA).  

These laws govern the rules around collective bargaining, the ways that public sector and parliamentary workers are hired, and how grievances are handled. They also complicate the process and make it harder for workers to seek justice. Workers elsewhere have fairer, quicker, and more effective options.  

That’s why PSAC is committed to changing these outdated laws with more worker-friendly legislation. 

How does it impact bargaining? 

Put simply, these laws prevent unions from settling bargaining quickly and effectively.  

When bargaining breaks down, unions must make their case to a Public Interest Commission (PIC) before members can pressure the employer with potential strike action. The PIC process can take months, and since the PIC’s recommendations are non-binding, they rarely bring the two sides closer to reaching a deal.  

The employer also uses these laws to undermine important discussions at the table — issues like recall rights and Work Force Adjustment, staffing levels, or classification that can have negative impacts.  

Negotiations still need to continue after the PIC process — or unions need to continue escalating their job actions — before a settlement is ever reached.  

What about grievances? 

Under the Harper government, several federal tribunals, including the Federal Public Service Labour Relations Board, were combined, without extra resources. This has slowed down their work to a crawl. The current Liberal government has not fixed this, leaving workers in the lurch.  

Even worse, there are, by law, only 12 adjudicators in the entire federal system — only 12 people to handle all grievances filed by hundreds of thousands of employees. This system needs change. PSAC will fight to overhaul the way grievances are handled. In other jurisdictions for example, the union and the employer can agree on a choice of arbitrator or ask the labour board to appoint one from a list of independent arbitrators. This helps speed up the process and gives more options to resolve grievances. 

Workers with human right complaints can turn to the Canadian Human Rights Commission, but only once their grievance is finished — sometimes more than five years later. This is unacceptable, and disproportionately impacts workers who are already marginalized and oppressed.  

The path ahead 

Working towards legislative change won’t be easy. We will need your support in the months and years ahead to influence decision-makers and put pressure on the government to build a fairer process that puts workers first.  

April 28, 2022