The union representing striking Parks Canada workers is using both visitors and employees of Canada’s national parks as pawns in a battle to win higher wages for all federal government workers, says the head of Parks Canada.
“Millions of visitors and close to 3,800 jobs are being used as pawns by the union to achieve its government-wide objectives,” Alain Latourelle said in an article in the National Post. “They’re trying to use Parks Canada to set the bar for the rest of the public service that is in negotiations.”
The union is demanding an across-the-board pay increase of 9% over three years, while Parks Canada is offering 7% over the same time period.
Picket lines last week essentially shut down operation of the Rideau Canal and about 20 other national parks and historic sites across Ontario, the latest target of rotating job actions in the dispute.
Most campgrounds remained opened, however, and in some cases park admission fees were waived. Parks Canada officials say they are bracing for general strikes but insist they will not close parks to visitors.
According to the Post, the main sticking point in the negotiations is the union’s demand for an extra 20% wage hike for a category of workers known as operational employees.
Heather Brooker, the national president representing Parks Canada workers in the Public Service Alliance of Canada, scoffed at Latourelle’s suggestion.
“No workers are being used as pawns. We are all brothers and sisters in this struggle,” she said.
The union says the pay hike is necessary to close an alleged wage gap between public sector and private sector employees. As evidence of the wage gap, the union holds up a comparative study of salaries compiled by the Treasury Board Secretariat and the Public Service Alliance of Canada in 2003.
The study compares the wages of various workers – such as mechanics, truck drivers, carpenters, pipefitters, and cooks – in the private sector versus the federal public service, and finds that public servants are underpaid by about 20%.
But the study does not include jobs such as campground attendants, gate attendants or tour guides – who also fall into the operational employees category, and for whom the union is also demanding a 20% wage hike.
Latourelle said those workers make up 85% of the parks’ operational staff, and he said that since the comparative study does not apply to them, neither should a 20% wage hike. Parks Canada is instead offering an extra 4.5% wage hike to those workers.
“This study was never done with Parks Canada in mind,” said Latourelle. “That’s the main reason why 85% of our jobs were never included.”
Brooker agreed the study was done for the public service overall, not specifically for Parks workers. The same study is also being used by operational workers in the broader public service to negotiate for a pay hike, and, Brooker said, the outcome of the Parks negotiations will “have an impact” on the broader negotiations.
Latourelle said Parks workers are well paid compared to their counterparts in provincial parks. And he said Parks Canada would have to reduce its services to visitors by 10-20% if it granted the wage hike sought by the union.
He said he believes Parks Canada’s salary offer is reasonable, and should be considered separately from the union demands of the broader public service.