Canada Revenue Agency workers have voted “overwhelmingly” in favor of a strike to push for higher wage increases from Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s government.

The strong strike mandate, announced Friday, gave a group of 35,000 workers more leverage and could pave the way for other federal employees as well as private-sector workers to follow suit. It’s the first strike vote to be concluded this year from Public Service Alliance of Canada, the largest federal-employee union.

“They’re sending a very powerful message that they’re ready to stand and show the government they’re prepared to fight,” Chris Aylward, PSAC’s president, said in a phone interview. “Going on strike is never our first choice. But if we need to take a job action to get a fair collective agreement, then that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

The strike vote comes just weeks ahead of the 2023 tax filing deadline. Although inflation has slowed in recent months, workers are unbending in their demands to recoup purchasing power lost over the past two years. That’s adding additional wage pressures to an already tight job market, with compensation for permanent employees rising 5.2 per cent in March.

Tax agency workers are demanding wage increases of 20.5 per cent over three years, plus an immediate 9 per cent adjustment to bring salaries in line with similar occupations in the federal public service. While another round of negotiation is expected in the coming weeks, the union will be in a legal strike position on April 14.

“We need to see that the government is serious about getting to a deal,” he said. “If we don’t see an improved position from the government, then unfortunately we’re going to see strike action.”

Another major vote strike is also looming. A group of 120,000 Treasury Board employees represented by PSAC will wrap up balloting on Tuesday, with initial results showing a similarly strong strike mandate, according to Aylward.

A walkout by this group of federal employees could disrupt services at airports and border crossings, as well as potentially interrupt economic data releases from Statistics Canada.

Stakes are high for Trudeau’s government, the country’s largest employer, which has increased the size of the public service by more than a third since being elected in 2015. Any scuffle with federal unions could draw the ire of the labor-friendly New Democrats, who are supporting Trudeau in a minority parliament, and widespread service disruptions would be unpopular among voters.