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CRA workers want ‘unprecedented’ pay raise of more than 30% over 3 years

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The union representing Canada Revenue Agency workers is proposing a series of pay bumps worth more than 30 per cent of current wages to keep up with inflation — a move described by observers as both “unprecedented” and “crazy.”

The Union of Taxation Employees (UTE) is proposing the following wage increases, on top of a one-time nine per cent wage adjustment:

  • 4.5 per cent effective Nov. 1, 2021.
  • 8 per cent effective Nov. 1, 2022.
  • 8 per cent effective Nov. 1, 2023.

When compounded over three years, the four proposed hikes would result in a “historic” wage increase for the largest workforce within the federal public service, at nearly 55,000 employees in 2022, said union president Marc Brière.

About 35,000 of those employees are represented by UTE.

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Brière said the proposal aims to address an imbalance between CRA employees represented by UTE and the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA), which has approximately 14,000 employees.

I’ve never heard of demands anywhere close to this.– Jock Climie, Labour lawyer

The two agencies used to function as one between 1999 and 2003 where employees were paid the same rate. Once they became independent of each other, it created a wage gap of nine per cent because CBSA uses the Excise Act.

“They used to sit side-by-side in the early 2000s. They were the same group and occupation, the same classification, and then making the same amount of money,” Brière said.

As of 2021, wages at the CRA have ranged between $41,658 and $121,923, compared to the CBSA which range from $64,849 and $135,509.

This graph shows how wages compare for similar administrative positions within the two agencies.

The proposal comes at a time when Canada’s Taxpayers’ Ombudsperson is dealing with a historic amount of public complaints about the CRA over delays in people receiving benefits, tax returns and access to CRA accounts.

However, it appears CRA employees’ wages may also lag behind other federal agencies deemed outside the government’s core public administration.

Direct comparisons are difficult to pinpoint due to differences in roles and salary designations. This chart does show what a mid-level CRA employee makes after three years, compared to administrative counterparts in the next three largest federal agencies.

The discrepancy doesn’t add up with the work CRA employees have been asked to do, said Brière, especially in recent years because of the pandemic.

“We have people that are specialized. The Income Tax Act is complex and they are doing great work. They have proven it during the pandemic, not only administering the income tax programs but even the emergency programs, which is not in our portfolio,” he said.

It’s a big ask at the centre of tense negotiations between the union and CRA management, which have both failed to reach a collective agreement.

UTE announced nationwide strike votes earlier this month that will take place from Jan. 31 to Apr. 7.

The CRA has filed a complaint against the Public Service Alliance of Canada—Union of Taxation Employees with the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board, arguing the union has failed to “bargain in good faith” and “make every reasonable effort to enter into a collective agreement.”

 

CRA workers are asking for an “unprecedented” pay raise

10 hours ago

Duration 1:23

The Union of Taxation Employees (UTE) is proposing a series of wage increases, which critics say puts unfair pressure on Canadians.

Living costs justify proposal, says union

Until now the biggest wage increase for CRA employees was 3.2 per cent per year from 2000 to 2003, which amounted to a nearly 10-per-cent bump over three years. Its lowest was one per cent per year in 2014 and 2015.

Brière argues this time is different because of inflation and the high cost of living.

“People are having a hard time out there to make ends meet and so that’s why we’re asking for a new contract with decent wage increases,” he said.

It’s an “unprecedented” request, according to Jock Climie, an Ottawa-based labour lawyer who has negotiated bargaining agreements for unions and federal agencies for more than 20 years.

“I’ve never heard of demands anywhere close to this,” Climie said.

This could be a sign of things to come with increasing inflationary pressures causing unions and employees to become “more aggressive in terms of their demands,” he added.

The head of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation stands on the grass in front of a building.
Franco Terrazzano of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation says the proposed pay increase for CRA workers would ‘gouge’ taxpayers. (Craig Ryan/CBC)

Critics say proposal is ‘crazy’

On the other side of the negotiating table, CRA management says the wage proposal would be costly to taxpayers and the threat of a strike during tax season puts unfair pressure on Canadians.

Some other critics agree.

