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Bank of Canada security staff prep for strike vote amid ‘stagnant’ wages

Security personnel at the Bank of Canada could walk off the job in the new year if they vote to get into strike position later this month.

A union official says pay for security officers at the central bank has been “stagnant” since 2021 without a new collective agreement. This comes as the Bank of Canada’s top officials have warned that higher wages could affect its ability to fully tame inflation.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) said in a release Wednesday that the local unit representing roughly 50 officers at the Bank of Canada’s main offices in Ottawa will initiate strike votes in mid-December.

That comes after conciliation talks on Nov. 27 and 28 failed to bring the parties to agreement, according to the union. Bank of Canada security personnel have been in negotiations with the employer since February 2022 and without any collective agreement since it expired the year before.

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Ruth Lau-MacDonald, alternate regional executive vice-president for PSAC in the National Capital Region, tells Global News there have been 33 days of negotiations since that time, with the potential for three more dates this year.

“Unfortunately, the employer hasn’t met the members in a place where they’re feeling like they’re making a living wage,” Lau-MacDonald says.

Click to play video: 'Interest rates ‘may’ be high enough to bring inflation to 2% target, but still assessing: Macklem'

Interest rates ‘may’ be high enough to bring inflation to 2% target, but still assessing: Macklem

PSAC is looking for wage increases that mirror gains seen in its negotiations with the Treasury Board Secretariat earlier this year. That agreement, which saw public servants go on strike in April and May, works out to roughly 12 per cent over four years — something Lau-MacDonald notes still doesn’t keep pace with inflation over recent years.

Global News reached out to the Bank of Canada for its response to the union’s claims that the central bank is refusing to consider such a package.

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“The Bank respects the collective bargaining process and won’t comment on negotiations,” a spokesperson said.

At the same time that the Bank of Canada has been in negotiations with its security personnel, the central bank has also been raising its benchmark interest rate in an effort to tamp down on decades-high levels of inflation.

The central bank held the key rate steady in its final decision of the year Wednesday, but warned that rates might need to rise higher if inflation progress stalls.

In a statement on Wednesday, the bank’s monetary policymakers once again flagged annual wage growth holding in the range of four to five per cent as one factor it’s watching in gauging the need for further hikes.

Bank of Canada governor Tiff Macklem earned the ire of some union leaders last year for his comments to business owners warning them not to bake the high inflation of the day into their long-term contracts such as wages.

Staffing levels a safety concern

Security personnel at the Bank of Canada are also looking to address issues of understaffing that the union says are putting the safety of all workers at the central bank at risk.

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The Bank of Canada has left eight of the 55 unionized positions in its security cohort unfilled for a year and a half, according to PSAC, with staff increasingly taking on a greater workload or working alone.

The union is also looking to get more protections against the bank contracting out work, which Lau-MacDonald says can result in undertrained workers taking on the same jobs as unionized members without the same level of training.

“The biggest concern for the security officers is how this impacts their ability to keep Bank of Canada employees and the Canadian economy safe,” read a statement in PSAC’s release.

The union is contrasting the lack of wage and staffing concessions from the Bank of Canada with annual bonuses received by executives.

Click to play video: 'Bank of Canada holds rates at 5%'

Bank of Canada holds rates at 5%

The Bank of Canada distributed $3.5 million in bonuses to 80 executives at the bank last year, according to the Canadian Taxpayers Federation. At an average bonus of $43,700, PSAC says that works out to roughly 60 per cent of what an individual security officer made in 2022.

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Lau-MacDonald says it’s the front-line security officers who showed up to work during the COVID-19 pandemic without receiving bumped-up risk pay to protect the central bank, when many office workers were permitted to stay home.

She notes that security personnel are not labelled as “essential” in the Bank of Canada’s frameworks, which means nothing is stopping them from walking off the job sometime in January if members vote for a strike position in the weeks to come.

Global News asked what plans were in place at the central bank’s offices should security personnel go on strike, but the Bank of Canada spokesperson said the institution does not comment on “the details of our security arrangements.”

Lau-MacDonald says the Bank of Canada ought to show up to the bargaining table with fair compensation to reward the security personnel for the work they’ve done to keep the central bank secure during a critical time for its operations.

“It’s the people who have been showing up time and again, doing the work that allows everything else to happen by keeping spaces safe, who really aren’t getting a fair deal,” she says.

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