Canadian Public Service Unions Denounce Government’s Hybrid Work Boards

By Jack Aldane on 08/02/2022 | Updated on 02/08/2022

Civil Service Chief Janice Charette expects employees to work part-time offices over the summer to test running services with a hybrid workforce. Photo by Ken Lund via Flickr

Public service unions in Canada have criticized the federal government’s plan to bring workers back into offices on a hybrid basis, calling its advice inconsistent and a risk to worker health and safety.

Under the Treasury Board of Canada guidelines on hybrid working released in May this year, individual departments have the autonomy to decide “if, to what extent, and how the workplace can be flexible”. Public service leaders are also responsible for determining workforce health and safety policies within the context of their department’s specific operations, drawing on the advice of public health authorities and committees. health and safety if necessary.

Treasury Board spokeswoman Barb Couperus said “the diversity of the federal government’s workforce and operations” means “there will not be a one-size-fits-all solution.” Instead, departments would be expected to test a range of hybrid working models. This echoes a letter sent to deputy ministers by the head of the public service Janice Charette, who said she expected employees to work part-time in offices over the summer to test services. running with a hybrid workforce.

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But Jennifer Carr, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), said the decision to delegate responsibilities to departments means there is no coordination across government, which makes difficult to advise its 60,000 members.

She added that the plan could make remote working arrangements in “more flexible and understanding organizations” more attractive to public servants. “In a tight job market, public servants have options,” Carr said.

Threat to health and safety

As Canada battles its seventh wave of COVID-19, other unions have raised concerns about the federal government’s plan. Last month, the Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE) urged the government to suspend it, saying in a statement to its members that the guidelines posed a ‘serious and unnecessary risk to the health and safety’ of its members. and put unnecessary pressure on already struggling Canadian hospitals.

“Allowing our members to continue working remotely is and remains the best approach to eliminating the risk of contracting COVID-19 in the workplace,” he said.

Jeffrey Vallis, spokesperson for the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), said the health and safety of workers “should always be the priority”, that many of its members wanted the flexibility to continue working remotely, and that the alliance would seek to make remote working a must-have part of agreements as the rounds of negotiations continue.

Greg Phillips, president of CAPE – which represents more than 20,000 federal workers – said part of the problem with the government’s strategy was the lack of justification given for the timetable. He urged the government to “address [public servants] like the professionals and show [them] justification,” adding that membership could only be expected once he explained why it was necessary to implement his plan now. “Obviously they haven’t fully thought about this thing. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be this mass confusion everywhere,” he said.

Vaccine mandate under fire

The latest disagreement between the federal government and unions follows a spat earlier this year over public servants placed on unpaid leave for failing to meet the government’s mandate requiring all public servants to be vaccinated against COVID-19. 19.

Read more: Canada lifts COVID-19 vaccine mandate for federal personnel

In May, PIPSC and CAPE jointly filed grievances with PSAC against the mandatory vaccination policy on behalf of members placed on leave without pay for more than six months. They asked that the federal labor relations court compel the government to allow suspended unvaccinated employees to work from home and reimburse them for lost wages.

However, Canada’s Intergovernmental Affairs Minister Dominic LeBlanc said in June that the government would not reimburse unvaccinated civil servants placed on unpaid leave.

The PSAC condemned the post as an abuse of power that left its members in a deep state of insecurity. Meanwhile, Phillips said CAPE will “actively pursue justice for our members.”

Read more: Expanding the talent pool: How hybrid working can make public sector jobs better suited for everyone

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Maria D. Ervin