“Everyone struggled through the pandemic but these government employees did not struggle … in the same way that their neighbours, who will have to pay higher taxes to fund these union negotiators’ demands,” said Franco Terrazzano, the federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, which lobbies for lower taxes.

He said the union is using inflation as “an excuse to gouge Canadian taxpayers that can’t afford these crazy demands.”

The union and the CRA are scheduled to attend Public Interest Commission hearings on Jan. 27 and Feb. 20 with the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations and Employment Board.

The board is expected to put forward recommendations on how the two parties can reach an agreement this spring, but the recommendations are non-binding.

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New job as head baker helps Ukrainian newcomer find familiarity in Winnipeg – CBC.ca

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Life in Canada is off to a sweet start for a Ukrainian baker who has found a new home for her creations in Winnipeg.

Hanna Tokar, who has only been in Canada for just over a month, is now the head baker at the Winnipeg location of the Butter Tart Lady.

Michelle Wierda, the owner of the bakery, offered her a job after seeing a Facebook post Tokar made where she shared her struggles finding employment in Winnipeg.

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“I saw her pictures and I thought, ‘I have to interview her,'” Wierda told host Marcy Markusa in a Tuesday interview with CBC’s Information Radio.

“I saw her attention to detail. Her work is just spectacular. It looked very delicious.”

Before coming to Canada, Tokar owned a bakery she operated by herself in her hometown of Kherson, a port city in southern Ukraine.

She was forced to permanently close its doors when she came to Canada, fleeing Kherson after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

A woman with her dark hair pulled away from her face rolls dough on a crowded wooden surface.
Tokar says she was surprised to get the offer to work in the Winnipeg bakery. ‘It was actually my dream to have that job here,’ she says. ‘So it was amazing for me.’ (Gary Solilak/CBC)

Tokar said she was shocked to get the offer to work at the Winnipeg bakery.

“I didn’t expect [to] … have an offer to work in a bakery, because it was actually my dream to have that job here. So it was amazing for me,” she told Information Radio.

Missing home

Feb. 24 will mark the one-year anniversary of the war in Ukraine.

Since then, more than 800,000 Ukrainian nationals and their family members have applied for special temporary resident visas to come to Canada, according to Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada. The ministry said as of late December, more than 132,000 Ukrainian nationals had entered Canada since the start of 2022.

While Tokar’s parents are safe elsewhere in Europe, she says she prays for her grandparents who stayed in Kherson, which has experienced heavy damage due to shelling. 

“I actually miss Ukraine. I actually miss my friends and my life — my previous life,” Tokar said.

“I really want  them to really be proud of me, so that’s why when I have a job I called them and my grandparents really cried.”

As she settles into her new role as head baker at the Butter Tart Lady’s Winnipeg location, the return to what has been a lifelong passion provides Tokar with familiarity in a new place. 

Woman with long curly blonde hair smiles in front of an array of baked goods.
The Butter Tart Lady owner Michelle Wierda says she instantly knew when she saw Ukrainian newcomer Tokar’s work on Facebook that she wanted the young baker to come in for an interview. (Submitted by Michelle Wierda)

Although she is still new to the position, Tokar is already infusing the menu with traditional Ukrainian treats, something Wierda is excited about. 

Of these treats is pampushky, a Ukrainian garlic bread that is traditionally served with borscht, Tokar explained.

On the two days she made pampushky, it sold out immediately, said Wierda.

As they look toward to the future, the two women are excited for their partnership.

“I love to be so creative and imaginative, and that’s what I’ve seen in Hanna, is that she’s very determined,” Wierda said. “She has a strong ambition to excellence and she’s always researching, looking for new ideas, new things.”

For Tokar, this experience provides hope for what life in Canada can be. 

“You know, I never expect that, like, some foreign people can support me like that,” she said.

“And I really like appreciate the kindness of people.”

Information Radio – MB6:15Baker from Ukraine is frosting cupcakes while connecting with a new community in Winnipeg

Marcy Markusa speaks with local bakery owner Michelle Wierda, a.k.a. “The Butter Tart Lady,” and her new head baker, Hanna Tokar, who is settling in Winnipeg after leaving Ukraine.

