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What the CRA strike means for your taxes

Editor's note: This post was updated on May 4, 2023, following PSAC's tentative agreement with the Treasury Board on May 1 for a 12.6% wage increase over a three-year period, starting retroactively in June 2021, as well as a tentative deal between the public-sector union representing 35,000 Canada Revenue Agency and the federal governmemt.

With only days to go before the May 1st, 2023 tax deadline, the union representing federal service workers (PSAC-UTE) – including those at the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA) – is on strike. The job action, which commenced on April 18th, has caused confusion about whether Canadians’ obligations have changed when it comes to this year’s taxes.

To help clear the confusion, we’ve sought out the answers to your most-asked questions about the CRA strike and what it means for your taxes.

Key takeaways on the PSAC strike

  1. The union representing CRA employees has withdrawn its services, stopping almost all of the country’s federal tax administration services.
  2. There is no extension to the deadline for personal tax returns and payments, which are due on Monday, May 1st, 2023.
  3. Refunds will not be delayed for most Canadians who file electronically.
  4. Those filing paper returns can expect a long wait before receiving a notice of assessment.
  5. UPDATE: A tentative agreement between the government and PSAC will see 120,000 public employees return to work as of May 1, 2023. CRA employees reached an agreement with the federal government on May 4, 2023.

Who is PSAC?

The Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) is a union representing some 230,000 public employees. Its members work for the federal government and crown corporations, as well as other services like airports and universities.

Who is on strike?

The Union of Taxation Employees (UTE) is a PSAC member union representing some 35,000 CRA employees who are currently on strike. UTE members perform all of the CRA’s non-management work, including taxpayer services and processing tax returns.

120,000 other federal employees represented by the PSAC are also on strike.

Why are CRA employees on strike?

The UTE’s collective agreement expired on October 31st, 2021 and workers have been without a contract since. The union is asking for higher wages, additional paid time off, job security, and a contractual freedom to work from home. 

An update from the CRA dated April 21st says their most recent offer included a 9% wage increase over three years. An April 23rd update from the UTE challenged the offer, arguing it falls short of inflation.

As of the time of writing, the two sides remain at an impasse and have not reached an agreement that would allow CRA employees to return to work.

What CRA services are affected by the strike?

The CRA has published details on which of its services are affected by the job action

  • The CRA will continue to accept tax returns electronically. Most returns filed electronically are processed automatically and will not be delayed.
  • Paper returns will be “stockpiled for future processing.”
  • Benefits and tax credits like the GST/HST credit, Canada Workers Benefit, and Canada Child Benefit (CCB) will not be interrupted. Related phone inquiries will be answered, albeit at reduced capacity.
  • Online services will continue to be available including CRA My Account and NETFILE
  • Most phone services are unavailable

Has the 2022 tax filing deadline been extended?

No. Your personal tax return and any balance owing is still due by May 1st, 2023. If you’re submitting a paper return, or paying by cheque, it will need to be postmarked or submitted to a CRA drop box no later than May 1st to be considered on time.

I’m expecting a refund. Will it be delayed?

The good news is most Canadians won’t experience any major delays in receiving their tax refund from the CRA. The bad news is there’s no guarantee it will be on time.

According to the CRA, returns “filed digitally will largely be processed automatically by the system without delay.” In a conversation with the Toronto Star, wealth management expert Ian Calvert confirmed that processing includes payment of refunds

If you’re filing by paper, however, your refund will almost certainly be delayed. It could also be delayed if there’s a problem with your electronic return that requires human intervention.

The CRA has said it will pay interest on delayed refunds at a rate of 7% for any payments that haven’t been processed by May 31st.

I rely on a benefit like the Canada Child Benefit (CCB). Will I continue to receive payments?

Yes. The CRA has said it will continue to operate its benefits for individuals during the work stoppage. That means that new applications will be processed and payments will continue to be sent. You can still call the CRA if you have questions about your benefits but prepare to wait on hold even longer than usual.

I have a question about my taxes. Who can I ask?

The CRA says its “individual enquiries lines are open with reduced agent capacity” and that it will give priority to people who need help getting family or child benefits. If you’re unable to get through to the CRA, there may be local organizations who can help such as a free local tax clinic

The bottom line

While the Union of Tax Employees strikes, your obligations haven’t changed. Check the CRA website for the latest information on its status, and submit your return and payment by the May 1st deadline to avoid penalties and further delays.


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