National security workers vote to strike over pay

The plan comes amid COVID cyber attacks

National security workers vote to strike over pay

National cybersecurity and intelligence workers have voted to strike over a wage dispute that could potentially widen their income gap with counterparts working in the private sector. IT professionals in public service are considered Canada’s security frontliners – many of whom work to fend off hackers, such as those trying to steal the country’s COVID-19 research data.

In a vote last month, hundreds of employees at the government’s Communications Security Establishment (CSE) agreed to prepare for collective action should the management fail to raise the employees’ market allowance, a wage supplement designed to close the sectoral income gap, the workers’ union announced.

Read more: Securing the remote workforce – 5 new cyber threats

“CSE management is refusing to apply a wage increase to the portion of workers’ salaries that is made up of market allowances,” said Alex Silas, regional executive vice-president of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), a union advocating for the employees. “To give you an idea, for some of these workers, [the allowance] represents as much as 10% of their annual income. So it’s a significant financial loss.”

These highly skilled professionals are performing essential work protecting Canada from foreign cyber attacks and other hacking attempts, Silas told CBC News. “For example, things that we saw this past July, there was an attempt to hack Canadian COVID-19 research. These are the workers that stopped that,” the union leader said.

Read more: Vaccine maker AstraZeneca staff ‘targeted’ in cyber attack, allege reports

At the time, the CSE and Canadian Centre for Cyber Security worked with other intelligence units in the UK and US to track down “malicious cyber activities” that purportedly aimed to “steal information and intellectual property relating to the development and testing of COVID-19 vaccines” and “hinder response efforts at a time when healthcare experts and medical researchers need every available resource to help fight the pandemic,” the agency said.

Despite the ongoing wage dispute, CSE employees who are planning to strike believe the collective action will only be taken as a last resort. “We emphasize that strike action can still be avoided if CSE management comes back to the table and steps away from its concession or agrees to arbitration,” PSAC spokesperson Alroy Fonseca said.

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