Kick-off to Treasury Board bargaining a test of Liberals’ commitment to new era of fairness for government workers

The first day of this month saw the kick-off of face-to-face bargaining for a new collective agreement for Agriculture Union members employed by the Treasury Board.

It’s a new round of contract talks with a new government. But will it bring about a new contractive era in labour relations promised by the Liberal government in last October’s election?

The signals from the Liberals to date have been mixed. Treasury Board President Scott Brison has promised to scrap two particularly controversial bills adopted by the late, unlamented Harper regime.

The first, known as Bill C-59 when passed into law, would have unilaterally eliminated public servants’ sick-leave banks and reduced days of annual sick leave from 15 to six. The PSAC has been formally told that this Conservative cash-grab would be repealed.

The second, Bill C-525, would have made it unreasonably difficult for unions to represent workers and demanded costly and time-consuming expenses reporting not required of businesses or corporations.

However, the PSAC has expressed its deep concern that Brison has failed to commit to repealing the most contentious of the Conservative laws – Bill C-4. That legislation would have overwhelmingly stacked the bargaining deck in favour of the employer, undermining the constitutional rights of federal public service employees to collective bargaining, including the right to strike.

Up to now, the new Treasury Board President has pledged only to consult on C-4. Public service unions are challenging Bill C-4 in the courts but want the government to fix the problem itself rather than spend citizens’ money on costly litigation.

The real test of the Liberals intentions will be their actions on C-4. Only then will we know if Trudeau’s “sunny ways” are more than empty election-night words.