News / Ottawa

Public service unions return to bargaining table demanding respect

Collective bargaining talks between Treasury Board and public service unions resumes this week, with union officials decrying a lack of respect on the part of the federal government.

Metro spoke with members of four different bargaining units with the Public Service Alliance of Canada, the largest union representing federal government workers, as the two sides return to the table this week.

Union negotiators postponed the last round of talks in May after the government tabled its omnibus budget bill (C-59) which would allow it to legislate a new sick leave regime. They argue it violates their collective bargaining rights.

As they return to negotiations in Ottawa this week, their common demand is for meaningful, fair collective bargaining – something they say has been undermined by Bill C-59.

"As public servants, we're asked to uphold charter rights for anyone that we come in contact with, but at the same time our charter rights are being attacked," said Lauren Baert, whose bargaining unit represents Canadian Border Services Agency employees.

Nathalie Paulin, part of the Program and Administrative Services bargaining unit, said she feels the government is trying to predetermine the outcome of negotiations.

"If you have a preconceived idea about how you want bargaining to go, how does it show respect?" she said. "During National Public Service Week, the least they could do is come back to the table with the openness and willingness to negotiate in good faith, as a show of respect for the workers they say that they value."

In a statement, Treasury Board President Tony Clement said he's always said he's committed to having "good-faith and meaningful negotiations" on the sick leave system and short-term disability design.

"I have been negotiating for solution that is fair to the employer, the employee, and the taxpayer," he said. He added that "the health and well-being of the federal public service is of great importance to me, and I want to reach a fair and reasonable outcome that would provide federal public employees the safety net needed to get healthy and back to work."

Clement also said he would like to see a negotiated agreement as soon as possible.

But Blair Winger, whose bargaining unit represents employees responsible for the operation of federal buildings and services, including firefighters and tradesworkers, said the union has been clear they're willing to look at improvements to the present sick leave program and he's "hopeful" there will be meaningful talks this round.

Michael Freeman, part of the unit representing educators and librarians, said the government is "challenging the integrity of the whole process.

"We come to the table and ... expect to be sitting across from somebody who’s going to actively seek a resolution fairly, equitably and through discussion," he said. "What they’ve done is they’ve taken a side trip to go get a big bat, and they’re the ones that are wielding it."

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