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Canadian team discovers power-draining flaw in most laptop and phone batteries – CBC.ca

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The phone, tablet or laptop you’re reading this on is likely having its battery slowly drained because of a surprising and widespread manufacturing flaw, according to researchers in Halifax.

“This is something that is totally unexpected and something that probably no one thought of,” said Michael Metzger, an assistant professor at Dalhousie University. 

The problem? Tiny pieces of tape that hold the battery components together are made from the wrong type of plastic.

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Batteries release power because of a chemical reaction. Inside each battery cell, there are two types of metal. One acts as a positive electrode and one as a negative electrode. 

These electrodes are held in an electrolyte fluid or paste that is often a form of lithium. 

When you connect cables to each end of the battery, electrons flow through the cables — providing power to light bulbs, laptops, or whatever else is on the circuit — and return to the battery. 

Trouble starts if those electrons don’t follow the cables.

When electrons move from one charged side of the battery to the other through the electrolyte fluid, it’s called self-discharge. The battery is being depleted internally without sending out electrical current.

This is the reason why devices that are fully charged can slowly lose their charge while they’re turned off.

“These days, batteries are very good,” Metzger said. “But, like with any product, you want it perfected. And you want to eliminate even small rates of self-discharge.”

Stress-testing batteries

In the search for the perfect battery, researchers have to watch how each one performs over its full lifespan.

“We do a lot of our tests at elevated temperatures these days. We want to be able to do testing in reasonable time frames,” Metzger said. Heat makes a battery degrade more quickly, he explained.

Different number readings are seen on a battery testing device that's a black box with six dials.
Some of the testing equipment used to regulate the temperature of each experiment. The coloured numbers indicate the temperature of each heated compartment in which battery cells are being tested. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

At Dalhousie University’s battery lab, dozens of experimental battery cells are being charged and discharged again and again, in environments as hot as 85 C. 

For comparison, eggs fry at around 70 C. 

If researchers can learn why a battery eventually fails, they can tweak the positive electrode, negative electrode, or electrolyte fluid.

Seeing red

During one of these tests, the clear electrolyte fluid turned bright red. The team was puzzled.

It isn’t supposed to do that, according to Metzger. “A battery’s a closed system,” he said.

Something new had been created inside the battery.

They did a chemical analysis of the red substance and found it was dimethyl terephthalate (DMT). It’s a substance that shuttles electrons within the battery, rather than having them flow outside through cables and generate electricity. 

Shuttling electrons internally depletes the battery’s charge, even if it isn’t connected to a circuit or electrical device.

But if a battery is sealed by the manufacturer, where did the DMT come from?

Through the chemical analysis, the team realized that DMT has a similar structure to another molecule: polyethylene terephthalate (PET). 

PET is a type of plastic used in household items like water bottles, food containers and synthetic carpets. But what was plastic doing inside the battery? 

Tale of the tape 

Piece by piece, the team analyzed the battery components. They realized that the thin strips of metal and insulation coiled tightly inside the casing were held together with tape.

Those small segments of tape were made of PET — the type of plastic that had been causing the electrolyte fluid to turn red, and self-discharge the battery. 

A piece of metallic tape sits on a wooden table.
One of the metallic sheets removed from a coil inside a cylindrical battery. Each layer of the coil is held in place by plastic tape, shown here as the greenish strips. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

“A lot of companies use PET tape,” said Metzger. “That’s why it was a quite important discovery, this realization that this tape is actually not inert.”

Tech industry takes notice

Metzger and the team began sharing their discovery publicly in November 2022, in publications and at seminars.

Some of the world’s largest computer-hardware companies and electric-vehicle manufacturers were very interested.

“A lot of the companies made clear that this is very relevant to them,” Metzger said. “They want to make changes to these components in their battery cells because, of course, they want to avoid self-discharge.”

The team even proposed a solution to the problem: use a slightly more expensive, but also more stable, plastic compound.

A man in a plaid shirt walks through a room full of battery technology.
Metzger walks through one of the battery-testing laboratories at Dalhousie University. (Brett Ruskin/CBC)

One option is polypropylene, which is typically used to make more durable plastic items like outdoor furniture or reusable water bottles. 

