Union, government continue negotiations as both sides face pressure to get to a deal
An ongoing strike of thousands of public servants is causing service disruptions across the country as both sides are facing different kinds of pressure to reach a deal.
Thursday marked the second day of job action by members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada, which comes at the height of tax season and is expected to cause slowdowns at the border and pauses to new employment insurance, immigration and passport applications.
In one of the largest strikes in Canada history, government workers walked off the job as of 12:01 a.m. EDT Wednesday, hitting the picket lines at some 250 locations across the country.
“When will this prime minister apologize for his incompetence and end this strike?” Conservative MP Stephanie Kusie, the transport critic, said during question period in the House of Commons.
Conservatives are holding the federal government responsible for service disruptions caused by the strike.
While services deemed essential will continue, some services such as passport applications will be significantly disrupted.
On Thursday, Social Development Minister Karina Gould was asked about potential backlogs the strike may cause.
“The good news is we’re in a much better position this year than we were last year,” Gould said, noting the federal government has more capacity than it did after the pandemic to tackle backlogs.
Few new details regarding negotiations came to light on Thursday as bargaining continued between the union and the federal government.
“We’re back at the bargaining table today, continuing to work hard to get a deal that is fair to employees and reasonable for taxpayers — as quickly as possible,” Treasury Board President Mona Fortier tweeted on Thursday.
The Liberals are trying to avert prolonged service disruptions that could draw the ire of Canadians tired of post-pandemic delays.
Their minority government is also being carried through key votes in the House of Commons by the NDP. That party will refuse to support any back-to-work legislation for striking workers and also secured a promise from the Liberals to introduce anti-scab legislation during lockouts or strikes in federally regulated industries by the end of this year.
With an uncertain economic outlook threatening federal finances, the Liberal government is facing difficult spending decisions.
Its 2023 federal budget made hefty investments in the clean economy, but at the same time, promised a three per cent reduction in spending on the public service by 2026-27.
Finance Minister Chrystia Freeland said Thursday that she thinks the goal is achievable, even with the ongoing labour negotiations.
“It is important for the government to be thoughtful on our spending on ourselves,” Freeland said in a news conference in Pickering, Ont.
On the other end of the dispute, PSAC says it will strike for as long as it takes, but a limited strike fund suggests that may be difficult to do.
According to its most recent available financial statements, the union had about $43 million at the end of 2021.
The union is offering $75-per-day in base strike pay to workers who show up to the picket line.
While that fund could cover days of striking, the math suggests the union would find itself challenged to maintain the strike for a prolonged period of time.
The bargaining groups involve some 155,000 federal public servants, including 35,000 Canada Revenue Agency staffers and about 46,000 essential workers who are not part of the strike action.
The Treasury Board says the majority of full-time federal workers in four bargaining units, which make up 120,000 employees, earn between $50,000 and $75,000. About three per cent earn less than $50,000.
The union is asking for a 13.5 per cent raise over three years, saying the increases are necessary to keep pace with inflation and the cost of living.
The Treasury Board and the CRA both say they have offered the union a nine per cent raise over three years, on the recommendation of the third-party Public Interest Commission.
Hundreds of workers headed to the picket line at Parliament Hill on Thursday morning armed with signs, megaphones and their dogs.
Public servant Paul Jones arrived at the Hill in an inflatable costume that made it look like he was riding a black-and-pink bird.
He said that while the atmosphere seems playful with music blasting and people dancing and talking with other union members, the strike is serious and it is happening out of necessity.
This is not just for fun, he said.
“We want to go back to work,” said Jones.
“We’re suffering and I hope they go back to the table with a genuine offer.”
Jones said that while public servants are making more than minimum wage, they are not making enough to sustain their expenses during a time of high inflation.
PSAC’s national president, Chris Aylward, told reporters Wednesday that members are willing to strike for “as long as it takes.”
“Workers are fed up, workers are frustrated and workers are saying, ‘Enough is enough. We’re not going to take the garbage anymore.”‘
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 20, 2023.
More Canadian companies adopt ‘stay interviews’ amid push to retain staff
When Tara Vanderloo’s employees are mulling leaving her enterprise software company, she wants to be one of the first people they tell – and to hear their unvarnished reasons why.
“I know people get called by recruiters, so I’ve asked the question: ‘who are you talking to or what type of organizations?”’ said the chief experience officer at Sensei Labs in Toronto.
“Have you had any thoughts or are you questioning why you want to be here?”
Vanderloo poses the questions in one-on-one meetings she and other staff periodically have with the company’s workforce of roughly 70.
The discussions, which some companies call “stay interviews,” are designed to collect feedback from employees and are aimed at learning what the company can do to retain valued team members and keep them happy.
