Awaiting vote: PSAC agreement includes new leave for Indigenous public servants and increase for language teachers

ARTICLE 70 – DURATION The new agreement, if ratified by the membership, will expire on August 4, 2025. Five days of leave including two days with pay for self-identified Indigenous employees to engage in traditional Indigenous practices including land-based activities such as hunting, fishing and harvesting.May 1, 2023

By Lynda Powless


In just three weeks two key markers for Indigenous federal employees could make history giving both recognition to Indigenous traditions and ceremonies and a long-awaited pay increase for Indigenous language teachers.

The new tentative agreements reached between the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and the federal government is undergoing a ratification vote ending June 16th. It includes not only an increase in pay for Indigenous language teachers but five days leave, two of which are paid, to attend or participate in traditional ceremonies or practices including hunting, fishing and harvesting for all “self-identified Indigenous employees.”

The tenative agreements were reached after two weeks of strike action by PSAC’s 120,000 members in April.

The agreement for PSAC’s education and library science workers include a new Specialist Indigenous Languages Allowance of $1,015 per year for Indigenous Services Canada (ISC) teachers who are qualified and assigned to teach an Indigenous language at schools in Six Nations of the Grand River, the Mohawk territory at Tyendinaga, Ont., and Cold Lake First Nations, Alta.

It affects Indigenous languages teachers at Six Nations of the Grand River’s five federal schools Oliver M. Smith Elementary, Jamieson Elementary , J.C. Hill Elementary, I.L. Thomas Elementary and Emily C. General Elementary schools attended by more than   1,100 students.

The proposed new contract article allows for all “self-identified Indigenous employees” to take the five days of leave, that includes two days with pay, per year. The article outlines an Indigenous person as First Nations, Inuit or Metis. The leave is granted to participate in traditional practices that includes ceremonial practices,  hunting, fishing and harvesting .

At Six Nations of the Grand, Educators’ Local 00128 President Mike Freeman, said the win for Indigenous languages teachers came about because of a twofold move to include it in the new contract. He said while “the demand came from our local,” the success of getting it included in the agreement was partially due to the fact that other PSAC members in the north are Inuk speakers who work in a variety of government departments and speak Inuk on a daily basis.  In addition, he said,  the Educators’ Local has been working through two contract negotiation periods to land the pay increase for language teachers.

“We had laid some of the groundwork through other negotiations, ” he said. “In the north there are a lot of Inuk speakers and officers in government where Inuk is spoken on a daily basis, but it was also in part because we have teachers within the federal system that speak the language in the classroom.”

He said the Indigenous language teachers were the only PSAC members to receive the increase. He said while other PSAC members in program and administration had a similar demand for Indigenous language the allowance didn’t make it into other parts of the agreement.

“We had a whole background study on who in the federal government actually uses Indigenous languages as part of their day-to-day work, and because our teachers do, the federal government provided the allowance for the teachers within the schools but there was no application to other locations.”

He said the union is always looking to expand the collective agreement in particular on human rights issues and the new five day leave for Indigenous people falls into that category. He said there are obligations that Indigenous people have that are not acknowledged by the employer to allow them to participate in . “So, it was put forward to try to compensate our Indigenous members for those yearly cultural duties or practices.”

The result was a five-day leave, including two paid days.

“It’s a forward movement. That’s how we look at it.”

He said the tentative agreements bereavement article also now allows Local 00128 members a day’s leave to attend the funeral of a non-blood related spiritual leader. He said they explained the significance of Indigenous spiritual leaders and the need to pay respect to them. “The person may not be a blood relation, so we pushed forward the request for a one-day bereavement leave in the case of a loss of a spiritual leader to allow our members to attend the burial.” He said 132 hours later the leave was agreed to .

He said there are other bargaining groups within the union that now want the clause in other agreements. “We have set the tone for other groups now.”

Freeman said he sees the moves as putting action to the Indian Residential Schools’ Settlement Agreement and Truth and Reconciliation Commission called for by former Prime Minister Stephen Harper who issued a public apology on June 11, 2008, on behalf of the Canadian government for its role in the history of the Indian Residential Schools.

“I think it is flowing in line with all that has happened since 2008 when (former Prime Minister)  Stephen Harper stood on the House (of Commons)  floor and apologized for Canada’s part in the residential schools. But the apology is hollow with no action. Now we are starting to see some of the action.”

He said the success of some of asks may have been a result of Indigenous pressure on issues affecting Indigenous peoples nationwide.  “There were 94 Calls to Action that are still outstanding. There has been pressure for the federal government to compensate for their past transgressions. So, I think, this is partly because of the pressures Indigenous people have been putting on the government across the country that we were able to see the demands for Indigenous ceremony, spiritual ideals and respect for Indigenous language succeed to this point.”

The union local also managed to get an increase in wages for Early Childhood Education (ECE)  teachers working in federal schools. Currently most ECE teachers are employed in kindergarten classrooms or hired as EA’s but were expected to use their qualifications as ECEs he said. “:So, we asked to have them properly compensated.” They will receive an increase of $3,500 a year if the contract is ratified next month.

The local bargaining unit covers Indigenous teachers in the remaining three Indigenous communities in Canada that still have federally operated schools. At one point the union local, he said, had over 8,000 federal teachers as members but with devolution beginning in 1970 as communities took over their own education, the union local’s numbers dropped to the 150 it now has in the three communities that continue to operate with federal schools. Of that 150 about 20 are language teachers.

The tenative agreements  cover four bargaining units that include  technical services, education and library science, operational services and program and administrative services — and over 35,000 Canada Revenue Agency workers and were reached May 1 and May 3rd and also include compounded wage increases totalling 12.6 per cent over the four-year term and new protections against contracting out among other things.

Looking back, he said the last round of bargaining took its toll.

“It was a marathon travelling back and forth to Ottawa for 23 days and every day we were at the table, including Saturdays and Sundays, some days we were there until 11 at night. It was a long day but that’s how Treasury Board bargaining goes, and we did get a collective agreement.”

Now it’s all about time.

The union’s ratification vote will continue to until June 16th at noon.










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