TORONTO – Senjuti Sarker needed to renew her passport for an upcoming trip to Europe but her attempt at doing so failed Wednesday after federal public service workers went on strike.
Sarker, who was hoping to travel next week to attend an artistic program, said the labour disruption could completely upend her plans.
“I cannot travel if I don’t have my passport renewed,” she said outside a passport office in downtown Toronto. “I’m a little scared right now.”
Sarker was among many Canadians feeling the effects of the strike by more than 155,000 public servants that began after the country’s biggest federal public-sector union and the government failed to reach a deal by a Tuesday evening deadline.
Employment and Social Development Canada has said essential services such as employment insurance and social insurance numbers will be maintained, but passport services are not deemed essential.
That means passport applications and renewals are on hold and limited to those in humanitarian or emergency situations.
Laura Fisher was one of the few at the downtown Toronto office who were able to renew their passports after meeting the criteria for an emergency situation. She said she needed to attend a memorial in the United States for a friend who had died.
“There was no line and no wait,” she said of her experience, adding that she supported the strike by Public Service Alliance of Canada workers.
Chris Hooker, however, was among those turned away. His passport was damaged one day before the strike began and he said he had a trip planned to Mexico next week.
“It’s ironic a lot of people complain about government services and how there’s too many of them, but the reality is we need them,” he said outside the office.
Eva Rahman was unable to have her passport renewed ahead of a vacation for which she’d already paid for a hotel and flight.
“I’m not sure what’s going on here,” she said. “It’s just unfortunate and disappointing.”
A late Tuesday news release from the Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat said that the government and the Public Service Alliance of Canada were still at odds when it came to key contract issues for both sides.
The union has been pushing for annual wage increases of 4.5 per cent over the next three years. It says the increases are necessary to keep pace with inflation and the cost of living.
The Treasury Board said it has offered the union a nine per cent raise over three years, on the recommendation of the third-party Public Interest Commission.
The strike involves nearly one-third of all federal public servants.