OTTAWA — Canadians faced a variety of delays and disruptions on Wednesday after the largest union representing federal government workers went on strike over a variety of contract issues, including wages and remote work.
The 155,000 members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada who were forming pickets at about 250 locations across Canada on Wednesday work largely in administrative, clerical and maintenance jobs.
Their absence was expected to create backlogs at border crossings with the United States, slow cargo entering Canada and cause delays in the issuing of visas and the handling unemployment insurance, as well as mire the processing of passport applications and pension payments.
The walkout was also expected to disrupt the processing of income tax returns due May 1 and hinder the issuing of refund checks.
The pandemic had already put many of those services under strain, particularly the issuing of passports.
“We are still a ways apart,” Chris Aylward, the union’s president told reporters on Tuesday evening. “But we’re staying at the table because we’re still hopeful and our goal is still to get to a tentative agreement.”
Some workers have complained that their wages have not kept up with an increase in prices.
The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, the government department conducting the talks, said “the government has done everything it can to reach a deal and avoid disrupting the services that Canadians rely on.”
The board, in a statement, added that the union “continues to insist on demands that are unaffordable and would severely impact the Government’s ability to deliver services to Canadians.”
The government is currently offering a cumulative wage increase of 9 percent which would be spread over three years. For most of its members, the union is looking for raises that would total 13.5 percent over the same period.
One of the most contentious issues in the talks is the future of remote work. Public servants had been working remotely since start of the pandemic in 2020, but starting March 31 they have been required to be in their offices or other workplaces two to three days a week.
The union wants all of its members to have the option of permanently working from home.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Wednesday declined to discuss specifics of the dispute, saying that he would not negotiate in public.
“We’ll see exactly what happens when we get back to the bargaining table,” he told reporters. “I know that Canadians will not be too patient if it goes on too long.”
Mr. Trudeau can order the union back to work through legislation, but may not have the support in Parliament to pass such a motion. The leader of one of the parties that Mr. Trudeau’s Liberal government usually allies with to pass laws has already rejected supporting any legislation to end the strike.
The walkout in Canada follows a wave of public sector labor unrest in Britain this year that was also fueled by inflation’s effects on wages and by general discontent over employment conditions.