Federal public servants mandated to return to office 2-3 days a week by March 31

Federal public servants mandated to return to office 2-3 days a week by March 31

The federal government will require civil servants to work at least two to three days a week in person, or between 40 and 60 percent of their regular hours, in the spring.

At a Thursday afternoon news conference, Treasury Department President Mona Fortier said the change is to create a common approach to remote work for federal public services.

“The face-to-face work better supports collaboration, team spirit, innovation and a culture of belonging,” she said.

“We have now seen that there needs to be more fairness and equity in our workplaces, and we need consistency in the use of hybrid work across the federal government.”

The one-size-fits-all hybrid model goes into effect on March 31st.

This move represents a change for some departments, although many officials are already working in person several days a week.

Need for “fairness and justice”

To allow for a smooth transition, the government will use phased implementation by January 16, with full implementation by March 31, 2023.

A Canadian government logo on a high-rise brick building.
Canadian government office buildings as seen in downtown Gatineau, Que., in July 2022 will not be as empty by spring 2023. (Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press)

Fortier said the government has decided to move to a hybrid system, directing departments and organizations to experiment with different hybrid systems to see what works and what doesn’t.

Fortier said during that time they have identified inconsistencies in approach, largely through what she described as “fairness and equity” in the system.

“I understand there have been discussions and feedback shared… we have informed unions of this new management decision that work location is an employer’s right.”

Union calls decision “dishonest”

Jennifer Carr, president of the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC), which represents about 70,000 scientists and professionals who work for the government, said workers were effectively doing their jobs from home and she was with the people to do it given reasons not satisfied mandate.

Carr also said her union was given an hour’s notice of the announcement.

“To hear the minister say … the decision was about serving Canadians and not providing concrete examples [about how]is one of the things that I find kind of disingenuous,” she said.

Carr said her members are also taxpayers and want the most efficient use of government money, alluding to previous discussions about saving money by having public sector employees work from home.

“They get paid for the work they do, not where they do it,” Carr said of her members.

“In order to carry out this assignment, you will enter the civil service [Government of Canada] Work hubs or places of work and sitting at computers doing exactly the same kind of work.”

CLOCK | PSAC President Chris Aylward called a new personal working mandate for public employees a knee-jerk response:”

Return to office ‘disrespectful’ to civil servants, union leader says

Public Service Alliance of Canada President Chris Aylward called a new personal labor mandate for public employees a “knee reflex response” from the federal government.

Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) President Chris Aylward echoed Carr’s views, saying members had shown they could work remotely.

“We see this as an ill-planned and knee-jerk response by the government that doesn’t have the best interests of workers or Canadians at heart, and it is really at odds with the direction in which this government has been moving on remote work.”

He said the union is currently negotiating a new contract with the federal government and members wanted the agreement to include their right to work remotely.

“For the Treasury Board to unilaterally fundamentally change our members’ terms of employment and impose a mandatory return to office is a egregious violation of workers’ collective bargaining rates,” he said.

“When you go into collective bargaining there is a freeze on terms of employment and that’s certainly not what we’re seeing here.”

The Canadian Association of Professional Employees (CAPE), which represents 23,000 workers, released a statement following the announcement, calling the move “a slap in the face.”

President Greg Phillips said the timing of the announcement “coming in the middle of a nationwide three-virus cocktail” was worrying, noting the current strain on the health system.

In its statement, CAPE said it was coordinating a joint response with the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), PIPSC and other negotiating partners.

In a brief statement released Thursday afternoon, Ottawa Mayor Mark Sutcliffe welcomed the federal government’s decision.

“The federal government is the largest employer in Ottawa, and clarity about the future of its workforce is critical to our local economy,” Sutcliffe said.

“When officials return to government offices, it will be beneficial to both our public transit system and our downtown area.”

Departments have leeway

Fortier said departments will have leeway to decide whether to require employees to be in the office between 40 percent of the time and 60 percent of the time.

The new model will be applied to all centralized public administration, with individual authorities strongly recommended to follow a similar strategy.

Some exceptions will be made in a very limited number of circumstances and require management approval, the press release added.

“If it’s ticking a box to be present in the workplace, not how we work, not the work we produce, I really have to question the logic,” Carr said.

“Specifically, the amount of savings they’ve made during the pandemic that they could make saving taxpayer dollars.”

Immunocompromised employees can still apply for housing.

“As has been the case since the beginning of the pandemic, employees can rest assured that effective measures will continue to be taken to protect their health and safety in the workplace,” the press release said.

Downtown Ottawa businesses have long fined federal employees who no longer come downtown to work. However, the government has not said it would eventually bring all staff back to the office five days a week.

“Hybrid work is the future of public service,” the statement said.

CLOCK | Downtown bar manager hopes business will pick up with return to work:

Downtown bar manager hopes return to work will boost business

Dominique Labelle of Château Lafayette in downtown Ottawa says she expects a return to a “somewhat normal” existence when officers return to the office for two to three days a week.

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