Public service unions say the federal government’s work-from-home and office plan is disjointed

Federal public service unions say the government’s plan to bring employees back to the office is confusing, disjointed and jeopardizes health and safety.

The Treasury Board of Canada released its guidelines on hybrid work arrangements in May, instructing government departments to decide “if, to what extent, and how the workplace can be flexible.”

Deputy heads will make health and safety decisions in the context of how their organization operates, guided by public health authorities and occupational health and safety committees, said Council spokesperson Barb Couperus. of the Treasury, in a press release Thursday.

Over the next few months, she said departments will gather evidence and test a variety of hybrid approaches.

“Given the diversity of the federal government’s workforce and operations, there won’t be a one-size-fits-all solution,” Couperus said, noting that work sites vary from Coast Guard vessels to labs. and to jails.

Jennifer Carr, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, said the board’s decision to “delegate” responsibility for determining how to bring employees back into the office to individual departments means approaches are not coordinated and vary considerably.

She said that makes it difficult for the union to advise members on how a good return to work should happen.

Since many of its 60,000 members – some of whom are scientists – have been working on the front lines since the pandemic began, Carr said he seeks to ensure workplaces are safe.

Specifically, this means ensuring that there are appropriate ventilation rates and capacity limits, as well as appropriate masking policies.

Earlier this month, the Canadian Association of Professional Employees called for a suspension of the return to the offices, citing concerns about the “serious and unnecessary risk to health and safety” of its members forced to return to work in due to the COVID-19 pandemic. enters a seventh wave.

Public service unions say federal government guidance on #HybridWork is flawed. #CDNPoli #Covid19 #SyndicatsServicePublic

He also said hospitals simply could not handle unnecessary rises in infection rates.

Chairman Greg Phillips said in an interview Wednesday that members received no justification for the need to start the hybrid session and return to the workplace now.

“Treat us like the professionals we are, show us the reason for being,” Phillips said. “Tell us why it’s necessary, and then we’ll get our support and buy-in. Otherwise, we’re just left wondering – not knowing what’s going on.”

The association represents more than 20,000 federal workers, including people who provide translation services, employees of the Library of Parliament and civilian members of the RCMP.

“The health and safety of workers should always be the priority when departments make decisions about returning employees to offices and workspaces,” said Jeffrey Vallis, spokesman for the Public Service Alliance. of Canada, in a recent press release.

Vallis said his group had asked the Treasury Board to build flexibility into plans so employers are prepared for future waves and variants of COVID-19, and to phase in returning to offices to ease anxieties. workers.

He said most members are still working remotely and many want to continue to have that flexibility, and the alliance will fight to enshrine remote working in its collective agreements in the current round of bargaining.

In February, Treasury Board President Mona Fortier authorized departments to “resume their planning to gradually increase building occupancy, while continuing to adhere to the appropriate use of preventative workplace practices.”

She also said at the time that she expects organizations to adjust their planning as the public health environment evolves.

Health Canada’s Public Service Occupational Health Program provides federal departments and agencies with advice on occupational health, including COVID-19.

This program updates its guidelines based on the latest science and advice from the Public Health Agency of Canada, Couperis said. Fortier was not immediately available for comment.

But employees have options if remote work arrangements are a priority, and that can lead people to “more flexible and understanding organizations,” Carr said.

She also said there must be a valid reason for the change, recounting the experience of one member who had to return to the office only to connect virtually with colleagues once there.

“Does this really value the employee? In a tight labor market, public servants have options,” she said.

Phillips said he wants Treasury Board to consult with unions so they can raise questions about the hybrid working approach.

“Obviously they haven’t fully thought about this thing. Otherwise there wouldn’t be this mass confusion everywhere,” he said.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on July 29, 2022.

This story was produced with the financial assistance of Meta and the Canadian Press News Fellowship.

Jose C. Birney