News / Ottawa

Talks between new Liberal government, largest PS union off to rocky start

“We thought it was a new beginning, but it certainly didn’t feel that way," PSAC national president says

President of the Treasury Board Scott Brison responds to a question in the House of Commons last week.

The Canadian Press

President of the Treasury Board Scott Brison responds to a question in the House of Commons last week.

Talks between the new Liberal government and the largest federal public service union appear to be off to a rocky start.

Treasury Board negotiators met with union bargaining teams this week for the first time since the Liberals took power.

Negotiations between the unions and the previous Conservative government had soured over the hot-button issue of public servants’ sick leave benefits.

While the Liberals have promised a new approach and renewed relationship with the public service, the head of the Public Service Alliance of Canada says the new government tabled a sick leave proposal very similar to the Conservative offer; one that would scrap sick leave benefits and replace it with a short-term disability program.

“We thought it was a new beginning, but it certainly didn’t feel that way,” PSAC national president Robyn Benson said in an interview. “There was little indication of any change. It’s disappointing.”

Benson said the new proposal featured some improvements to the Conservatives’ final offer, which offered six days of sick leave per year with no rollover from year-to-year (public servants currently earn 15 days of paid leave).

But she said the proposed plan would leave public servants worse off and takes away existing rights.

“They still are talking about having this outside of the collective agreement, which of course we will never agree to,” she said.

She said PSAC is open to improvements of the current sick leave system, but won’t agree to any proposal that would force public servants to “choose between going to work sick and getting a full paycheque.”

Benson said PSAC intends to respond to the government’s proposal. The next bargaining dates are set for the beginning of March.

The Liberals took another step Friday toward undoing Conservative legislation that some deemed anti-union.

The government introduced legislation to repeal the part of Bill C-59, the Conservative government’s last budget bill, that would allow the government to bypass the collective bargaining process and unilaterally impose a new sick leave deal on the public service.

“We will bargain in good faith with the unions and look for opportunities to modernize the disability and sick leave management system,” Treasury Board President Scott Brison said in a statement announcing the legislation. “We will work with them to reach agreements that are fair and reasonable for employees and Canadians."

Benson applauded that move. However, she also called on the government to repeal previous Conservative laws passed in Bill C-4 that affect arbitration and strike rights, among other matters.

A union-led court challenge of those provisions is still underway, with the next hearing slated for June.

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