Federal ag programs, services, grain export inspections could be affected by possible strike


Update, as of April 17: The Public Service Alliance of Canada announced a strike deadline on Monday morning. The union says more than 155,000 PSAC members, which includes staff with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Canadian Grain Commission, will begin strike action on Wednesday, April 19 if a deal cannot be reached by 9 p.m. ET Tuesday, April 18.

“We’ve made some progress at each of our four bargaining tables over the past two weeks, but we’re still too far apart on several key issues, including wages that keep up with the cost of living, job security and remote work language,” said Chris Aylward, PSAC National President.

PSAC is seeking a 13.5 per cent raise over three years, as well as other demands, including making some of the work-from-home measures introduced in 2020 permanent.

The union started setting up portable washrooms and trailers around Parliament Hill on Monday.

Negotiations are ongoing, but over 155 thousand federal government employees that are members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) are in a legal strike position as of April 14 after voting in favour of strike mandates.

According to the union, a strike by its members who work for the federal government would be the largest against any single employer in Canadian history.

The odds of a strike actually happening are unclear, as talks are ongoing, but a labour disruption could affect delivery of certain federal agriculture programs, including AgriInvest, AgriStability, the Poultry and Egg On-Farm Investment Program, Youth Employment and Skills Program, and programs under the new Sustainable Canadian Agricultural Partnership, says Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

The Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) and Canadian Dairy Commission (CDC) also employ PSAC members.

Grain companies are waiting to see what the possible impacts could be, as approximately 65 per cent of CGC employees, including staff who look after outward inspection on grain shipments, export certification, statistics, and producer payment security, are in a legal strike position.

“We are currently working with licensed grain companies on contingency plans to ensure that critical grain exports can continue,” a CGC spokesperson tells RealAgriculture.

In some cases, it’s also not clear which federal services and programs would be affected as they are handled by staff in different collective bargaining units. PSAC members who work for the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) are not in a strike position.

A strike could begin anytime before early June 2023, as the federal legislation that applies to this collective bargaining provides a 60-day window to strike after a vote.

“The cost of living has hit highs we haven’t seen in 40 years, and people are struggling. Every day, we see that our dollar doesn’t go as far at the grocery store or at the gas pump,” said Chris Aylward, PSAC national president, on Wednesday. “Today, PSAC members are sending a clear message that they won’t be taken for granted, they won’t fall further behind, and they’re ready to fight for better.”

The union has also signaled a strike may not involve a mass walk-out by its members.

“While the common perception of a strike is everyone off the job and out on a picket line, there are other types of strikes. A strike could start with employees working to rule. They follow to the letter their job description and all the rules and regulations that are part of their work. Or there could be selected, targeted or rotating strikes as part of a strategy to escalate the impact on the employer…” says PSAC, in a Frequently Asked Question post on its website.

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