“We realized that it [polypropylene] doesn’t easily decompose like PET, and doesn’t form these unwanted molecules,” Metzger said. “So currently, we have very encouraging results that the self-discharges are truly eliminated by moving away from this PET tape.”

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U.S. escalates trade concerns over Canada's online news and streaming bills – The Globe and Mail

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U.S. President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrive for a joint news conference at the conclusion of the North American Leaders’ Summit in Mexico City, Mexico on Jan. 10.KEVIN LAMARQUE/Reuters

Washington has escalated its concerns about the trade implications of Ottawa’s online streaming and online news bills, prompting a legal expert to predict the issue will be raised during President Joe Biden’s planned visit to Canada in March.

Deputy United States trade representative Jayme White stressed “ongoing concerns” about the two Canadian bills at a meeting last week with Rob Stewart, Canada’s deputy minister for international trade.

Senior Democrat and Republican senators on the influential U.S. Senate finance committee also weighed in last week, writing a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai about Canada’s “troubling policies,” which they said target U.S technology companies.

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Both bills are making their way through Canada’s Parliament. Bill C-11 reached a third-reading debate in the Senate on Tuesday.

The U.S. is concerned that the two bills unfairly single out American firms, including Google, Facebook and Netflix.

Bill C-11 would update Canada’s broadcast laws, giving the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) the power to regulate streaming platforms such as Netflix, YouTube, Amazon Prime and Spotify.

The streaming platforms would have to promote Canadian content – including films, TV shows, music and music videos – and fund its creation.

Bill C-18 would force Google and Facebook to strike deals with news organizations, including broadcasters, to compensate them for using their work. The CRTC would have a role in overseeing the process.

Two sources told The Globe and Mail that the CRTC’s lack of experience regulating print media and digital platforms was raised by Ms. Tai and her team in previous talks with Canada’s Trade Minister, Mary Ng. The Globe is not naming the sources because they were not authorized to speak publicly on the issue.

A U.S. readout of Mr. White’s meeting with Mr. Stewart said the American official had “expressed the United States’ ongoing concerns with … pending legislation in the Canadian Parliament that could impact digital streaming services and online news sharing and discriminate against U.S. businesses.”

Shanti Cosentino, a spokeswoman for Ms. Ng, said the Minister “has reiterated to Ambassador Tai that both Bill C-11 and C-18 are in line with our trade obligations and do not discriminate against U.S. businesses.”

Last week, Democrat Ron Wyden, chairman of the U.S. Senate committee on finance, and Republican Michael Crapo, a senior member of the committee, raised concerns in a letter to Ms. Tai that the bills could breach the terms of the United-States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA).

Michael Geist, the University of Ottawa’s Canada Research Chair in internet law, said the intervention from both parties means it is now likely the issue will be on the agenda when Mr. Biden visits Canada.

“To see this raised in a bipartisan manner by two U.S. Senators from the powerful finance committee suggests that the issue is gaining traction in Congress,” he said.

The senators urged Ms. Tai to take enforcement action if Canada fails to meet its trade obligations.

Their letter said the online streaming bill would “mandate preferential treatment for Canadian content and deprive U.S. creatives of the North American market, access they were promised under USMCA.”

It added that Bill C-18 “targets U.S. companies for the benefit of Canadian news producers and raises national treatment concerns under USMCA.”

But Toronto-based trade lawyer and former diplomat Lawrence Herman, founder of Herman and Associates, said the U.S. politicians’ intervention is “a reflection of a well-orchestrated lobbying effort by the major digital platforms.”

He said there is no evidence that either bill discriminates against American companies.

“Canada is well armed to defend any trade complaint,” he said.

On Thursday, as Canada’s Senate debated Bill C-11 at third reading, Senator Dennis Dawson, sponsor of the bill in the Senate, said the legislation has been thoroughly scrutinized and should now be passed.

The Senate was due to begin debating C-18 this week. But that could now be delayed because of an error in the printed text of the bill sent over from the Commons, the Speaker of the Senate said.

The incorrect text included a sub-amendment that had not actually passed in a Commons committee. It will now have to be pulped and reprinted.

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