Essential services - Frequently Asked Questions

The Compensation and Labour Relations Sector provides advice to departments and agencies of the core public administration (named in Schedules I and IV of the Financial Administration Act) on identifying essential positions and managing their responsibilities.

The sector is responsible for consulting with bargaining agents on positions that are designated as essential within each bargaining unit.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are essential services?

    The Government of Canada must ensure that Canadians have access to essential services in the event of a strike. The Public Service Labour Relations Act defines an essential service as: "a service, facility or activity of the Government of Canada that is or will be, at any time, necessary for the safety or security of the public or a segment of the public."

    Examples of government services that may be considered essential include:

    • income and social security;
    • border safety and security;
    • national security;
    • correctional services;
    • accident safety investigations;
    • marine safety; and
    • search and rescue.

    It is important to note that while these government services are generally considered to be essential, a determination must be made on a case-by-case basis as to whether or not the duties performed are, in fact, essential.

    Employees occupying positions that provide essential services for the safety or security of the public are prohibited by law from participating in a strike.

  • Who decides which positions provide essential services and how?

    The employer has the exclusive right to designate essential positions in order to maintain the safety and security of the public in the event of a strike. The determination of whether or not a position is designated as essential will be based on whether or not the position supports a government service, facility or activity that is, or will be, at any time, necessary for the safety or security of the public or a segment of the public.

    Consult the Guidelines for Essential Services Designations for more information.

  • Do positions designated as essential have to be reviewed at each new round of collective bargaining?

    Prior to each new round of collective bargaining, the employer will complete a review of designated essential positions previously identified for that bargaining unit and provide the bargaining agent with any revisions, updates or changes to the list. However, the employer may designate a position or revoke a designation at any time.

  • Once a position has been designated, can the designation be changed or revoked?

    Yes. If the functions of a position evolve or change over time — for example, due to an organizational restructuring, a change in service delivery, or the creation/elimination of other positions — there may be a need to review the position to determine whether the designation is still warranted.

    The employer may designate a position or revoke a designation at any time, as required.

  • How is the union consulted on positions that have been designated?

    Once the employer has prepared a list of designated positions in a bargaining unit, accompanied by the corresponding rationales, department and location of work, a first designation notice is served to the bargaining agent. Following this first notice, there will be a 60-day consultation period for the bargaining agent to provide feedback to the employer.

    After the 60-day consultation period concludes, the employer has 30 days to supply the bargaining agent with the final list of designated positions.

  • What information will bargaining agents receive regarding the positions that have been identified as essential?

    When the employer informs a bargaining agent that it has designated positions in the bargaining unit, the bargaining agent will be provided with a list of the designated positions, along with corresponding rationales, the department and the location of work.

  • What happens to an employee whose position is designated essential?

    Once the Treasury Board Secretariat has supplied the bargaining agent with the final list of designated positions, departments and agencies must inform the employee  by letter (hard copy or electronically) that the position he/she occupies has been determined to provide an essential service and he/she is prohibited from participating in a strike.

  • What happens to positions that were previously designated essential as part of an Essential Service Agreement?

    A8. If an Essential Service Agreement was in place for a bargaining unit immediately before the amendments to the Public Service Labour Relations Act came into force on , all the positions identified as essential in that agreement maintain their original designation. Departments will complete a review of all their designations and reconfirm, revoke or add new designations as required. It is important to note that although the designations identified in essential services agreements remain in effect, the agreements themselves are no longer valid.

  • Can an employee who occupies a designated position cross a picket line to report to work?

    Employees who occupy designated positions are prohibited from participating in a strike and must report to work. The legislation further stipulates that no one shall impede or attempt to impede access to the workplace by employees who occupy designated positions.

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