Some companies have been hosting such meetings for years, but many more adopted the practice over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic as the health crisis caused workers to rethink their careers or seek more flexibility, advancement or support from their employers.
Sensei Labs adopted engagement interviews in late 2021, when companies saw millions of people worldwide leave their jobs in what economists and businesses branded “The Great Resignation.”
“It was substantial, and it was concerning for us because it’s hard to hire great people and we don’t want to lose them, so the first thing we did is we addressed it head on,” recalled Vanderloo.
A companywide meeting was called to discuss the labour market changes afoot, and team leads _ Sensei Labs doesn’t use the term managers _ followed up one-on-one to learn about employee happiness in more detail.
Despite a softening job market and suggestions that negotiating power has tipped back in favour of employers, Sensei Labs has kept up with the practice and a quarterly happiness survey.
The survey asks workers whether the company lives up to its values and “would you recommend Sensei as a place of employment to others?”
Sensei Labs has a near perfect score for people who would recommend it, but staff still have wants, particularly around flexibility.
That’s part of why Sensei Labs has eschewed formal return-to-office requirements. The company has space staff can use but no rules on how often staff must use it for work.
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It also piloted a four-day work week that has been expanded because the happiness survey and chats with staff have shown it’s a hit.
“Their language was like, ‘this has changed my life,”’ said Vanderloo. “If you have kids, it just makes things easier to get all your chores done or doctors’ appointments or focus on your hobbies or whatever you want to do.”
Sensei won’t green light every ask, Vanderloo cautioned.
“It’s not like the sky is the limit,” she said.
“If it’s not something we can implement, we’re very open about it.”
Chief people and culture officer Michelle Brooks has done “engagement interviews” twice with the 200 staff at Toronto cybersecurity firm Security Compass.
They started the interviews a few years ago because they wanted to build on data they were already collecting by measuring engagement, which they thought would help indicate whether people intend to stick around.
The goal isn’t to prevent everyone from leaving but to ensure the company couldn’t have done something simple to prevent the departure of high performers.
“Some level of turnover is healthy,” said Brooks. “We only want them to stay as long as they want to be here and they’ve having their needs met just like in a relationship… We don’t want to lock people in.”
The interviews Brooks has done so far have yielded valuable insights. For example, she learned that some workers aren’t necessarily seeking a promotion. They just want more responsibilities, opportunities to learn and even the ability to go to a conference.
Jenna Hammond, an Ontario woman working for a Norwegian biotech company, used a stay interview, which her company calls a “touchpoint,” to ask for a better employment arrangement.
Hammond was hired as a sole proprietor on a six-month contract with no benefits. She took the job because it was a way back to working after 15 years raising kids.
“I really needed financial stability and financial independence and being on contract just wasn’t ideal,” she said.
When the chief executive of the company asked her what it would take to get her to stay in a touchpoint, she told him and ended up being made a full-time employee with benefits.
Her company repeats these meetings every quarter and does a more fulsome one each January that can last up to 3.5 hours.
In her last meeting, Hammond asked the company to cover cleaning services for her home, which she said would help with work-life balance. They declined but offered her Fridays off this summer to help her juggle responsibilities.
“The worst thing that they were going to say to me was no, but I found that if I didn’t ask, I wouldn’t receive,” she said.
Jennifer Hargreaves, who runs Tellent, an organization that helps women find flexible work opportunities, believes every company should be having open conversations to hear about employee needs on a regular basis, but warned the process can also be a “double-edged sword” for staff.
“The huge benefit to doing it is obviously you can get what you want” she said.
“But there’s this fear that if I ask them and they say no, they’re going to know I’m unhappy, so then I might get punished for it right down the road.”
She encourages employees asked to complete such interviews to step back and think about they want and what is most important to them before coming up with an ask that is focused, specific and realistic.
But even more important to the process, she said, is employers willing to be transparent with staff and make changes based on what they hear.
“Candidates and employees are getting really tired of a lot of talk with no action,” she said.
“People need to see things backed up. If not, they know how much opportunity is out there.”
Latvians got a surprise day off today. Here’s why
Latvians woke up to go to work on Monday morning, only to find they didn’t have to.
Their parliament had met at midnight to declare a holiday after the national ice hockey team chalked up its best-ever result at the world championship.
Latvia, where hockey is the national sport, was co-hosting the men’s championship with Finland, and the Latvians’ extra-time victory over the U.S. for third place was greeted with wild jubilation. Canada won gold in the tournament and Germany silver.
