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Demands for better pay for Parks Canada workers delayed

The union representing national park employees has declared an impasse over contract negotiations, including pay. The Public Service Alliance says if an agreement with the government can't be reached members will have the right to strike.

BANFF – The union representing national park employees has declared an impasse with the Parks Canada Agency over contract negotiations, including demands for better pay.

Talks between the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and Parks Canada Agency broke down at the bargaining table on July 18, so the parties are headed to a public interest commission in the hope of resolving the dispute.

PSAC officials say that if an agreement with the government can’t be reached after the commission report, members will have the legal right to strike and have the “opportunity to vote in favour or against strike action.”

“There has been no ready indication at the bargaining table that they are ready to discuss any elements of conditions of employment,” said Kevin King, the national president of PSAC’s Union of National Employees.

PSAC’s bargaining team tabled its final proposals that included a competitive pay increase for all Parks members to create parity with the core public service, which includes market adjustments to close wage gaps.

The union also called for pay parity for park wardens and their supervisors in relation to other federal law enforcement positions.

King said park wardens are highly trained law enforcement officers who perform similar duties to that of federally-paid law enforcement, and yet, in some cases, the salaries of park wardens lag up to 17 per cent below their counterparts.

“They have the same protection equipment and enforcement powers as Border Services, but they receive significantly less,” he said.

The union is also looking for improvements to contract language in relation to job security for its members.

He said many employees have what’s called “precarious work,” including those who don’t have permanent seasonal or year-round contracts.

“Parks Canada refuses to recognize that if they’ve been working for three years, they should be deemed permanent like their federal public service counterparts,” he said.

“If there’s an ongoing and recurring need for an individual after they do one contract or two contracts or three contracts, why would they keep them on pins and needles for years and years at a time when they can simply make them indeterminately hired either seasonally or year-round.”

Parks Canada officials did not comment specifically on the content of the negotiations.

Megan Damini, a media relations officer based in Ottawa, said Parks Canada and PSAC have held sessions since negotiations began in January, with the last on July 18.

“As the agency and the alliance were preparing to set bargaining dates for the coming weeks, Parks Canada was informed that the alliance was declaring an impasse in our collective bargaining negotiations,” she wrote in an email statement.

“The agency respects the collective bargaining process and believes that dialogue can continue towards a fair collective agreement that is reasonable for taxpayers and offers employees fair wage adjustments and workplace improvements reflective of today’s work environment.”

Progress also hit a wall on negotiations over Phoenix, the disastrous pay system for federal public service workers.

PSAC president, Chris Aylward, said the current offer on the table, which includes a compensation proposal of five days leave, is far less than what its members deserve.

He said some unions saw fit to accept a few days of leave as universal compensation for four years of emotional and financial suffering, noting their choice was likely made easier by the inclusion of a "me too" clause in the agreement that will give those unions any additional compensation secured by PSAC in a future deal.

“After years of showing up to work without knowing if you would get paid correctly – or at all – you deserve a cash settlement,” Aylward wrote to the membership.

“Not a few days of leave that could be scheduled and delayed at the discretion of your employer, depending on the particular wording of your collective agreement, or your employment circumstances.”

Under the law governing contract negotiations in the federal public service, a public interest commission (PIC) is established to help parties reach an agreement once an impasse has been declared.

Whether or not an agreement is reached, the commission will submit a public report of its findings and recommendations to the chair of the federal Public Sector Labour Relations Board. The recommendations are only binding if both parties agree.

“Traditionally, following this, PSAC’s teams and government representatives have returned to the table to resume negotiations,” Aylward wrote. “We expect the PIC reports to be issued late this year or early in 2020.”

The last time Parks Canada employees went on strike was on Aug. 13, 2004 and it lasted for 58 days.

Staff conducted rotating strikes at national parks and historic sites across the country, with managers stepping in to try to keep services up and running where they could

Among other job action, staff at Banff National Park did not collect park entry fees, leaving entry to the national park free.

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