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Early talks with federal union violate Charter, labour groups say

Treasury Board President Stockwell Day responds during Question Period in the House of Commons on Sept. 21, 2010.

Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Stockwell Day's efforts to strike a quick wage deal with the largest federal public sector union aren't sitting well with the many other labour groups that did not get an invitation.

The President of the Treasury Board surprised many last month when he invited the two largest unions in the federal public service - starting with the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and then the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) - to negotiate a new collective agreement now rather than waiting until next year when the current labour deals expire.

But this process leaves many other unions on the outs, and they fear any deal agreed to by PSAC will be forced on all the others.

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In a letter to Mr. Day signed by PIPSC and 14 other federal public sector unions, the government's plan is described as an abuse of process that violates the charter of rights.

"The employer cannot conceal what is going on here. It is engaging in so-called 'exploratory discussions' to cast the die for an entire public service through cornering and one fell swoop bargaining, while at the same time stalling talks with other bargaining agents whose collective agreements have already expired," the letter states.

"This is a blatant infringement of the fundamental rights of federal public servants and a running roughshod over the collective bargaining process, all of which is contrary to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms."

Labour costs are the second biggest federal expense of the roughly $239-billion spent each year by the federal government. In 2008-2009, transfer payments were the highest expense at $138-billion, followed by personnel at $36-billion and public debt charges at $31-billion.

John Gordon, the president of PSAC, expressed a degree of puzzlement with the letter from other unions, saying he doesn't understand why they are upset.

"As far as we're concerned, we follow our own path," he said.

Mr. Gordon said it is still too early to say whether these exploratory talks will lead anywhere. However he said he made clear from the outset that freezing salaries is a non-starter and the government has continued the discussions.

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"I don't know where it's going to go," he said.

A spokesperson for Mr. Day responded by saying the process is in the early stages and similar talks are planned with all federal unions.

In an interview late last month with the Globe and Mail, Mr. Day said the goal of the talks is to give public servants predictability in terms of the labour situation.

"If we do this in a collaborative way then it helps people to settle down because they know what they can be expecting not just this year, but more or less over the next two to three years, so that's a very positive development," he said. "It hasn't been done before. It's the first time that discussions have started this early. I think it shows goodwill on both sides."

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About the Author
Parliamentary reporter

A member of the Parliamentary Press Gallery since 1999, Bill Curry worked for The Hill Times and the National Post prior to joining The Globe in Feb. 2005. Originally from North Bay, Ont., Bill reports on a wide range of topics on Parliament Hill, with a focus on finance. More

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