Published on: May 05, 2023
The end of a strike which has taken many government workers out of the office for nearly two weeks holds out hope for an end to delays of many immigration services. As of May 1st, members of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) will be returning to work, ending an industrial action that saw over 150,000 of the union's members go on the picket line.
PSAC, the largest labour union of federal public sector workers and one of the largest unions in Canada, represents workers in a wide range of government departments, including Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC), Canada's immigration agency. With approximately 155,000 of PSAC's over 230,000 members out on strike, a number of different services within IRCC and related departments such as Employment and Social Development Canada (ESDC) were affected. IRCC warned service users that the strike would delay services including citizenship ceremonies, in-person appointments and application processing. Other affected Canada immigration services included services at Canadian consulates abroad, such as passport renewals, as well as passport services in Canada itself. Other administrative tasks, such as requests made under the Information Act, were similarly delayed.
Despite the delays caused by the strike, some IRCC services have been unaffected. Applying to extend a stay in Canada via IRCC's online portal has been possible throughout the strike, although application processing times may have been longer than usual. Additionally, staff shortages didn't delay the most recent Express Entry draw, held on April 26th, which saw IRCC issue 3,500 invitations to apply (ITAs) for permanent residence in Canada.
The strike results from a strike votes taken by PSAC during the spring. When negotiations between PSAC and the federal government failed to reach a satisfactory agreement, the union's members, including Canada immigration workers, voted in favour of a strike. Among the points of disagreement between PSAC and the government were questions such as wages, prevention of layoffs and work-life balance. One major point of contention was the issue of remote working. Many workers in government agencies began working remotely during the Covid-19 pandemic; although the government wanted these workers to return to the office, PSAC insisted that they could continue to work effectively from home.
The agreement between the government and PSAC still needs to be voted on by union members, but preliminary reports suggest that it contains a 12.6 percent pay increase compounded over four years. This increase is key to meeting the union's demand for a pay agreement that can cope with Canada's increasing cost of living. Additionally, the Treasury Board and PSAC negotiators appear to have reached a compromise on the issue of remote working. Other areas of agreement included the creation of a joint committee to review training related to equality, diversity and inclusion, as well as protections against PSAC members losing their jobs when work is assigned to contractors.
Despite this agreement, not all of the 155,000 striking PSAC members have returned to work. One group of striking workers is continuing to negotiate, leaving around 35,000 workers still on strike. However, this group does not contain any IRCC workers.
Although striking workers have returned to the office – or the home office – the effects of the strike on Canada's immigration system may still be felt for a short time. Backlogs of work built up during the strike could take some time to clear, resulting in longer wait times for some services. Exactly how long these delays could last is uncertain, but IRCC has cautioned that disruptions may last “over the next few days and weeks,” suggesting that delays will be relatively short-lived. Still, service users should be careful to submit applications or plan appointments as early as possible to avoid the possibility of delays causing problems.
Despite the slight possibility of future delays, and the more significant disruption caused while the strike itself was ongoing, the PSAC strike is now mostly resolved, meaning that disruptions to government services should already be dying down. IRCC service users will be able to complete in-person appointments, have their applications processed, and more, while IRCC employees will return to work with an agreement that helps protect them from the rising cost of living and allows them to work flexibly.