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Federal public servant strike called; worry over services mounts


The largest public service strike in Canadian history is underway.

More than 150,000 federal public service workers went on strike Tuesday evening.

Among that number are 35,000 workers from the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA).

No picket line went up at the Harry Hays federal building in downtown Calgary on Tuesday night but those on strike are expected to be there by 8 a.m. Wednesday.

According to a Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) website, pickets are also planned at the Southland Park business centre in the southwest, Drumheller Institution, Bowden Institution, Service Canada Centres in Lethbridge and Medicine Hat, the Lethbridge Research Centre and the Niblock National Park Gate near Lake Louise.

Talks with the government failed to produce an agreement before the union's deadline.

PSAC says it will remain at the table but the strike will continue until key issues are addressed.

Wages are a key issue but far from the only sticking point.

The union is seeking 4.5 per cent increases per year in a three-year contract.

At last report, the government had offered three per cent per year over three years.

In addition to pay increases, the union also wants greater limits on contract work and provisions for remote work written into the collective agreement.

The Treasury Board has said it is clear from the union's position that enshrining remote work in the collective agreement is a "deal-breaker."

PSAC workers process all manner of federal services from taxes to passport applications.

Some of those workers will be deemed essential and remain on the job, but disruptions and delays in accessing services seem inevitable.

The CRA says benefit payments will be prioritized, and child tax benefits will continue, but debt-management experts worry even delays in those payments could have serious consequences for many lower-income Canadians.

"Take, for example, a single-parent family with two children, working hard at minimum wage to make sure everything's afloat. The child tax benefit can actually be 50 per cent of their income. Even a minor delay could have very significant effects on their ability to continue to take food and put it on the table and keep a roof over their head," said Jasmine Marra of the debt-management firm Bromwich and Smith.

"For this segment of the population, it's likely they won't be able to even access borrowing at best terms and rates, so they're looking at sub-prime lenders. The snowball effect of trying to get through even a minor delay could be very significant."

The Canada Pension Plan (CPP) and Old Age Security (OAS) are deemed essential services and will be maintained but processing delays and longer wait times should be expected.

That, coupled with CRA delays, has many seniors worried.

Unison at the Kerby Centre in Calgary has been fielding more than 200 calls a day from worried seniors since word of the potential strike was made public last week.

"They are panicking, (asking), 'What would happen to my benefits? What would happen (if) I want to apply for my EI?' And people who are turning 65? They are worried about the processing times for their applications for pension, CPP, OAS. These are very real concerns for people," said Vineeta Kapoor, manager of senior supports with Unison.

"It's a big deal. It's going to really affect people, even housing providers. The majority of low-income seniors opt for subsidized housing where the rent is geared to income and they need the notice of assessment (from the CRA) for that. Even people who cannot afford to buy a regular transit pass, they need the notice of assessment."

Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada advised to expect delays for most services, including processing applications, and in-person appointments.

According to Calgary's Centre for Newcomers, this could have devastating effects on new Canadians, and especially refugees.

"If there's a delay in your work permit, or if there's a delay in the approval of a hearing process and you're unable to work and sustain yourself, then that really puts a person at risk for things like homelessness, and for things like defaults on your rental payments," said Kelly Ernst, chief program manager at the Centre for Newcomers.

"People want to sustain themselves. They want to support themselves. They don't want to rely necessarily on the government. But to access the labour market, you need a work permit, and you need to be able to show that you're a convention refugee or permanent resident. If you can't show those things, you're not going to be able to work here and sustain yourself."

Other impacted services include:

  • Global Affairs Canada says it will maintain essential services but missions abroad and documentation like import and export permits may be affected;
  • Passport delivery will be limited to people experiencing humanitarian or emergency situations;
  • Employment and Social Development Canada also warns there will be delays in processing Temporary Foreign Worker programs, as well as the Canada Disability Savings Grant and the Canada Disability Savings Bond;
  • Transport Canada says it will maintain essential services but regulatory work, issuing of licences and transportation security clearance could be partly, perhaps completely, shuttered during the strike;
  • RCMP will continue policing, but some services, like media relations, and public access to police stations may be affected; and
  • Veteran’s Affairs Canada says disability payments and income replacement will continue but expects it will take longer to process new requests and says the queue will be prioritized on an as-needed basis. Top Stories

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