Hundreds of federal public service strikers gathered in downtown Montreal on Wednesday to demand good faith negotiations with their employer. This is the first walkout of this magnitude in over 30 years.

Canadian federal employees carried out their threat of a general strike on Wednesday morning, after negotiations with their employer failed again on Tuesday evening.

In Montreal, hundreds of employees gathered on René-Lévesque Boulevard West, across from the offices of the Canada Revenue Agency and Transport Canada. With upbeat music playing in the background, shouting to the sounds of motorists honking, these strikers are ready to stay.

Remember that the Canadian public service collective agreement expired in 2021.

Pickets were also organized at five separate locations in Montreal and Longueuil.

“The public service is entitled to decent wages, as much as people in the private sector,” said Audrey Parenteau, who has worked in administration at Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada for a year and a half. “We are just as affected by inflation,” she adds. Both parties must negotiate in good faith.”

At the forefront of union demands: an inflation-competitive salary increase and the issue of compulsory work in person.

“We have 6,500 members in Quebec, and about 2,000 of them have been hired by telecommuting. There, they are asked to come back to the office, which is not necessarily close to their home, ”explains Judith Côté, national vice-president for Quebec of the Syndicat de l’Emploi et de l’Immigration du Canada (CEIU).

The return to the office of federal civil servants, two or three days a week, was announced by the Treasury Board last December. This measure has been denounced by the unions, in particular the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada. This indicated in February that 1,100 members had made requests to their union because of problems with returning to the office, whether in access to daycare or problems with computer equipment.

“We have archaic tools and an archaic computer network, denounces Ms. Côté. And often, we learn about procedural changes in the media. »

“[Our employer] is not evaluating the impact of these procedural changes,” added Annik Beamish, another CEIU Quebec national vice-president. “They changed the ways of working, of making files, without any support or follow-up. People have been hampered during the pandemic, worked overtime. There they are exhausted. This is the current climate, and our employer refuses to recognize it. »

Another point of contention between the Treasury Board and the union members: wage increases. The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) is asking for a salary increase of 13.5% over three years, or 4.5% annually. This increase would cover the years 2021, 2022 and 2023.

“It’s even less than inflation,” said Ms. Côté, who cannot explain the most recent offer from the Treasury Board, which is rather 9% over three years.

This proposal angers a Heritage Canada employee met on site, who preferred to keep his name silent. He is particularly frustrated with the automatic salary increases granted to federal MPs on April 1, which go hand in hand with inflation and private industry.

What bothers Fiona, an employee of Shared Services Canada, the most is this expectation from her employer that she continue to adapt and work despite everything. “Without any salary increase, despite inflation, despite all the adaptations, despite the pandemic, she lists. I am here to fight for my rights. »

“It is high time that our employer heard us on our demands,” said Judith Côté.