Essential services - Frequently Asked Questions

Under the Federal Public Sector Labour Relations Act, the essential service during a strike means « 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. » (s. 4(1)). A service is essential where there are reasonable grounds to recognize a likelihood that life or public safety will be at risk if a work stoppage interrupts the duties of the public servants offering the service.

The legislature has provided that the employer and the bargaining agent should agree on the positions that are or will be necessary to provide essential services during a strike, which takes form of an Essential Services Agreement.

This agreement between the employer and the bargaining agent also provides for various measures such as administrative oversight of updates to essential positions.

Essential employees are duly informed of their roles and responsibilities in the event of a strike as well as of the consequences of not providing essential services; this notice is sent by their authorized departmental management representatives and delivered in writing (paper or electronic).

Essential Services

The Employee Relations and Total Compensation 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 negotiating in good faith with the bargaining agents the essential positions within each bargaining unit.

What are Essential Services?

Under the FPSLRA, the term “essential service” means “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.”
A service is essential where there are reasonable grounds to recognize a likelihood that life or public safety will be at risk if a work stoppage interrupts the duties of the public servants offering the service. It should be noted that this includes positions in which incumbents must be able to report to work without delay outside their normal working hours to provide essential services, such as firefighters.

The concept of “public safety” is not defined by the FPSLRA, but examples can be found in case law. It is common practice for parties to expand the definition of essential services, such as tacitly recognizing the psychological needs and financial security of vulnerable individuals as essential services or maintaining animals entrusted to the State in the context of research activities in federal laboratories.

What is an essential services agreement?

Under the FPSLRA, an "essential services agreement" is “an agreement between the employer and the bargaining agent for a bargaining unit that identifies: a) the types of positions in the bargaining unit that are necessary for the employer to provide essential services; b) the number of those positions that are necessary for that purpose; and; c) the specific positions that are necessary for that purpose.”

What information does the bargaining agent receive about essential positions?

The bargaining agent is a party throughout the process of negotiating essential positions.  Final lists of essential positions are normally part of essential services agreements.  Administrative updates to lists are shared according to the terms agreed to by the parties.

What happens to the employee whose position is essential?

The employer and the bargaining agent have agreed that the position is essential, as defined in the FPSLRA. The employee will therefore continue to provide essential services during a strike.

However, some of the duties may be different from what the employee normally does. If the manager is a represented employee whose bargaining agent is in a strike position, senior cadres may decide that this position temporarily falls under another management position such as an excluded or unrepresented position.

All essential employees have received or will receive written notification, either electronically or in person, from authorized management representatives that their position is essential during a strike as stipulated in the essential services agreement.

This letter explains their roles and responsibilities as an essential employee during a strike as well as the consequences of not providing essential services or of changing the level of service established by the employer.

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

Employees who occupy essential 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 an essential position.

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