Canada Indigenous public service employees to get paid leave for traditional practices

As part of agreements on working conditions between the federal government of Canada and the largest public sector union, Indigenous employees of the Treasury Board will get paid leave for traditional activities.

Edéhzhíe National Wildlife Area
The Edéhzhíe National Wildlife Area, Canada’s first Indigenous protected area created in 2018 in a collaboration between the Dehcho First Nations and the Government of Canada | © Edéhzhíe

Indigenous public service employees of the Treasury Board of Canada may soon enjoy paid leave to hunt, fish and carry out other traditional practices.

The government of Canada and the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), the country’s largest federal public-sector union, announced on May 1 that they reached tentative agreements that apply to 120,000 employees at the Treasury Board, the core public administration, after one of the most significant strikes in the country’s history.

As part of these agreements, which may bring inspiration for negotiations from other unions in the country, Indigenous employees will have access to paid leave to participate in traditional practices, including hunting, fishing, and harvesting.

For the government, this measure will “further support employment equity, diversity, and inclusion” and “represents another important step in our reconciliation journey and supports our ongoing efforts to create healthy workplaces.”

According to Canada’s Constitution, the Indigenous peoples, referred to as Indians in 1930, have “the right of hunting, trapping and fishing game and fish for food at all seasons of the year on all unoccupied Crown lands and on any other lands to which the said Indians may have a right of access.”

But the country has a bitter history of neglecting the identity of Indigenous peoples. From the 1880s through the 1990s, the Canadian government forcibly removed at least 150,000 Indigenous children from their homes to send them to residential schools where they learned English and Western values and were forbidden to speak their own language.

Supporting the inclusion of Indigenous peoples

Traditional ways of living of the First Nations, Métis and Inuit populations – the three Indigenous groups recognized in the Constitution Act, 1982 – are deeply connected with nature.

According to the Ontario Human Rights Commission, Indigenous spirituality is often closely connected to nature-based activities, such as hunting, trapping, fishing, harvesting and gathering wild plants.

Ceremonies and traditions marking big life moments may be integrated into hunting activities for some First Nations, like the Cree people, who used to rely on hunting bison. For example, the seasonal goose hunt sometimes begins with a “walking out” ceremony welcoming newborn children.

Some Métis people in Ontario also mark the harvest with a festival that allows the community to connect. Participation in traditional activities fosters cultural identity and morale among Indigenous peoples in Canada, with elders transmitting their ancestral knowledge and skills to younger generations.

The Aboriginal Peoples Survey published by Statistics Canada in 2019 shows a declining trend in participation in these traditions in the last 20 years, especially among working-age adults. While employment provides the financial means to pursue traditions, the time limitation is often the first reported barrier to participating in these activities.

With the paid leave, “the government will be better able to attract and retain more Indigenous workers and recognize their lived experiences. […] A diverse workforce with strong Indigenous representation means a better public service for all,” the PSAC stated.

Indigenous peoples account for 5 percent of Canada’s population and of its federal public workforce.

Granting paid leave for Indigenous peoples, the exact number of days is not yet defined, is part of a broader working condition agreement, effectively ending a 12-day strike for thousands of public administration employees of the Treasury Board.

Pay raise and remote working agreements

The strike started on April 19 for better working conditions, primarily claiming better pay and more access to remote working.

With almost half of the public servants, the Treasury Board is the principal employer of the federal public service which goes from passport offices, immigration, pension payments, lighthouse workers, coast guards, to food inspectors, etc.

The agreements include a cumulated wage increase of 12.6 percent over four years. Employees will also receive a one-time lump sum of 2,500 Canadian dollars (US$1,845).

PCAS originally asked for a 13.5 percent raise in three years while the Treasury Board proposed 9 percent, or a little less than 4.5 percent per year against a little less than 3 percent per year. The inflation rate in Canada reached 6.8 percent on average in 2022.

Union negotiators wanted the right to work remotely enshrined in the collective agreement but didn’t get it. Public service employees remain allowed to work remotely three days a week but are required to come to the office the other two days.

Managers will also assess remote work requests individually and not by group. They will need to justify their decisions by writing, which for the PSAC, makes “the employer accountable to equitable and fair decision-making on remote work.”

Leave with pay for family-related responsibilities will also be improved.

Employees of the Treasury Board resumed work on May 1, but union members still need to agree on the deal to make it effective, which can only happen after the final text is released in the next few days.

However, an agreement remains to be found for the 35,000 employees of the Canada Revenue Agency, the second large bloc of Canadian federal public service, which deals with tax returns for example, and is still on strike.

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