Ottawa accused of dragging its heels on new contract for federal lawyers

The head of the union representing federal government lawyers says the Liberals have been dragging their heels on contract negotiations and have been “profoundly professionally discourteous” in collective bargaining.

“We booked the meeting space on our own and we’re still eternally optimistic that they’ll give us the courtesy of showing up,” said Ursula Hendel, president of the Association of Justice Counsel.

The union, which represents lawyers who litigate and prosecute cases, draft legislation and develop criminal policy, was scheduled to meet for three days of collective bargaining starting Tuesday in Ottawa.

The AJC has been without a contract since May 2014.

Hendel said the Treasury Board notified her by email on Friday evening that it was cancelling this week’s meetings. 

One of the holdups, according to Hendel, has been a wage comparability study conducted by the federal government.

The AJC says data obtained from the Canadian Association of Crown Counsel clearly shows federal lawyers are paid less than their provincial counterparts in Ontario, Manitoba, B.C. and Saskatchewan. Yet the Treasury Board insisted on conducting its own wage comparability study, Hendel told CBC News.

According to the union, the federal government was supposed to give it a copy of the study on Oct. 31 but refused to, claiming it suffers from “serious methodological flaws.” 

“Well, they don’t like the answers, do they?” Hendel asked rhetorically.

Workload an issue

The majority of AJC members live in Ontario, where the union says a provincial Crown prosecutor makes $199,149 and his or her federal counterpart makes $137,886.

But wages aside, Hendel said she doesn’t feel there is any legitimate reason for the federal government to cancel this week’s negotiations, as her bargaining team also wants to address issues such as the excessive workload federal lawyers face. Hendel said the union could pursue binding conciliation. 

A spokesperson for the office of the president of Treasury Board told CBC News that it respects the confidentiality of the collective bargaining process and will not engage in “bargaining directly with public servants through the media.” 

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