Nearly 2,500 employees of one of Canada’s top cybersecurity agencies have voted to quit because of a potential 10 percent wage cut, a Canadian news report said.
The vote comes after nearly two years of negotiations between the Communications Security Establishment (CSE), a stand-alone Canadian agency for foreign intelligence and cybersecurity that employs around 2,900 people, and the Canadian Public Service Alliance (PSAC), whose union membership includes cryptography specialists , advanced language analysis and cybersecurity at the agency. Talks between the two parties were broken off in February 2019.
It is about the refusal of the CSE management to apply a negotiated wage premium equivalent to that of workers doing similar jobs in the private sector. The bump, known as the market allowance, can account for up to 10 percent of an employee’s annual wages. According to Alex Silas, executive vice president of PSAC Regional Executive for the National Capital Region, it is designed to encourage workers to work in the public sector.
“The CSE management refuses to apply a wage increase to the portion of employee salaries that is made up of market allowances,” Silas told CBC News. “To give you an idea for some of these workers [that] accounts for up to 10 percent of their annual income. So it’s a significant financial loss. “Should the CSE cut the market allowance, PSAC workers would receive a wage increase to 90 percent of their wages, which is around 5.8 percent over a three-year period, compared to nearly 6.5 percent received by others Federal public sector workers for the EU negotiated the same period, PSAC officials said.
“PSAC members at CSE are some of the best people in their field, and it’s confusing that management decided to get things to that point,” said Silas. “The cost of applying wage increases to the market allowance portion of these members’ salaries is approximately 0.8 percent of CSE’s wage bill. That’s all it takes to avoid a strike, ”he said. “It takes courage to vote for a strike in these challenging times and I want to assure these members that the union will use its full resources in the coming days and weeks to support their struggle for a fair contract.” There is currently no certainty that a strike vote will result in a work stoppage, he said.
Christopher Williams, director general of CSE’s public affairs and communications services, told CBC News that the agency continues to hope to reach an agreement with the union. “We can tell you, however, that essential service arrangements are in place to ensure that in all areas of CSE there are the workers in the workplace who are necessary to continue to keep the public safe in the event of a strike,” he said.
Canada is a member of the Five Eyes, a 1941 intelligence alliance that includes Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States that share espionage information. The CSE provides the Canadian government with technical advice, guidance and services for maintaining IT security and infrastructure.
The industrial action comes from the fact that cyber attacks against COVID-19 drug manufacturers have increased in Canada and elsewhere. Last November, Microsoft warned that state-sponsored North Korean and Russian hackers had stepped up cyber attacks on seven unnamed pharmaceutical companies in Canada, France, India, South Korea, and the United States involved in the development and treatment of vaccines for COVID-19 .