LV team arrival in Riga🇱🇻 <a href=”https://t.co/I1GTRuTAR4″>pic.twitter.com/I1GTRuTAR4</a>
An airBaltic plane bringing the team home from Finland made a low-altitude fly-past over central Riga on Monday to greet thousands of fans gathered to welcome the squad.
At quarter to midnight on Sunday, sporting red and white national team jerseys, members of parliament convened for a 10-minute session to unanimously declare the holiday.
It was “to strengthen the fact of significant success of Latvian athletes in the social memory of the society,” according to the bill’s sponsors.
The bill was introduced by a smiling member of parliament with her face painted in the colours of the national flag. Another giggled merrily while trying to read out the names of absent parliamentarians, to laughter from many in the hall.
There was an ovation from everyone present after the final vote.
KRISTIANS RUBINS IN OT TO WIN BRONZE FOR LATVIA! <a href=”https://t.co/hdN3QomvvM”>pic.twitter.com/hdN3QomvvM</a>
But as dawn broke after the midnight sitting, there was confusion about who was working and who was not.
Court hearings were cancelled and schools and universities were closed, but national exams for high school students went ahead, with staff paid at holiday rates.
Businesses found themselves in some disarray, the president of the Latvian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Aigars Rostovskis, told public broadcaster LSM: “It will be chaos for many.”
Several hospitals chose to stay open to honour doctor’s appointments.
String of motorcycle deaths in B.C. spurs calls for improved road repairs, safety standards – CBC.ca
Alexis Wiltse’s brother never worried about his sister when she was out on one of her Harley-Davidson motorcycles — he worried about the roads.
Luciano Carnovale says his vibrant, loving sister was a cautious and capable motorcycle driver who took her safety seriously.
“The road conditions, that was my biggest concern always with her,” said Carnovale, a nurse in Kamloops. “Even for me, driving around in my pickup truck gets very bumpy and sketchy as it is.”
Wiltse’s family and motorcyclists are urging caution and calling for better road maintenance after the 38-year-old social worker and two other British Columbia motorcyclists died within three weeks of one another earlier this spring.
On May 6, Wiltse was riding on Shuswap Road near Miner Road on the Tk’emlups reserve, according to RCMP, when her bike hit a “beast of” a pothole. She died of her injuries, while another motorcyclist was hospitalized.
Carnovale says poor conditions on Shuswap Road were well-known by government before Wiltse died. The pothole has been filled since the accident, but road conditions on either side are still poor, he added.
“It’s been a constant nightmare throughout the years and just unmaintained,” said Carnovale. “But it shouldn’t be like that in this day and age.”
The unusually hot weather already this spring has brought an early start to the motorcycle season and its hazards, say ICBC and RCMP.
At least eight motorcyclists have died so far this year, compared to six this time in 2021.
On April 24 of this year, a 27-year-old motorcyclist died after colliding with a tractor trailer in Burnaby, and another in Surrey was killed in a crash with a minivan on May 8.
Surrey has seen six motorcycle fatalities in the last six weeks alone, according to ICBC.
“It’s May, the sun is out, we’ve got a lot more riders on the road, and we really want drivers to be looking twice for motorcycles,” said Karen Klein, ICBC road safety coordinator for Surrey.
“You cannot see motorcycles unless you’re actually looking for them.”
Recent collisions prompted Surrey RCMP and ICBC to team up to offer a free skills course and refresher for motorcyclists on Sunday.
Motorcycles account for about four per cent of ICBC-insured vehicles, but make up about 14 per cent of crash claims, Klein said.
Each year, there are about 2,200 crashes resulting in around 1,500 injuries and 40 deaths, she added.
Klein advised riders to always wear proper protective gear and practice the basics, urging drivers to lookout for motorcycles at every turn.
Death was preventable: brother
Alex Johnson has been a motorcyclist near Kamloops for three years. She says when news of Wiltse’s death broke, her friend called to make sure it hadn’t been her on the bike.
“It’s sad because she was so young and she had a beautiful bike and it’s just sad to see lives lost so young,” said Johnson, 55.
She said the conditions on smaller roads like Shuswap can be brutal, particularly earlier in the season. It’s why she avoids them until later in the season.
“The gravel from the snow spread has not been cleared throughout the winter. Potholes have been created,” said Johnson, who lives in Tappen, about 95 kilometres east of Kamloops.
“You just have to be very aware of that. People aren’t really out fixing roads, you’re taking your life in your own hands.”
Johnson urged other riders to take their time easing back into the season to warm up even the basic skills they probably haven’t used since last year.
She’s also calling for better road maintenance and higher safety standards for motorcyclists before they get their licenses.
Carnovale says sister’s “senseless” death hurts much more because it could have been prevented.
It shouldn’t “be a life or death scenario depending on which road you turn on,” said Carnovale.
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