About 155,000 federal workers in Canada walked off the job on Wednesday after failing to reach a deal for higher wages and work-from-home guarantees, a strike that affects a range of public services from tax returns to passport renewals.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) union said contract negotiations would continue, and Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stressed the urgency of resolving the dispute.
“Let’s make sure that while this is going on, we are at the negotiating table,” Trudeau told reporters. “I know that Canadians will not be terribly patient if it continues too long.”
Striking workers picketed and waved union flags in front of Trudeau’s office in Ottawa, one of 250 picket lines across the country.
Crystal Patterson, 32, who works for the transport ministry office that organizes state flights for the prime minister and others, said her main issue is getting a contract that covers recent cost of living increases.
“The union is doing right by us by trying to get us a fair contract,” she said. “I will be picketing as long as PSAC has us picket.”
The union, which has been in collective bargaining for a new contract since 2021, had set a deadline of 9 p.m. ET (0100 GMT) on Wednesday for a deal. PSAC says it is the largest strike against a single employer in Canada’s history.
“We truly hoped we wouldn’t be forced to take strike action, but we’ve exhausted every other avenue,” PSAC President Chris Aylward said. “We will remain on strike until the government addresses our key issues at the bargaining table.”
The strike will affect several federal services and could delay tax refunds since the filing deadline for most is the end of the month. Passport renewals ahead of peak summer travel are also set to face delays.
The federal government said in a statement that it presented a “fair, competitive offer to the PSAC,” including a 9% wage increase over three years, and that it would continue negotiations to reach an agreement quickly.
The contract negotiations cover two main groups of employees: 120,000 workers under the Treasury Board and more than 35,000 revenue agency workers.
“We’re still at the table negotiating and hopefully we’ll make some progress today. I’m convinced we can,” said Mona Fortier, president of the Treasury Board.
Tax agency workers want a pay bump of 22.5% over three years, while the Treasury Board workers are seeking a 13.5% pay rise over three years. Inflation peaked at 8.1% last year but has since come down to about half of that.
The strike also involves about 65% of employees at the Canadian Grain Commission, including most inspectors of outbound grain at ports, which is “significantly impacted” by the strike, the commission said. Canada is a major wheat and canola exporter.